March 2008 Archives

"The Politician & the Preacher"

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By Mumia Abu-Jamal
Column written 15 March 2008 for Prison Radio

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The recent quasi-controversy over the comments made by the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, retired pastor of the United Church of Christ, to which Sen. Barack Obama (D.IL), both belongs and attends, has shown us how limited, and how narrow, is this new politics peddled by the freshman Senator from Chicago.

Although first popularized via the web, the Reverend's comments caused Sen. Obama to say he was "appalled" by them, and he has repudiated such remarks as "offensive."

Just what were these comments? As far as I've heard, they were that Sen. Hilary Clinton (D.NY) has had a political advantage because she's white; that she was raised in a family of means (especially when contrasted with Obama's upbringing); and she was never called a nigger.

Sounds objectively true to me.

Rev. Wright's other remarks were that the country was built on racism, is run by rich white people, and that the events of 9/11 was a direct reaction to US foreign policy.

Again -- true enough.

And while we can see how such truths might cause discomfort to American nationalists, can we not also agree that they are truths? Consider, would Sen. Clinton be where she is if she were born in a Black female body? Or if she were born to a single mother in the projects? As for the nation, it may be too simplistic to say it was built on racism, but was surely built on racial slavery, from which its wealth was built. And who runs America, if not the super rich white elites? Who doesn't know that politicians are puppets of corporate and inherited wealth?

And while Blacks of wealth and means certainly are able to exercise unprecedented influence, we would be insane to believe that they 'run' this country. Oprah, Bob Johnson and Bill Cosby are indeed wealthy; but they have influence, not power. The limits of Cosby's power was shown when he tried to purchase the TV network, NBC, years ago. His offer received a corporate smirk. And Oprah's wealth, while remarkable, pales in comparison to the holdings of men like Bill Gates, or Warren Buffet.

Would George W. Bush be president today if he were named Jorje Guillermo Arbusto, and Mexican-American? (Not unless Jorje, Sr. was a multimillionaire!)

In his ambition to become America's first Black president, Obama is in a race to prove how Black he isn't; even to denouncing a man he has considered his mentor.

As one who has experienced the Black church from the inside, politics and social commentary are rarely far from the pulpit. The Rev. Dr. Martin L. King spoke of politics, war, racism, economics, and social justice all across America. His fair-weather friends betrayed him, and the press condemned his remarks as "inappropriate", "unpatriotic", and "controversial."

Rev. Dr. King said the US was "the greatest purveyor of violence" on earth, and that the Vietnam War was illegitimate and unjust. Would Sen. Obama be denouncing these words, as the white press, and many civil rights figures did, in 1967? Are they "inflammatory?"

Only to politics based on white, corporate comfort uber alles (above all)" only to a politics that ignores Black pain, and distorts Black history; only to a politics pitched more to the status quo, than to real change.

Politics is ultimately about more than winning elections; it's about principles; it's about being true to one's self, and honoring one's ancestors; it's about speaking truth to power.

It can't just be about change, because every change ain't for the better!

The Daily Show's "Bush V. Bush"
28 April 2003
5:34

"George W. Bush squares off with himself to discuss his feelings about nation building and the international American image."

Barack Obama: 'A More Perfect Union'


Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: 'A More Perfect Union'
Constitution Center
Tuesday 18 March 2008
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

View the video


"We the people, in order to form a more perfect union."

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America's improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation's original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution - a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.
And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part - through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.
This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign - to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together - unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction - towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am
married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts - that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either "too black" or "not black enough." We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it's based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely - just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the
Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems - two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way. But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth - by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:
"People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend's voice up into the rafters....And in that single note - hope! - I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion's den, Ezekiel's field of dry bones. Those stories - of survival, and freedom, and hope - became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn't need to feel shame about...memories that all people might study and cherish - and with which we could start to rebuild."

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety - the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter
and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.
Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America - to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through - a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.
Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven't fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today's black and white students.

Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments - meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today's urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family, contributed to the erosion of black families - a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods - parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement - all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it - those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations - those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician's own failings.
And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy - particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances - for better health care, and better
schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives - by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American - and yes, conservative - notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright's sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country - a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen - is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds - by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world's great religions demand - that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother's keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle - as we did in the OJ trial - or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as
evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.
We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time." This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation - the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I'd like to leave you with today - a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King's birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American
community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother's problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn't. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.
Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he's there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, "I am here because of Ashley."

