Bruce A. Dixon

Serial School Privatizer 'Chainsaw Paul' Vallas Eyes Illinois Lt. Governor Gig

There are many things upon which elite corporate Democrats are in complete agreement with elite corporate Republicans. Often enough they are far more important to the way we live our lives than the cultural rhetoric and stylistic fluff that separates the two parties. Both Republicans and Democrats agree on empire and the wars needed to preserve it. They both agree gentrification, stadiums, and tax breaks for the wealthy are the only way to economically develop cities. They both know that poor and working people ought to subsidize a new round of predatory accumulation with lowered wages, plundered pensions, fiscal austerity and the privatization of public education.

Keep reading... Show less

6 Reasons Why Obama's Clemency Effort for Drug Offenders Doesn't Change Mass Incarceration One Bit

The White House is reportedly considering using clemency to release a few hundred or couple thousand federal prisoners. Better than nothing, but it's in no sense a start at dismantling the prison state. Clemency changes no laws or institutions or police, prosecutorial or prison practices. The cells will be refilled in weeks. It's a cynical, empty gesture from an administration marked by utter indifference to black suffering.

It's all over the Internet. The Obama administration is talking up the possibility of using presidential clemency powers to release some undetermined number, perhaps hundreds or even thousands of federal prisoners without wealth or political connections from their unjustly long drug sentences. But hold your hosannas, don't get your hopes up. Though the precise numbers are unclear at this time, what's unmistakably evident is that this is in no sense whatsoever the beginning of a rollback of America's prison state. The releases, as the attorney general and government officials are describing them, will not represent any significant or permanent change to the nation's universal policy of mass incarceration, mainly of poor black and brown youth. Here, in plain English are 6 reasons why.

1.  The Obama administration’s expected releases will use the president's clemency powers. Presidential clemency amounts to forgiveness after the fact. Clemency does not change a single word or phrase in any of the galaxy of state and federal laws which have already sent literally millions to prison for absurdly long sentences for what authorities call “non-violent drug offenses,” and under which hundreds of thousands are currently serving those same sentences and hundreds of thousands more are awaiting trial and sentencing. Clemency leaves those laws in place, so that the places of those released will soon be filled again.

2.  Presidential clemency will set no legal precedents that current or future defendants in federal or state drug cases, their attorneys or sentencing judges can use to avoid the application of unjust existing laws, including harsh mandatory minimums and sentencing guidelines. Like the unjust statutes, the unjust legal precedents which have helped filled state and federal prisons to bursting will also remain intact.

3.  Presidential clemency will have no effect on the predatory conduct of police and prosecutors on the state or federal level. Police departments will remain free to conduct their “war on drugs” almost exclusively in poor and minority communities. Prosecutors will still be able to coerce defendants into accepting plea bargains, and threaten them with longer sentences if they go to trial. If only one in twenty defendants across the board and even fewer in federal court currently go to trial, what does that say about the ability or the willingness of our courts to even try determining guilt or innocence? Federal prosecutors have publicly thumbed their noses at Eric Holder's feeble questioning of the war on drugs, stated their intention to continue filling the prisons and jails, and local prosecutors in the U.S. are elected officials accustomed to running for office based on how many people they can lock up for how long.

4.  Presidential clemency can only be applied to federal prisoners, who are a mere 190,000, or 11 percent of the roughly 1.7 million currently serving time. (Another 600,000 are awaiting trial on all levels or serving misdemeanor time.) If we're talking about federal prisoners serving drug related sentences, the universe shrinks to only 100,000, or five percent of the nation's 2.3 million prisoners.

5. There are more former prisoners than current ones. For the rest of their lives, former prisoners and their families are viciously discriminated against in a host of ways, in the job and housing market, in education and public services and in access to health care, all legally. That won't change. Even the few that get this clemency won't be protected from that.

6. The federal government will NOT even be screening all federal drug prisoners to determine who is eligible for clemency. Attorney General Holder has instead announced that criminal defense lawyers and organizations like the ACLU are being asked to bring to the government's attention cases they imagine are most deserving of clemency. Don't they have, you know, a Department of Justice for that? Depending on private organizations and attorneys to come up with the cases for possible clemency turns the whole thing into an exercise in philanthropy, not the fundamental change in governmental policy that people need, want and demand. It means that prisoners serving unduly long sentences who don't have vigilant private attorneys and advocacy organizations on their case will remain unjustly imprisoned, while those with outside friends have a chance at early release.

