The Black Commentator

Target Assata: How the FBI and Cuba Bashers Are Going After a Black Liberation Activist

Seemingly out of nowhere the FBI announced that fugitive Black activist Assata Shakur was now declared a “terrorist” on their Most Wanted list. In addition, a bounty for her capture was raised from $1 million to $2 million. There are several questions that immediately arise but the most important is perhaps this: why now?

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Conservatives May Deprive Millions of Jobless Benefits Just in Time for the Holidays

The U.S. Congress that convened for its limited "lame duck" session has a lot on its plate; it will act - or not act - on some of the pressing issues facing the nation, wrap up its business and go home for the holidays. From then until the new Congress convenes in January there will be a lot of occasions when the members will have their actual china plates piled high. But for a lot of people the holiday fare will be skimpier than it has been for quite a while - especially the nearly 15 million people out of work.

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Fox News Is Using the Obamas to Perfect Its Racist Attacks on Black America

"… The matter is that, when Bill O'Reilly gets Juan Williams, the eternal happy Negro, on his show to congratulate him on his racism, that's like Hugh Hefner getting a stripper to come on the show and tell him that he's not a sexist.” --Syracuse University Professor Boyce Watkins, on CNN (Sept. 26, 2007).

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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:

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Civil War in America

Every year the Sons of Confederate Veterans use the North Carolina statehouse to celebrate their annual Confederate flag day ceremony. It has become more common in recent years for some white Southerners to openly wax nostalgic for the days when their ancestors fought and died to preserve slavery.

It is easy to see a connection between present-day yearnings for a return to Dixieland and renewed efforts to threaten voting rights. It is less obvious to see similar connections with trends elsewhere in the country. South Dakota is a long way from South Carolina, but that state recently joined the battle to turn back the clock on civil rights and return to the bad old days when white men ruled and everyone else was subservient.

The legislature in South Dakota voted to outlaw abortion except in cases where the mother's life was endangered. Even rape, incest and fetal abnormality will no longer be legally justified reasons for abortion. Republican state Sen. Bill Napoli described the only instance in which he thought abortion would be justifiable.

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Rhythms of Resistance

"I don't think it's right that you take our properties. Over my dead body. I didn't die with Katrina." - Lower 9th Ward resident Caroline Parker.

"Joe Canizaro, I don't know you, but I hate you. I'm going to suit up like I'm going to Iraq and fight this." - New Orleans East resident Harvey Bender, referring to the author of the city commission's "rebuilding" plan.

The overwhelmingly black New Orleans diaspora is returning in large numbers to resist relentless efforts to bully and bulldoze them out of the city's future. "Struggle on the ground has intensified enormously. A number of groups are in motion, moving against the mayor's commission," said Mtangulizi Sanyika, spokesman for the African American Leadership Project (AALP). "Increasing numbers of people are coming back into the city. You can feel the political rhythm."

Mayor Ray Nagin's commission has presented residents of flood-battered, mostly African American neighborhoods with a Catch-22, carefully crafted to preclude New Orleans from ever again becoming the more than two-thirds Black city it was before Hurricane Katrina breached the levees. Authored by Nagin crony, real estate development mogul and George Bush fundraiser Joseph Canizaro, the plan would impose a four-month moratorium on building in devastated neighborhoods like the lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East. During that period, the neighborhoods would be required to come up with a plan to show how they would become "viable" by reaching an undefined "critical mass" of residents.

But the moratorium, itself, discourages people from rebuilding their neighborhoods - just as it is intended to do - thus creating a fait accompli: residents will be hard pressed to prove that a "critical mass" of habitation can be achieved.


"It's circular reasoning," said the AALP's Sanyika. They talk about "some level of neighborhood viability, but no one knows what that means. What constitutes viable plans? What kinds of neighborhoods are viable? Everywhere you turn people are trying to rebuild, but there is this constraint."

The commission is empowered only to make recommendations, but with the help of corporate media, pretends their plan is set in stone. "They keep pushing their recommendations as though they are the gospel truth," said Sanyika, who along with tens of thousands of other evacuees has been dispersed to Houston, five hours away. "There is confusion as to all of these recommendations, issued as if they are policy. The Times-Picayune contributes to that confusion. None of this is a given."

Activists believe the way to play this situation is for residents to forge ahead on their own. "Trying to figure out the logic of that illogical proposal is a wasted effort - all you're going to do is wind up going in circles," said Sanyika. He emphasizes that the commission's recommendations are not binding on anyone - certainly not on the majority black city council, which claims authority in city planning matters. They're not buying the nonsense. "The city council has rejected it. Nagin says 'ignore it.' I think it's dead in the water," said Sanyika.

The city council has attempted to block Nagin's collaboration with corporate developers - a hallmark of his tenure - voting to give itself authority over where to place FEMA trailers. (Only about 5,000 of a projected 25,000 trailers arrived, say community activists.) Nagin vetoed the bill, but the council overrode him. The council has also endorsed equitable development of neighborhoods, rather than shrinking the city. "We [the African American Leadership Project] are developing a resolution to that effect," said Sanyika. Odds are that it will pass - but the question is, who wields power in post-Katrina New Orleans, where only one-third of the city's previous population of nearly half a million has returned?

It is in this context that one must view Mayor Nagin's statement to a mostly Black crowd gathered at City Hall for a Martin Luther King Day march, on Monday: "I don't care what people will say - uptown, or wherever they are. At the end of the day, this city will be chocolate.... This city will be a majority African American city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans."

Ray Nagin is probably the most disoriented person in the country, these days - the fruit of his own venality, sleeziness, and opportunism. A corporate executive, sports entrepreneur and nominal Democrat, he contributed to the Bush campaign in 2000 (Democrats dubbed him "Ray Reagan") and endorsed a Republican candidate for governor in 2003 (see BC November 20, 2003). Now he doesn't have a clue as to where the power lies or where his base is centered. "Nagin is playing a game, trying to have it both ways," says the AALP's Sanyika - but his options are shrinking as fast as the city envisioned by his buddy, Joe Canizaro, with whom he habitually worked hand in hand, but whom he now tells Blacks to "ignore."