"I'm here because of Ashley." By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

"Prisoners of Sentencing Politics"

The Boston Globe
By Derrick Z. Jackson, Globe Columnist | 15 March 2008

WITH ODIOUS sanctimony, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice released the annual State Department human rights report. She praised people around the world who work "to hold their leaders accountable and to achieve equal justice under the law."

The report knocked Russia's "selectivity in enforcement of the law," Burma's "abysmal" level of "indefinite detentions," Iran's "arbitrary arrests," Syria's trying of "political prisoners in criminal courts," and China's "20 percent increase over 2006 in convictions of citizens under China's overly broad state security law."

In specific numbers, the report cited China's 1.8 million inmates and Russia's 889,600 prisoners, the latter of whom languish in "extremely harsh" and "overcrowded" facilities where "one in 25 was HIV-positive." Rice wrote in the report's preface, "Leaders who are insufficiently committed to reform may revert to authoritarian habits or take disastrous detours from the rule of law."

Missing from the State Department report was the disastrous detour of our own nation. Our inflexible reforms have for two decades turned nonviolent criminals into prisoners of politics.

The United States is the world's leading prison state. For the first time in our history, more than one out of every 100 adults is behind bars. We have 2.3 million people in jail or prison, according to a Pew Center on the States study released last month. Our rate of imprisonment easily beats second-place Russia and is six times the rate of China, seven times the rate of Germany or France, 10 times the rate of Italy, and 12 times the rate of Japan.

State spending on prisons has grown from $12 billion in 1987 to $49 billion last year. For that, we still have overcrowded prisons where the rate of HIV/AIDS is 2.5 times that of the general population.

The reason is not crime, not when our total levels declined in the 1990s to under those of the European Union, according to the United Nations. But the impact of mandatory federal and state drug laws enacted during the crack panic of the 1980s - and never changed when the panic over drug trade violence proved unjustified - continue to devastate communities and state budgets.

The most well known of those laws are the ones that treat possession of crack cocaine much more harshly than for being caught with powdered cocaine. The Supreme Court is taking an ever-dim view of the laws and the federal US Sentencing Commission has softened them somewhat. But there is no State Department concern for black men.

One in 15 adult black men are behind bars, compared with 1 in 106 adult white men. This is despite the fact that Americans consume illegal drugs at about their racial share of the population, that crack and powder are the same pharmacologically, and that the majority of the drug trade, including crack, is nonviolent. It is wrong that crack offenders, 70 percent of them nonviolent, spend on average 3 1/2 years more in jail (10.8 years to 7.2 years) than those convicted of powder offenses.

Of the presidential candidates, Republican John McCain is likely to march to President Bush's agenda. The Democrats are not unified in their desire to end this madness. In the 1990s, President Clinton wooed black votes, then sacrificed the black poor to his centrist politics, calling the 1994 crime bill that preserved the disparate laws the "smartest crime bill in the history of the United States."

Fourteen years later - years which include the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections that Democrats narrowly lost as 13 percent of black men could not vote because of convictions, according to the Sentencing Project - Clinton called the laws he maintained "a cancer." He pledged to "spend a significant portion of whatever life I've got left on the earth trying to fix this."

Then again, Clinton is still sacrificing black people, almost single-handedly inciting a stampede of undecided black voters from his wife's presidential campaign toward Barack Obama with ham-handed, racially tinged denigration of Obama.

Both Hillary Clinton and Obama say the laws are unfair. But only Obama approved of the recent decision by the bipartisan Sentencing Commission to "mitigate the unwarranted sentencing disparity" by granting mild retroactive reductions of crack sentences for mostly nonviolent offenders. Clinton's response was, "I have problems with retroactivity." As Condoleezza Rice rails about nations insufficiently committed to reform, we remain at high risk at home of staying on our disastrous detour.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is jackson@globe.com.
© Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

RIGHTS-US: U.N. Panel Finds Two-Tier Society
By Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 11 (IPS) - The United States government is drawing fire from international legal experts for its treatment of American Indians, Blacks, Latinos and other racial minorities.