The bottom line is that an act of presidential clemency, while good news for the lucky hundreds or thousands of families involved, will leave no legal footprint and make no institutional impact upon the universal policy of mass incarceration. For this reason, it's exactly NOT a first step that can lead to something more. It's a dead end. At the rate the pipelines are pumping them in, their cells will be refilled in a month or two, no problem. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that this clemency initiative is nothing more than a lazy, cynical and nearly empty gesture it hopes will buy some black votes and good will in 2014 and beyond.

Is it better than nothing? Yes, of course. It's just not that much better, and we definitely DO have a right to expect much, much better. There are millions locked up. A couple thousand may be released. But a million is a thousand thousands. The dead end of presidential clemency for a handful on the federal level simply does not scale even to the beginning of changing the institutional policies of mass incarceration. On that level it's bogus. It will free not one state prisoner a day earlier and initiates no processes or lasting precedents that ever will. It will help none of the hundreds of thousands of families of former prisoners and won't affect any cases in the pipeline, which will refill the slots of those who receive clemency in weeks, and it doesn't change what police or prosecutors and courts do either.

This is not the result of some soaring vision of justice, and cannot lead to any lasting institutional change. It leaves the prison state completely intact, just giving the most hopeful and the most cynical something to talk about in the months leading up to another mid-term election, when the administration, and Democrats need the black vote.

It didn't have to be this way. During the first two years of the Obama presidency, when his party had a lock on both houses of Congress, the president and congressional Democrats had a chance to write retroactive revocation of tens of thousands of sentences into its so-called Fair Sentencing Act. Despite this being a matter of desperate concern to the constituency that elected them, it was not a priority for the first black president or for the black political class at the time. Every year since, the Obama Department of Justice has had the chance to rewrite the way it distributes federal funding to state and local law enforcement agencies to discourage mass incarceration. Every year the president had the ability to close some of its notorious federal supermax prisons, or find ways to deny funding for such things on the state level. None of this happened. In fact, while a broad citizen movement in Illinois, the president's home state finally closed a state supermax prison, Obama's latest Bureau of Prisons budget has the feds buying another unused Illinois prison for conversion into a federal supermax, ADX Thomson, or Gitmo North. The federal prison budget has grown every year president Obama has held office.

Sophisticated apologists for the president will of course chide folks who find “better than nothing” insufficient for being naive and foolish. Are they? Were the tens of millions who elected Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 foolish for imagining they have even the right to demand better? What about the many, many thousands of activists who gave freely of their time and efforts year in and year out to make the careers of the black political class possible, the people who called house meetings, union and church meetings? Were the folks who went door to door, who rallied and registered voters and more to elect black aldermen, sheriffs, county commissioners, mayors, legislators and finally a black president — the people who DID imagine and DID tell their children and their neighbors that this would make things better — were they all just unrealistic chumps?

I used to be one of them. They didn't say – we didn't say — it was “better than nothing." We told each other, and often we actually believed electing black faces to high places was a necessary step toward making things better. Were we naïve and foolish to imagine a better world is even possible? Or is our black political class too cynical, too corrupt, too prosperous and too lazy to share the dreams of the ordinary people they supposedly represent?

The Top 10 Things Black America Will Have To Show For 8 Years of President Obama -- None of Them Are Good

When Barack Obama leaves the White House in January 2017, what will black America, his earliest and most consistent supporters, have to show for making his political career possible? We'll have the T-shirts and buttons and posters, the souvenirs. That will be the good news. The bad news is what else we'll have.... and not.

Keep reading... Show less

Greedy Telecoms Are Using an African-American Front Group to Fight Net Neutrality

It's old news by now that the African American conversation, as heard on corporate media, throughout commercial black radio, is limited to what greedy corporations owning those stations want us to, or will allow us to talk about. When we listen to Warren Ballantine and Steve Harvey giving relationship advice, to Gale King interviewing celebrities, to gay-hating gospel entertainers like Donnie McClurkin, to Rev. Al Sharpton pitching predatory car title loans, or even Tom Joyner on the Morning Show himself, we are not hearing our conversation, or our news about our lives and concerns. We're hearing the voice of our would-be masters.

Keep reading... Show less

What If BP Were A Human Being?