Who's in charge in New Orleans?

Canizaro is clearly the center of gravity on the "mayor's" commission which, although integrated, is essentially a corporate concoction. The commission's slogan, "Bring New Orleans Back," is a euphemism for bringing the city "back" to the days before Black rule by erecting multiple barriers to the return of Black residents. Of course, even when Black mayors hold titular office in New Orleans, Canizaro's crowd runs the show. His bio, posted on the commission's website, shows Canizaro to be the major domo of the city's real estate, development, banking, and pro-business political machinations. Canizaro is also a Trustee and former Chairman of the Urban Land Institute, the planning outfit that is determined to turn Black neighborhoods into swamp.

Since shortly after New Years, the commission has been feverishly working to appear to be an empowered governmental entity, tasking subcommittees to present reports and recommendations several days a week on Government Effectiveness, Education, Health and Social Services, Culture, and Infrastructure. What black New Orleans had been waiting for was presentation of the Urban Planning Committee Final Report, Wednesday, January 11. An overflow crowd at the Sheraton Hotel hissed Mayor Nagin and booed the hated Canizaro. Others cursed and vowed that they would be exiled only over their dead bodies.

"Four Months to Decide" read the headline of the Times-Picayune, on the day of the official unveiling of the commission's recommendations, a blueprint for the displacement of hundreds of thousands. In the packed hotel spaces, residents alternated between rage and deep anxiety at the ultimatum. "I don't think four or five months is close to enough time given all we would need to do," said Robyn Braggs. "Families with school-age children won't be able to even return to do the work necessary until this summer."

Cities with 25,000 or more displaced New Orleans residents include Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Memphis, and Baton Rouge. Others are scattered to the four winds. Their children will be enrolled in far-flung schools until the June deadline.

Former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, currently president of the National Urban League, called the commission's scheme a "massive red-lining plan wrapped around a giant land grab." With the situation so uncertain, and time so short, homeowners will have difficulty settling with their insurance companies in time. Said Morial: "It's cruel to bar people from rebuilding. Telling people they can't rebuild for four months is tantamount to saying they can't ever come back. It's telling people who have lost almost everything that we're going to take the last vestige of what they own."

And what about renters, who made up well over half of residents? Such people have no place in George Bush's "ownership society" - especially if they are black. Bush put his smirking stamp of approval on the corporate plan during an oblivious visit to New Orleans, last week. "It may be hard for you to see, but from when I first came here to today, New Orleans is reminding me of the city I used to visit."

Apparently, the president doesn't read newspapers because he is blind - except to the cravings of his class. Bush's Gulf Opportunity Zone Act provides billions in tax dodges for (big) business, while the threatened permanent depopulation of Black New Orleans would eliminate the possibility of return for the nearly 8,000 (small) Black businesses that served the neighborhoods.

Self-styled Black capitalists take note: this is the nature of the beast. Bush fronts for a class for which Katrina is not a catastrophe, but an opportunity. They believe devoutly in "creative chaos" - the often violent destruction of the old, so that new profits can be squeezed from the rubble. Through their Catch-22 ultimatums, they are deliberately inflicting additional "creative chaos" on the displaced people of New Orleans. The fact that the victims are mostly Black, makes it all the easier. Or so they assume.

The Resistance

Grassroots community groups, along with platoons of non-native volunteers, are refusing to acquiesce to the greatest attempted urban theft in American history. At a conference organized by Mtangulizi Sanyika's African American Leadership Project and affiliated organizations, progressive urban planners explored ways to make the new New Orleans a better place for the people who live there, rather than for ravenous corporations and new populations. The experts included Dr. Ed Blakely, of the University of Sydney, Australia; MIT's Dr. Phil Thompson, housing aide to former New York Mayor David Dinkins; and Abdul Rasheed, who helped rebuild the flood ravaged Black town of Princeville, North Carolina after a hurricane in the Nineties.

The coalition also held a Town Hall meeting attended by leaders of 15 national organizations, including Dr. Ron Daniel's Institute of the Black World, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, and movers and shakers from the Progressive Baptist Convention and the National Baptist Convention USA. National co-sponsors included the Hip Hop Caucus, Black Voices for Peace, the Black Family Summit of the Millions More Movement, and the National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN).

Neighborhood groups are mobilizing to confront the racist/corporate onslaught. "Every other day some major event is happening," said Sanyika. Various groups held marches during MLK weekend, carrying signs such as "We're Back," "Stop Displacement," and "Rebuild With People."

On February 7th, a National Mobilization of progressive forces will descend on the U.S. Capitol in Washington to pressure Congress to halt the juggernaut of expulsion and give substance to the people's Right to Return. Although there are literally thousands of large and small Katrina-related projects operating throughout the nation, many of the New Orleans organizers are handicapped by the fact of their own displacement. A great moral and political challenge presents itself to black and progressive America: Will they rise to the occasion in the face of a real, imminent, well-defined crisis - as opposed to the general conditions addressed by the Million Man and Millions More rallies? February 7th will be a test of black political resolve and cohesion. And there will be many more.

Meanwhile, New Orleans in some ways resembles a poignant scene from bygone wars, when lists of the dead were published on public walls. The "Red Danger List" is posted in local papers, designating properties that are "in imminent danger of collapse" and, therefore, subject to demolition without the consent of the owners. To date, over 5,000 buildings have been red tagged.

The "Flood Map" is a kind of municipal schematic of a cemetery, delineating the parts of the city that will be caused to die. Residents on the wrong side of the lines will be unable to get flood insurance, which certainly means no meaningful investment can occur in those areas. The map was last published in 1984, and is now being updated.