The U.S. is failing to meet international standards on racial equality, according to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) based in Geneva, Switzerland. Last Friday, after considering the U.S. government's written and oral testimony, the 18- member committee said it has found "stark racial disparities" in the U.S. institutions, including its criminal justice system.

The CERD is responsible for monitoring global compliance with the 1969 Convention on the Elimination
of Racial Discrimination, an international treaty that has been ratified by the United States.

In concluding the CERD report on the U.S. record, the panel of experts called for the George W. Bush administration to take effective actions to end racist practices against minorities in the areas of criminal
justice, housing, healthcare and education.

This is the second time in less than two years that the U.S. government has been found to be falling short of its treaty obligations. In March 2006, The CERD had harshly criticised the U.S. for violating Native
Americans' land rights.

Taking note of racial discrimination against indigenous communities, the Committee said it wants the U.S. to provide information about what it has done to promote the culture and traditions of American Indian, Alaska Native and indigenous Hawaiian peoples. It also urged the U.S. to apply the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The CERD also voiced strong concerns regarding environmental racism and the environmental degradation of indigenous areas of spiritual and cultural significance, without regard to whether they are on "recognised" reservation lands.

The Committee recommended to the U.S. that it consult with indigenous representatives, "chosen in accordance with their own procedures -- to ensure that activities carried out in areas of spiritual and cultural significance do not have a negative impact on the enjoyment of their rights under the Convention".

In its 13-page ruling, the U.N. body also raised serious questions about the death penalty and in the
sentencing of minors to life without parole, which it linked to racial disparities between whites and blacks.

In their testimony, Bush administration officials held that the treaty obligations do not apply to laws or
practices that are race-neutral on their face but discriminatory in effect. The Committee outright rejected that claim, noting that the treaty prohibits racial discrimination in all forms, including practices
and legislation that may not be discriminatory in purpose, but in effect.

The CERD panel also objected to the indefinite detention of non-citizens at Guantanamo prison and urged the U.S. to guarantee "enemy combatants" judicial review.

The panel said the U.S. needs to implement training programmes for law enforcement officials, teachers and social workers in order to raise their awareness about the treaty and the obligations the U.S. is required to uphold as a signatory.

Human rights defenders who watched the CERD proceeding closely said they were pleased with its observations and recommendations.

"The U.N. is telling the U.S. that it needs to deal with an ugly aspect of its criminal justice system,"
said Alison Parker of Human Rights Watch, which has been monitoring discriminatory practices in the United States for years.

In a statement, Parker hailed the U.N. panel for rejecting the U.S. government's claim that more black
children get life without parole because they commit more crimes and held that the U.N. criticism of the
justice system was fair.

"Once again, the Bush administration has been told by a major human rights body that it is not above the law," said Parker in of the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo prison.

Other rights activists also held similar views about the outcome of the CERD hearings in Geneva.

"[It has] exposed to the world the extent to which racial discrimination has been normalised and
effectively made permissible in many areas of American life," said Ajamu Baraka of the Human Rights Network, an umbrella group representing more than 250 rights advocacy organisations.

As part of its recommendations, the Committee has asked the U.S. government to consider the establishment of an independent human rights body that could help eliminate widespread racial disparities.

Lenny Foster, Dine (Navajo) and representative of the Native America Prisoners Rights Coalition, was a member of the indigenous delegation to the CERD. He observed during the examination that the United States was "in denial".

"Spiritual wellness and spiritual healing is paramount to the very survival of the indigenous nations," he
said. "There are efforts to prohibit and impede the spiritual access. Corporations cannot be allowed to
prohibit access and to destroy and pollute and desecrate the sacred lands."

Bill Larsen of the Western Shoshone Defence Project delegation also testified before the Committee, making a strong case concerning environmental racism and the deadly pollution caused by mining on their ancestral lands.

In March 2006, the Western Shoshone leaders had received a favourable response from the Committee to
its complaint about the U.S. exploitation of their sacred lands. The U.S. is obligated "to freeze, desist
and stop further harmful activities on their lands", but failed to take any action.

Indigenous leaders said they welcomed the Committee's decision to ask the U.S. to submit its report on
compliance within one year.

"It is important that all Native Peoples within the U.S. know that they have rights that are recognized by
international law even if the United States refuses to recognise them or act upon them," said Alberto
Saldamando, one of the indigenous delegates attending the Geneva meeting.