The third largest oil company in the world, BP was born in 1909 as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, and was partly owned by the British government. Its headquarters offices are in the UK.. So if it were a flesh and blood person, far and away the wealthiest person on earth, and a British subject. Assuming that our imaginary human BP got into the oil business at the youthful age of say, 20, and stayed at it for just over a century, BP the human being would be closing in on his 121st birthday. Damned few of us will see triple digits, and none of us that reach even our 60s and 70s retain the level of energy, or often of interest that we possessed only a couple decades before. A normal 120 year old human will have more than a few ailments and bodily systems on the brink of failure. But not our human BP. If BP were a person, it would be immensely, almost inconceivably wealthy AND perhaps immortal.

Keep reading... Show less

Will Al Wynn Get His Comeuppance for His Corporate Fealty?

A lifelong Black progressive and a groveling tool of corporate power face off on February 12 -- a test of the power of the people to evict those who subvert their fundamental interest in peace and social justice. "Fat Albert" Wynn, the mis-Representative from Maryland's 4th Congressional District and supplicant to Big Business and nuclear power money, has stooped to describing challenger Donna Edwards and her supporters as a "left wing conspiracy" arrayed against him. But Fat Albert's desperate contortions cannot shake his past, especially his status as one of only four Black Caucus members to support War Powers for George Bush and one of ten who voted for the Republican bill on bankruptcy that has now come home to roost with millions of mortgage holders.



When "Fat Albert" Wynn, the notoriously corrupt congressman of Maryland's 4th district kicked off his re-election campaign seven months ago, he did what everybody else does.  He called in his friends, he leaned on his network.  Wynn brought in his political soul mate, the corporatist Democratic Leadership Council chairman and Fox News commentator Harold Ford, Jr., a Memphis politician so craven that in an appeal for white votes he once denied his own grandmother was Black.  But Harold Ford stood with Al Wynn as one of only four African Americans in Congress to vote for the invasion of Iraq.  Friends are friends.

Al Wynn's network has done a lot for him over the years, and the congressman has more than returned their favors.

When Big Oil, Giant Coal and the nuclear industry, joined by hedge funds and speculators demanding repeal of the laws that kept them from buying utility companies, they showered Congress with $115 million between 2001 and 2005.  In return for his share of the loot, Congressman Al Wynn was one of a minority of Democrats to join Republicans in passing the 2005 Bush Energy Bill.  Wynn voted $6 billion in federal subsidies to his benefactors in Big Oil; he put $9 billion in the Christmas stockings of giant coal companies, he bestowed another $12 billion in corporate welfare on the nuclear power industry, and voted for deregulatory steps that have already cost consumers and utility ratepayers additional tens of billions more in the short term.  But hey, that's what friends are for.

In 2006 and 2007, mammoth phone and cable companies like Time-Warner, AT&T and Verizon invested a few hundred million in congressional campaign contributions to preserve their right to digitally redline black and minority communities nationwide.  Congressman Wynn showed up for his cut, and faithfully repaid his donors by siding with House Republicans to keep broadband scarce and expensive in urban and rural minority communities.

On the eve of the Iraq war in 2003, a Gallup poll showed Black America to be the nation's most solidly antiwar constituency, with opinion running better than 70% opposed to the coming invasion.  But when George Bush needed a large Black exclamation point for his illegal and immoral aggression, Fat Albert Wynn was ready to defy the voters of Maryland's 4th district, in the mostly Black suburbs of Washington, DC.




In return for his share of another hundred million in campaign cash and favors from the banking and credit card industries, Al Wynn voted for Bush's odious 2005 bankruptcy bill, protecting predatory lenders, denying a fresh start to financially strapped families, and exacerbating the impact of the current mortgage meltdown. Wynn is such a loyal friend to the wealthy and powerful that he apes the political manners of Republicans, using staged interviews by fake reporters to field softball questions.

Fat Albert Wynn has worked to make it easier for his wealthy friends to dump ever larger sums of money into the campaign coffers of their favorite politicians. The 527 Reform Act which he co-sponsored with Republican Mike Pence was

Keep reading... Show less

The Black Stake in the Internet

America's black misleadership class, which is nearly indistinguishable from its black business class, has struck again. In a stunning coup, a mainline African-American voting rights group has been enlisted on the side of AT&T and other telecom monopolies in their legislative push to privatize the internet and roll back hundreds of agreements with local communities that force these monopolies to extend internet and cable service to poor and rural communities around the country.

A time-worn corporate technique for dishonestly manipulating public opinion is to create what are called in the world of public relations, industry-funded organizations and front groups. The indispensable site SourceWatch.org spells it out like this:

Keep reading... Show less
BRAND NEW STORIES

Happy Holidays!