You can be sure that Black folks are not in charge of the mapping.

Katrina has shown us many things. One, is the hollowness of the purely electoral black strategy (and its cousin, lobbying) that followed the shutdown of mass movements after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a great irony that, while we rant at FEMA's inability (or unwillingness) to respond to the Katrina crisis, Black America finds itself desperately searching for the "people power" tools to effectively counter the post-Katrina aggression.

The citizens of New Orleans are paying the cost for the mistakes of the late Sixties and early Seventies, when aspiring electoral and corporate officeholders convinced black folks that mass movements were no longer necessary. Progress would trickle down from the newly acquired heights. Popular political capital could be wisely invested in the few, the upwardly mobile.

What we got was chicken-with-his-head-cut-off Ray Nagin and his many counterparts in plush offices across Black America. We must invent Black Power all over again, under changed conditions. New Orleans in its present state is the worst possible place to start - but that's where we're at.

How A Swann Became An Ugly Duckling

Former football star Lynn Swann recently announced his candidacy for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Pennsylvania. Swann has no qualifications to be a Governor. In fairness, that makes him no different from Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose only qualification to govern California was movie stardom. If unqualified white people can run for office and win, it is hard to argue against unqualified black people doing the same.

Athletes have always made attractive political candidates. They have instant name recognition and popularity. Voters have warm and fuzzy feelings for them. Swann was a legendary player with the Pittsburgh Steelers when they won four Super Bowls in the 1970s. He is good looking and articulate. Those are solid political credentials in this country.

In recent years Swann began earning his Republican bona fides. He is Chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. While campaigning for George W. Bush he actually called him "the most qualified and credible candidate" and managed to keep a straight face.

Swann hasn't said very much about what he plans to do should he be elected. He is in favor of "responsible" tax cuts, sounds like "compassionate" conservatism, and is against abortion. He also says that Democrats take black voters for granted. He clearly knows the GOP mantra by heart.

Swann was a Democrat until he saw the light and joined the GOP. Who knows if he had a change of heart or if he saw the political light. If he is being cynical then he has made a sensible move.

The incumbent Governor is a Democrat, unlikely to be challenged for a second term by his own party. A black Republican is still enough of a rarity to get attention for being a Republican. In addition, it is hard to tell the ambitious and unprincipled that they should stick with the loser Democrats.

Of course, Swann might be a true believer in the Republican agenda. Even so, it doesn't bode well for black Pennsylvanians.

Only registered Republicans will be able to vote for Swann in a Republican primary. That means he would win his party's nomination only by appealing to the political demands of conservative, white, high-income voters. In other words, he can't win if he addresses the needs of the black community.

For all of Swann's strengths, he still has the same disadvantages that burden every other black candidate for a statewide office. His pollsters will have to account for white people who will claim to support him but get cold feet upon entering a voting booth.

In addition, for all their talk about increasing support in the black community, the Republicans haven't really promoted any viable black candidates. Their goal in claiming they will reach out to black voters is more of a ploy to attract fence sitting white voters who like to pretend they are truly compassionate and conservative.

But they may be on to something. There may be enough black voters who will succumb to the siren song of race pride and vote for the guy who looks like them, especially if he is a celebrity. If a race is close, and enough black voters can be peeled away from the Democrat, Swann might be able to win.

Ironically, Swann does have a story to tell that would be of interest to black voters. In 1974 he was a star player at USC who was chosen as the Steelers first round draft pick. After celebrating his success with his brothers and a cousin he had an experience that made him a true brother with thousands of other black men.

San Francisco police stopped Swann and his party for going through a red light. A scuffle ensued, 11 officers in a total of five patrol cars were called to the scene, and the Swanns were all arrested and charged with assault. Eventually they were awarded damages, but so were the cops who countersued them.

If Republicans want to appeal to black voters they should start talking about the issues that matter to us, issues like police brutality. Instead of us trying to convince us that we don't need Social Security, or that we should admire Condi's war making abilities, why not promote a candidate because he was arrested for driving while black?

Swann should certainly give up lame statements like this: "We need to get over the issues of color and focus clearly on talent and work ethic. But we've been saying that since 1620." Swann was always talented and hard working, but it didn't prevent him from wrongly ending up in the long arms of the law just like his less fortunate brethren.

Swann will just repeat GOP talking points. Police misconduct is not on that list of issues. He certainly won't bring up the subject himself and if forced to discuss it will probably apologize for being mistreated. The incident certainly won't be mentioned in his stump speech.

Instead of a Democrat who takes black votes for granted, we are now seeing black Republicans who take our votes for granted. They think we won't care when they support policies the rest of us reject. Black Pennsylvanians should tell Swann they are grateful for the memories, but their politics won't change for the sake of his political ambitions.

A Hurricane of Differences

Hurricane Katrina may mark a watershed in black perceptions of the African American presence and prospects in the United States. "It could very well shape this generation of young people in the same way that the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King shaped our generation," said Prof. Michael Dawson, of the University of Chicago whose team conducted a survey of black and white reactions to the disaster between October 28 and November 17, 2005. "It suggested to blacks the utter lack of the liberal possibility in the United States," said Dawson, the nation's premier black social demographer.

Huge majorities of blacks agreed that the federal government's response would have been faster if the victims of Katrina in New Orleans had been white (84 percent), and that the Katrina experience shows there is a lesson to be learned about continued racial inequality (90 percent).

But only 20 percent of whites believe that the federal government's failure to respond had anything to do with race, and only 38 percent think there is something to be learned about racial inequality from the Katrina disaster.

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A Bitter Pill for Black Hearts

It is hard to oppose an effort that purports to improve health care for African Americans. Black people suffer more from everything bad, including ill health. When a drug company announced that it would market a heart failure treatment specifically for use by blacks, the silence from otherwise thoughtful persons and organizations was noticeable but not very surprising.