"Now it is not just us," he continued, "but the international community that has recognised that
indigenous peoples within the United States are subject to racism on many levels and has called for effective steps by the U.S. to remedy this situation."

Life and Debt


Life and Debt by Stephanie Black
©2001/80 mins.

"The Corporate Surge Against Public Schools"

Excuses2.jpg

"The Summary" of "The Corporate Surge . . ." report as written by the authors Jack Gerson and Steven Miller

It’s more than a year since we wrote “Exterminating Public Education? in response to the “Tough Choices or Tough Times? report of the National Commission on Skills in the Workplace.

That report, funded in large part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and signed by a bipartisan collection of prominent politicians, businesspeople, and urban school superintendents, called for a series of measures including: (a) replacing public schools with what the report called “contract schools?, which would be charter schools writ large; (b) eliminating nearly all the powers of local school boards—their role would be to write and sign the authorizing agreements for the “contract schools; (c) eliminating teacher pensions and slashing health benefits; and (d) forcing all 10th graders to take a high school exit examination based on 12th grade skills, and terminating the education of those who failed (i.e., throwing millions of students out into the streets as they turn 16).

These measures, taken together, would effectively cripple public control of public education. They would dangerously weaken the power of teacher unions, thus facilitating still further attacks on the public sector. They would leave education policy in the hands of a network of entrepreneurial think tanks, corporate entrepreneurs, and armies of lobbyists whose priorities are profiting from the already huge education market while cutting back on public funding for schools and students.

Indeed, their measures would mean privatization of education, effectively terminating the right to a public education, as we have known it. Many of the most powerful forces in the country want the US, the first country to guarantee public education, to be the first country to end it.

For the last fifty years, public education was one of only two public mandates guaranteed by the government that was accessible to every person, regardless of income. Social Security is the other. Now both systems are threatened with privatization schemes. The government today openly defines its mission as protecting the rights of corporations above everything. Thus public education is a rare public space that is under attack.

The same scenario is being implemented with most of the services that governments used to provide for free or at little cost: electricity, national parks, health care and water. In every case, the methodology is the same: underfund public services, create an uproar and declare a crisis, claim that privatization can do the job better, deregulate or break public control, divert public money to corporations and then raise prices.

In the past year, it’s become evident that the corporate surge against public schools is only part of a much broader assault against the public sector, against unions, and indeed against the public’s rights and public control of public institutions.

This has been evident for some time now in New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina’s devastation is used as an excuse for permanently privatizing the infrastructure of a major American city: razing public housing and turning land over to developers; replacing the city’s public school system with a combination of charter schools and state-run schools; letting the notorious Blackwater private army loose on the civilian population; and, in the end, forcing tens of thousands of families out of the city permanently. The citizens of New Orleans have had their civil rights forcibly expropriated.

Just as the shock of the hurricane was the excuse for the shock therapy applied to New Orleans, so the economic downturn triggered by the subprime mortgage crisis is now the excuse for a national assault on the public sector and the public’s rights.

In California, where we live, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has convened an emergency session of the legislature, demanding that the state’s $14.5 billion “budget deficit? be closed by slashing vital services including housing, health care, and education. He has proposed lopping $4.8 billion off next year’s K-14 education budget. That the deficit exists largely as a result of the Governors corporate friendly tax policies is not considered part of the debate.

In public education, the corporate surge has grown both qualitatively and quantitatively. Where two years ago the corporate education change agents were mainly operating in a relatively small number of large urban areas, they have now surfaced everywhere. The corporatization of public education is the leading edge of privatization. This has the effect of silencing the public voice on every aspect of the situation.

Across the US, public schools are not yet privatized, though private services are increasingly benefiting from this market. However, increasing corporate control of programs – a different mix in every locale – is having a chilling influence on the very things that people (though not corporations) want from teachers: the ability to relate to and teach each child, a nurturing approach that nudges every child to move ahead, human assessments that put people before performance on standardized tests.

Perhaps the single most dramatic development of the corporate approach was the launching of the $60 million Strong American Schools / Ed in ’08 initiative, funded by billionaires Bill Gates and Eli Broad. This is a naked effort to purchase the nation’s education policy, no matter who is elected President, by buying their way into every electoral forum.