In 1997 the federal Food and Drug Administration declined to approve BiDil, a treatment for heart failure. BiDil is actually a combination of two generic drugs used to treat chest pain and hypertension. The FDA concluded that there was no proof of BiDil's effectiveness. That should have been the end of BiDil, until good old-fashioned capitalism and marketing turned its fortunes around.

BiDil has now been approved for use in black heart failure patients. It is the first drug in America that has been approved specifically for the use of one racial or ethnic group. NitroMed, the pharmaceutical company that will produce BiDil, acted very shrewdly. The drug maker achieved this success by giving the heads up to black leadership, lest it be accused of recreating the infamous Tuskegee experiment.

NitroMed first went to the Congressional Black Caucus, the National Medical Association and the NAACP. The drug company was "aware of the political fallout if they did not have African American participation," said B. Waine Kong, executive director of the Association of Black Cardiologists. Too bad the participants didn't ask a question or two in the process.

We are told that BiDil showed great success in black patients. That doesn't mean very much because it was only tested on black patients. There is literally no evidence that the drug works better on one racial group than on another.

NitroMed did what other pharmaceutical companies have always done. It gave money to people who later gave its medication the thumbs up. The Association of Black Cardiologists co-sponsored the clinical trials for BiDil, received $200,000 from NitroMed, and enthusiastically supported the drug's approval.

That arrangement wasn't unusual. In July 2004 the National Institutes of Health published a study urging millions of Americans to take statin drugs in order to lower their risk of heart disease. It was later revealed that eight of nine authors of the study had financial ties to makers of statin drugs. The ties were not made public when the dubious findings were first announced.

No one knows if BiDil is very effective or safe. If it isn't it will not be different from other drugs given FDA approval that were later discovered to be dangerous. Fenfluramine was marketed as Redux, a drug used to treat obesity. It was taken off the market after causing cases of heart valve damage and pulmonary hypertension. How many commercials exhorted consumes to ask their doctors about Vioxx and Celebrex? We now see commercials from law firms exhorting us to pursue malpractice suits against the makers of those drugs.

Past experience indicates that BiDil shouldn't be greeted as a health care panacea for anyone. It should be treated like all newly approved pharmaceuticals, with great caution if not suspicion. As Raymond Woosley, vice president for Health Sciences at the University of Arizona, advised Public Television, "Americans need to recognize that every time they put a pill in their mouth, especially a new pill that they've never taken before, it's an experiment. How big an experiment depends on the pill and how well it's been studied."

NitroMed is using black people to get a drug approved that it couldn't get approved otherwise and in the process maintaining a patent that keeps cheaper generics off the market until the year 2020. "[I]f BiDil is approved for African Americans only, the drug will have patent protection to 2020," wrote Motley Fool biotechnology industry analyst Karl Thiel. "That's because patents based on this demographic were filed after studies showed the drug was ineffective in a broader population. If the drug is approved for a general heart failure audience, older use patents will apply and the drug would appear to have exclusivity only to 2007."

BiDil isn't the 21st Century equivalent of the Tuskegee experiment. It is an example of what the pharmaceutical industry now does best, which is to produce drugs with dubious effectiveness that guarantee them large profits. NitroMed shares have risen from $6 last July to more than $19 when approval was imminent.

There should be an outcry over BiDil. A system that allows millions of people to go without health insurance, and consequently creates conditions such as heart failure, is now using those same people to repackage two generic drugs as a sort of medical magic bullet. Surely many of the African American heart failure patients would have been better off with universal health care, not a profit making gimmick that does them little good.

BiDil is more than just another example of the market place run amuck. It also gives justification to beliefs about biological differences between races. These beliefs are never expressed for the benefit of black people. BiDil makes it more difficult to argue against theories of racial superiority and inferiority. BiDil's supporters, regardless of their race, should not be let off the hook when this drug becomes the latest justification for the dogma of white superiority.

It doesn't matter that African American physicians or other leaders vouch for BiDil. The health care system in this country serves the profit motive more than it serves up good health. BiDil is just the latest example. The market place is definitely not the place to cure broken hearts.

The Meaningless Apology on Lynching

Why are some black folks so happy to hear an apology from people who don't mean it?

There are nearly a million African-Americans in prison - one out of eight inmates on the planet - a gulag of monstrous proportions, clearly designed to perpetuate the social relations that began with slavery. We demand an end to those relations, not an insincere, risk-free "apology" that sets not one prisoner free.

It is appropriate that the great anti-lynching leader, Ida B. Wells (1862-1931), who documented the murder of nearly 5,000 blacks at the hands of white mobs in the terror-filled years that followed the death of Reconstruction, be verbally honored by Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu and Virginia Republican Senator George Allen. Yet both senators supported laws that will impose draconian equivalents of post-Civil War "black codes" on inner city youth, who will now be designated as criminal conspirators if they congregate in groups of three or more.

No thank you, Senators Landrieu and Allen - the crime you committed against us in May vastly outweighs your weak apology in June. You have guaranteed that hundreds of thousands more young black people will be interned in your gulag - a crime against humanity. And both of you are determined to commit more crimes. Should we ask for an apology in advance?

There can be no absolution for those who continue to profit from past crimes, and plot new ones. Lynch law was the effective law of the South - and, truth be told, the rest of the United States - and the "lawful" authorities sanctioned it by refusing to pass 200 anti-lynching bills. The terror of lynching created the social relationships that resulted in white households accumulating ten to twenty times as much wealth as black households - our collective national inheritance. An apology will not do.

Is that what our movement has been about all of these generations - to get an apology from people who became rich on our backs? There is a method to this racist madness, an assumption that African-Americans can be bought by a simple nod from a few white people. Some of these racists will not even give us a nod - the twelve or sixteen senators who did not join in the anti-lynching vote, all but one of them Republicans. The Republican Senate Leader made sure that no member would have to go on record against lynching. However, are we supposed to be grateful for a non-binding resolution that admits thousands of murders were committed with the complicity of the United States government, but that does not redress the wrongs in any way.