Ed in ’08 has a three-point program: merit pay (basing teachers’ compensation on students’ scores on high stakes test); national education standards (enforcing conformity and rote learning); and longer school day and school year (still more time for rote learning, less time for kids to be kids). The chairman of Ed in ‘08/Strong American Schools program is Roy Romer: former governor of Colorado; former chair of the Democratic National Committee; most recently superintendent of schools in Los Angeles (he was persuaded to take that job by Eli Broad). Its executive director is Mark Lampkin, a Republican lobbyist and former deputy campaign manager for George Bush.

Other steering committee members include Eli Broad; Louis Gerstner (former CEO of IBM); Allan Golston (head of the Gates Foundation’s U.S. programs); and John Engler (president of the National Association of Manufacturers and former Governor of Michigan [where he gutted the state’s welfare program]). A truly stunning array of corporate wealth and bipartisan political power in the service of privatization.

Where two years ago charter schools were still viewed as experiments affecting a relatively small number of students, in 2007 the corporate privatizers—led by Broad and Gates—grossly expanded their funding to the point where they now loom as a major presence.

In March, the Gates Foundation announced a $100 million donation to KIPP charter schools, which would enable them to expand their Houston operation to 42 schools (from eight)—effectively, KIPP will be a full-fledged alternative school system in Houston. Also in the past year, Eli Broad and Gates have given in the neighborhood of $50 million to KIPP and Green Dot charter schools in Los Angeles, with the aim of doubling the percentage of LA students enrolled in charter schools. Oakland, another Broad/Gates targets, now has more than 30 charter schools out of 92. And, as we shall see below, the same trend holds across the country.

NCLB in 2008 is still a major issue. It continues to have a corrosive effect on public schools. It is designed an unfunded mandate, which means that schools must meet ever rigid standards every year, though no more money is appropriated to support this effort. This means that schools must take ever-more money out of the class room to meet federal requirements when schools with low test scores are in “Program Improvement?. Once schools are in PI for 5 years they can be forced into privatization.

NCLB is a driving force that decimates the “publicness? in public schools. In California, more than 2000 schools are now in “Program-Improvement?. This means that they have to meet certain specific, and mostly impossible standards, or they must divert increasingly greater amounts of money out of the classroom and into private programs.

For example, schools in 3rd year PI must take money out of programs that helped schools with a high proportion of low achieving schools and make it available to private tutors.

The struggles of the Civil Rights Era made people realize that quality education was a right that everyone deserves. Education today, whether public or private, is a social policy. We make choices about how far it is extended, what the purpose is, what quality is offered, and to whom. Now that wealth is polarizing in this country, corporate forces are determined to create a social system that benefits the “Haves? while excluding the “Have-Nots?.

Privatizing public schools inevitable leads to massive increase in social inequality. Private corporations have never been required to recognize civil rights, because, by definition, these are public rights. If the corporate privatizers succeed in taking over our schools, there will be neither quality education nor civil rights.

The system of public education in the United States is deeply flawed. While suburban schools are among the best in the world, public education in cities has been deliberately underfunded and is in a shambles. The solution is not to fight backwards to maintain the old system. Rather it is to fight forward to a new system that will truly guarantee quality education as a civil right for everyone.

Central to this is to challenge the idea that everything in human society should be run by corporations, that only corporations and their political hacks have the right or the power to discuss what public policy should be. As Naomi Klein stated so well in The Shock Doctrine, privatization “will remain entrenched until the corporate supremacist ideology that underpins it is identified, isolated and challenged?. (p 14)

The real direction is to increase the role and power of the public in every way, not eliminate it. If we can spend $2.5 billion a week for war in Iraq, we can certainly build quality schools. It’s not a matter of money. The issue is who will benefit and who will control. Should schools be organized to benefit the super-rich, or should they be organized to benefit everyone?

Contents

The sections below examine only some of the major privatizing in public education in the last year.:
-“A Tale of Two Cities? examines how corporate-dictated educational policies seriously eroded the quality of education in Oakland, Ca and New Orleans. “Creating and Education Market (The Plan)? looks at corporate objectives for education.
-"Philanthropreneurs (The Agents) the people who are implementing their attack.
-“Further Inroads into Public Education (The Campaigns)? discusses other specific situations.
-“Public Education and Health Care? treats the many parallels in how corporations control these essential human rights in America today.

For the full report email Steven Miller.

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