Where is the sense of justice in this apology? What do the descendants of the terrorized class expect? That wrongs be righted, or that those who have profited gain absolution?

Lynching was genocide

The United States Senate did not ratify the Convention on Genocide until 1988, 40 years after African-Americans circulated the petition, "We Charge Genocide," in an effort to make international law applicable to the U.S. By this time, most of the former Dixiecrats had become Republicans, and felt safe in blaming their former party for their own crimes.

The United States, controlled by a Republican majority and feckless minority of white Democrats whose greatest fear is their black constituents, is now engaged in a grand venture to export the ideology of white terror, planet-wide. They have not learned a thing. Having never practiced democracy on their own shores, they claim a copyright to the concept. The fact that nobody believes their claims does not phase them, because they are marching to the tune of Manifest Destiny - the white man's right to rule. It is that belief that drew tens of thousands of whites to the lynching fields of Georgia and Indiana, for the sport of Negro-killing. Now they are in Iraq and Afghanistan, claiming moral authority.

The march of civilization goes on, leaving the United States behind. The bubble of news communication fools only those inside. The rest of the globe sees its own interests, and recognizes white arrogance, intuitively.

This intuitive knowledge, born of gruesome experience, also informs black Americans. Although surrounded by the same bubble of misinformation as the rest of Americans, blacks smell the lie. The vast bulk of us see the "apology" for what it is - a scam, with no substantial benefits, and less good faith. But there is a class that is paid to say "Yes sir," on command. Most of us pay them no attention.

Lynch law was no law at all. It was pure white power - the right to declare oneself a higher form of being, and reduce the "other" to charcoal. The current rulers of the United States are spreading lynch law to the far reaches of the planet. They claim the right to "pre-emptive" warfare, and reject all other people's rights to live under collectively accepted rules. They wage war against the concept of international law, just as they violated every law that did not enshrine white privilege.

Nothing has changed, except the world. We will not tolerate such criminality, anymore. In fact, we have collectively called the behavior that white folks in the United States routinely engaged in, criminal. It's far too late for the U.S. Senate to pass a non-binding resolution announcing some vague objection to lynching, when they pass legislation that makes it a crime to be black and a youth, vote billions to fund a military machine that seeks to enslave the planet, and rejects the authority of the World Criminal Court. In doing so, they have made themselves outlaws.

We will not forgive, or accept an apology that does not come with a change in power relationships. And we will reject any so-called black leadership that makes its own deal.

Purchasing the Pulpit

"I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves ... ."
-- Harriet Tubman

Recently, a group of black pastors under the name of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, held a press conference and summit in Los Angeles to announce the kick off for their "Black Contract with America on Moral Values." Led by Bishop Harry Jackson of Washington and white Christian evangelical Reverend Lou Sheldon and his Traditional Values Coalition, the press conference and summit gave new meaning to the phrase "sleeping with the enemy."

According to the newly formed coalition, topping the list of issues that black Americans need to focus on is the protection of marriage. Never mind the war, access to health care, HIV/AIDS, education, housing and Social Security, the number one problem facing black America is same-sex marriage.

Standing before the press in their Sunday best and eager to get their 15 minutes of fame and achievable share of President Bush's Faith-Based Initiative, these black pastors seemingly allowed their pulpits to be purchased by the GOP and Lou Sheldon, who is to gay people what Strom Thurmond was to blacks. Sheldon at one time even went so far as to support the quarantining of people with AIDS and accused the federal government of "running a network of whorehouses," when the U.S. responded to the AIDS crisis with resources.

Later that afternoon over one hundred black pastors gathered at Rev. Fred Price's Crenshaw Christian Center, another prominent mega-church, where Sheldon showed his infamous "gay rights, special rights" video and urged the pastors to have their congregations lobby African-American legislators who hadn't taken a position on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Listening from the outside, one might have thought they were listening in on a Klan meeting, but after one look around the room, I remember thinking of Dave Chappelle's portrayal of a blind black white supremacist who had never been told he was black.

Black pulpits are for sale to the highest bidder and black Christians are quite possibly being sold to the GOP under the guise of protecting America's moral values. With claims that gays are "high-jacking" the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr.'s message, Sheldon is bribing black pastor after pastor and church after church with check after check to take another look at the GOP and partnering with their white Christian counterparts all while using the Bible as a justification for their commonality. Yes, the same book that was used to justify racism, sexism and anti-Semitism has both black and white Christian evangelicals reading from the same page.

Few remember, that there were significant members of the black church including the National Baptist Convention led by Dr. J.H. Jackson in the '50s that vehemently opposed the civil rights movement and didn't want progressive ministers like Dr. King to have any confrontations with the government. So much so, that was one of the major factors in Dr. King's decision to create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference along with Los Angeles ministers Rev. James Lawson and the late Dr. Thomas Kilgore.

These black pastors who have aligned themselves with white Christian evangelicals and Conservatives, are the ideological descendents of the same people who opposed Dr. King in the '50s but today want to claim his message as their own in the name of protecting the institution of marriage, thereby giving new meaning to the name "Uncle Tom."

However, don't think that these new partnerships come without strings attached. The black vote is expected to be hand delivered on legislation that supports discrimination against gays and lesbians and their right to protect their families, denying a woman's right to choose and pushing the president's abstinence only campaign. In addition, our religious leaders are also expected to remain silent and not be the prophetic voices they should be on issues of critical importance to blacks. In exchange for money, they've essentially sold their congregations to people who continue to oppose universal access to health care, education and housing, the very issues at the core of the black struggle.

There's a coordinated religious campaign to get ministers across the state to speak out against gays and the debate is not about religion but more about politics, power and keeping that political power in the hands of people who stood in the schoolhouse door, fighting for segregation and against the full inclusion of blacks in society.

Zora Neale Hurston once said, "Not all black skin is kin."

Can I get a witness?

Busting the Social Security Myths

Proponents of Social Security privatization are trying to claim that the current program is unfair to African Americans and that a privatized program would serve African Americans better. This argument lends support to the privatization agenda while at the same time giving its advocates a compassionate gloss. But the claims about African Americans and Social Security are wrong.

The Old Age Survivors and Disability Insurance Program (OASDI), popularly known as Social Security, was put in place by Franklin Roosevelt to establish a solid bulwark of economic rights for the public – specifically, as he put it, "the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment." Most Americans associate Social Security only with the retirement – or old age – benefit. Yet it was created to do much more, and it does.

As its original name suggests, Social Security is an insurance program that protects workers and their families against the income loss that occurs when a worker retires, becomes disabled or dies. All workers will eventually either grow too old to compete in the labor market, become disabled or die. OASDI insures all workers and their families against these universal risks, while spreading the costs and benefits of that insurance protection among the entire workforce. Currently, 70 percent of Social Security funds go to retirees, 15 percent to disabled workers, and 15 percent to survivors.

Social Security is a "pay as you go" system, which means the taxes paid by today's workers are not set aside to pay their own benefits down the road, but rather go to pay the benefits of current Social Security recipients. It's financed using the Federal Insurance Contribution Act (or FICA) payroll tax, paid by all working Americans on earnings of less than about $90,000 a year. While the payroll tax is not progressive, Social Security benefits are – that is, low-wage workers receive a greater percentage of pre-retirement earnings from the program than higher-wage workers.

In the 1980s, recognizing that the baby boom generation would strain this system, Congress passed reforms to raise extra tax revenues above and beyond the current need and set up a trust fund to hold the reserve. (See "Social Security Isn't Broken," Dollars and Sense.) Trustees were appointed and charged with keeping Social Security solvent. Today's trustees warn that their projections, which are based on modest assumptions about the long-term growth of the U.S. economy, show the system could face a shortfall around 2042, when either benefits would have to be cut or the FICA tax raised.

Those who oppose the social nature of the program have pounced on its projected shortfall in revenues to argue that the program cannot – or ought not – be fixed, but should instead be fundamentally changed. Privatization proponents are seeking to frame the issue as a matter of social justice, as if Social Security "reform" would primarily benefit low-income workers, blue-collar workers, people of color and women. Prompted by disparities in life expectancy between whites and African Americans and the racial wealth gap, a growing chorus within the privatization movement is claiming that privatizing Social Security would be beneficial to African Americans.

Opponents attack the program on the basis of an analogy to private retirement accounts. Early generations of Social Security beneficiaries received much more in benefits than they had paid into the system in taxes. Privatization proponents argue those early recipients received a "higher rate of return" on their "investment" while current and future generations are being "robbed" because they will see "lower rates of return." They argue the current system of social insurance – particularly the retirement program – should be privatized, switching from the current "pay-as-you-go" system to one in which individual workers claim their own contribution and decide where and how to invest it.

But this logic inverts the premise of social insurance. Rather than sharing risk across the entire workforce to ensure that all workers and their families are protected from the three inevitabilities of old age, disability, and death, privatizing Social Security retirement benefits would enable high-wage workers to reap gains from private retirement investment without having to help protect lower-wage workers from their (disproportionate) risks of disability and death. High-wage workers, who are more likely to live long enough to retire, could in fact do better on average if they opt out of the general risk pool and devote all their money to retirement without having to cover the risk of those who may become disabled or die, although they would of course be subjecting their retirement dollars to greater risk. But low-wage workers, who are far more likely to need disability or survivors' benefits to help their families and are less likely to live long enough to retire, would then be left with lower disability and survivors' benefits, and possibly no guaranteed benefits. This is what the Social Security privatization movement envisions. But you wouldn't know it from reading their literature.

And when the myths about Social Security's financial straits meet another American myth – race – even more confusion follows. Here is a look at three misleading claims by privatization proponents about African Americans and Social Security.

Myth #1: The Longevity Myth

Several conservative research groups argue that Social Security is a bad deal for African Americans because of their lower life expectancies. "Lifetime Social Security benefits depend, in large part, on longevity," writes the Cato Institute's Michael Tanner in his briefing paper "Disparate Impact: Social Security and African Americans." "At every age, African-American men and women both have shorter life expectancies than do their white counterparts. ... As a result, a black man or woman earning exactly the same lifetime wages, and paying exactly the same lifetime Social Security taxes, as his or her white counterpart will likely receive a far lower rate of return." Or as the Americans for Tax Reform web site puts it: "A black male born today has a life expectancy of 64.8 years. But the Social Security retirement age for that worker in the future will be 67 years. That means probably the majority of black males will never even receive Social Security retirement benefits."

The longevity myth is the foundation of all the race-based arguments for Social Security privatization. There are several problems with it.

First, the shorter life expectancy of African Americans compared to whites is the result of higher morbidity in mid-life, and is most acute for African-American men. The life expectancies of African-American women and white men are virtually equal. So the life expectancy argument can really only be made about African-American men.

Second, the claim that OASDI is unfair to African Americans because their expected benefits are less than their expected payments is usually raised and then answered from the perspective of the retirement (or "old age") benefit alone. That is an inaccurate way to look at the problem. Because OASDI also serves families of workers who become disabled or die, a correct measure would take into account the probability of all three risk factors – old age, disability, and death. Both survivor benefits and disability benefits, in fact, go disproportionately to African Americans.

While African Americans make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, 23 percent of children receiving Social Security survivor benefits are African American, as are about 17 percent of disability beneficiaries. On average, a worker who receives disability benefits or a family that receives survivor benefits gets far more in return than the worker paid in FICA taxes, notwithstanding privatizers' attempts to argue that Social Security is a bad deal.

Survivors' benefits also provide an important boost to poor families more generally. A recent study by the National Urban League Institute for Opportunity and Equality showed that the benefit lifted 1 million children out of poverty and helped another 1 million avoid extreme poverty (living below half the poverty line).

Finally, among workers who do live long enough to get the retirement benefit, life expectancies don't differ much by racial group. For example, at age 65, the life expectancies of African-American and white men are virtually the same.

President Bush's Social Security commission proposed the partial privatization of Social Security retirement accounts, but cautioned that it could not figure out how to maintain equal benefits for the other risk pools. The commission suggested that disability and survivor's benefits would have to be reduced if the privatization plan proceeds.

This vision is of a retirement program designed for the benefit of the worker who retires – only. A program with that focus would work against, not for, African Americans because of the higher morbidity rates in middle age and the smaller share of African Americans who live to retirement.

Myth #2: The Education Myth

African Americans have less education, and so are in the work force longer than whites, and yet Social Security only credits 35 years of work experience in figuring benefits. Tanner says, "benefits are calculated on the basis of the highest 35 years of earnings over a worker's lifetime. Workers must still pay Social Security taxes during years outside those 35, but those taxes do not count toward or earn additional benefits. Generally, those low-earnings years occur early in an individual's life. That is particularly important to African Americans because they are likely to enter the workforce at an earlier age than whites. ..."

This claim misinterprets the benefit formula for Social Security. Yes, African Americans on average are slightly less educated than whites. The gap is mostly because of a higher college completion rate for white men compared to African-American men. But the education argument fails to acknowledge that white teenagers have a significantly higher labor force participation rate (at 46 percent) than do African-American teens (29 percent). The higher labor force participation of white teenagers helps to explain why young white adults do better in the labor market than young African-American adults. (The racial gaps in unemployment are considerably greater for teenagers and young adults than for those over 25.)

These differences in early labor market experiences mean that African-American men have more years of zero earnings than do whites. So while the statement about education is true, the inference from education differences to work histories is false. By taking only 35 years of work history into account in the benefit formula, the Social Security formula is progressive. It in effect ignores years of zero or very low earnings. This levels the playing field among long-time workers, putting African Americans with more years of zero earnings on par with whites. By contrast, a private system based on total years of earnings would exacerbate racial labor market disparities.

Myth #3: The Dependence Myth

A third claim put forward by critics of Social Security is that African-American retirees are more dependent on Social Security than whites. Tanner writes: "Elderly African Americans are much more likely than their white counterparts to be dependent on Social Security benefits for most or all of their retirement income." Therefore, he concludes, "African Americans would be among those with the most to gain from the privatization of Social Security – transforming the program into a system of individually owned, privately invested accounts." Law professor and senior policy advisor to Americans for Tax Reform Peter Ferrara adds, "the personal accounts would produce far higher returns and benefits for lower-income workers, African Americans, Hispanics, women and other minorities."

It's true that African-American retirees are more likely than whites to rely on Social Security as their only income in old age. It's the sole source of retirement income for 40 percent of elderly African Americans. This is a result of discrimination in the labor market that limits the share of African Americans with jobs that offer pension benefits. Privatizing Social Security would not change labor market discrimination or its effects.

Privatizing Social Security would, however, exacerbate the earnings differences between African Americans and whites, since benefits would be based solely on individual savings. What would help African-American retirees is not privatization, but rather changing the redistributive aspects of Social Security to make it even more progressive.

The current formula for Social Security benefits is progressive in two ways: low earners get a higher share of their earnings than do higher wage earners and the lowest years of earning are ignored. Changes in the formula to raise the benefits floor enough to lift all retired Social Security recipients out of poverty would make it still more progressive. Increasing and updating the Supplemental Security Income payment, which helps low earners, could accomplish the same goal for SSI recipients. (SSI is a program administered by Social Security for very low earners and the poor who are disabled, blind or at least 65 years old.)

The proponents of privatization argue that the heavy reliance of African-American seniors on Social Security requires higher rates of return – returns that are only possible by putting money into the stock market. Yet given the lack of access to private pensions for African-American seniors and their low savings from lifetimes of low earnings, such a notion is perverse. It would have African Americans gamble with their only leg of retirement's supposed three-legged stool: pension, savings, and Social Security. And, given the much higher risk that African Americans face of both death before retirement and of disability, it would be a risky gamble indeed to lower those benefits while jeopardizing their only retirement leg.

Privatizing the retirement program, and separating the integrated elements of Social Security, would split America. The divisions would be many: between those more likely to be disabled and those who are not; between those more likely to die before retirement and those more likely to retire; between children who get survivors' benefits and the elderly who get retirement benefits; between those who retire with high-yield investments and those who fare poorly in retirement. The "horizontal equity" of the program (treating similar people in a similar way) would be lost, as volatile stock fluctuations and the timing of retirement could greatly affect individuals' rates of return. The "vertical equity" of the program (its progressive nature, insuring a floor for benefits) would be placed in greater jeopardy with the shift from social to private benefits.

Social Security works because it is "social." It is America's only universal federal program. The proposed changes would place Social Security in the same political space as the rest of America's federal programs – and African Americans have seen time and again how those politics work.

Black Point Man for the Right

"You have to understand people like George Bush. He's a nice guy. We need to learn from him. Remember what Bill Clinton did: He figured out what Republicans were doing well, and instead of complaining about it, he figured out a way to do it better." - Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. (D-Tenn.)

The black body politic has been invaded by corporate money, which seeks through its media arms to select a "new" black leadership from among a small group of compliant and corrupt Democrats. Memphis Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. is a principal vector of the disease, an eager acolyte of the corporate-funded Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), and now the point man among black Democrats in the Republican mission to destroy Social Security.

Ford should also be known as the "Black Man Who Dances With Blue Dogs" – one of only two black congressional members of the Blue Dog Democratic Coalition (the other black Blue Dog is Georgia Rep. Sanford Bishop). C-SPAN congressional scholar Ilona Nickles aptly describes the Blue Dogs as "closer in purpose to a former coalition of southern Members of the House known as the 'Boll Weevils,' whose heyday was in the early 1980's. These Members defected as a group from the Democratic party to vote with Congressional Republicans on budgetary and tax bills."

Harold Ford is preparing to defect from the Democratic and Congressional Black caucuses in service to George Bush's Social Security privatization scheme, which he has embraced in principle. Blue Dog and DLC congresspersons form the core of the Democrats that Ford hopes will join Republicans, like South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, "to create an ownership society in a variety of creative ways, and move away from 'if you're for privatization, you're with the Republicans' and 'if you're against it, you're with the Democrats,'" in Ford's words.

"Ownership society" is, of course, the slogan George Bush has deployed in his campaign to transfer trillions of Social Security dollars to Wall Street. White House guru Karl Rove must be giving Harold Ford copies of Bush's scripts. The 34-year-old congressman has been mimicking Bush on Social Security since at least April of last year, when Ford addressed a forum organized by Centrists.org, the Concord Coalition, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget at the New America Foundation and the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security. The latter is a front set up by the National Association of Manufacturers specifically to undermine Social Security. Centrists.Org is the Blue Dog Coalition's think tank, the Concord Coalition opposes "entitlements" of all kinds and spreads hysteria about the coming "bankruptcy" of Social Security, while the New America Foundation's Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget is a public policy factory for a mix of DLC Democrats and "moderate" Republicans. All are slaves of corporate funding.

What do these people have to do with Rep. Ford's mostly black constituents in the 9th congressional district in Memphis, Tenn.? Nothing. They are denizens of purely corporate constructs that share no constituencies on Ford's home turf or in any significant sector of black America. The congressman has journeyed far afield to inhabit a Neverland much more dangerous and alien to black interests than anything Michael Jackson could conjure or imagine. Harold Ford has crossed over to the corporate side of the world, beyond redemption. And he's not alone. As we wrote in our Dec. 2, 2004 Cover Story, "Black Dems Must Clean Up Their Own Act ": "One-fifth of the CBC are members of the DLC. These include Harold Ford, Jr. (TN) ... Artur Davis (AL), beneficiary of the 2002 corporate cash offensive that also ousted Cynthia McKinney in neighboring Georgia; David Scott (GA), possibly the most conservative-voting member of the CBC, also a 2002 black "New Democrat"; Gregory Meeks (NY), Juanita Millender-McDonald (CA) and James E. Clyburn (SC), an otherwise decent man who nevertheless finds it useful to co-chair his state's DLC; and Albert R. Wynn (MD), who is proud to have "represented the Congressional Black Caucus on the [House Democratic] Caucus Democratic Leadership Council."

Not all of these tainted black politicians will abandon the historical Black Political Consensus to support privatization of Social Security – the founding program of the New Deal – but Harold Ford has already sprinted across the great divide. Ford's personal ambitions and utter lack of principle have propelled him beyond the boundaries of the Black Consensus and, therefore, outside of the African-American conversation. The problem is: Black people don't control the terms of their own conversations. Corporate dominion over media is just as endemic to the black airwaves and print outlets as to general media, and these media corporations celebrate crossover dreams even when they are the product of treachery against historical and current black aspirations.

More troubling, progressive blacks, including the 18 members of the Congressional Black Caucus (out of 43) that belong to the Congressional Progressive Caucus, are loathe to confront treason in the ranks, and thus allow malefactors like Harold Ford to work their show for the rich white corporate folks, without political penalty. Ford's constituents in Memphis don't even know that he's stabbing them in the back. Yet Harold Ford's cut is the deepest cut of all: "I'm a Democrat because I think we are more often right," Ford told the Nashville Scene, back in March. "But there are some things some Democrats believe that I don't. I don't think government is an insurance program."

With that statement, the well-educated but ill-raised Harold Ford reveals that he either misunderstands or opposes the very premise of Social Security, which is an insurance program against the vissisitudes of the stock market.

On Au. 14, 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt described his new Social Security Act to the U.S. Congress in these words: "[It] represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means completed – a structure intended to lessen the force of possible future depressions, to act as a protection to future administrations of the Government against the necessity of going deeply into debt to funding relief to the needy, a law to flatten out the peaks and valleys of deflation and of inflation – in other words, a law that will take care of human needs and at the same time provide for the United States an economic structure of vastly greater soundness."

Social Security was conceived as an insurance policy against the inevitable booms and busts of capitalism – economic tremors, and sometimes earthquakes, that wreak excessive damage among African Americans like Harold Ford's Memphis constituents. In his zeal to position himself to run for Bill Frist's Senate seat in 2006, Ford would destroy the last major government program that gives the United States any claim to civilization among industrial nations. He is already embarked on a crime of historic proportions.

Ford has enlisted in a multi-trillion dollar scam, "a fake solution to a fake crisis," as Princeton University economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman puts it. There is no "crisis" in Social Security, but the Bush administration is determined to create one at the cost of trillions of dollars in order to destroy the last major vestige of Roosevelt's New Deal while filling the coffers of their Wall Street patrons. "The date at which the trust fund will run out, according to Social Security Administration [SSA] projections, has receded steadily into the future," writes Krugman in a special issue of the scholarly journal, Economists' Voice. "Ten years ago it was 2029, now it's 2042. As Kevin Drum, Brad DeLong and others have pointed out, the SSA estimates are very conservative, and quite moderate projections of economic growth push the exhaustion date into the indefinite future."

The promise made to aging Americans (that is, all of us) under the Social Security program is the same one made to foreign holders of American debt: you will be paid. What George Bush and surrogates like Harold Ford are threatening – and it is a monstrous threat – is to renege on Americans who have contributed heavily into payroll taxes for most of their lives, while maintaining obligations to the foreigners who finance chronic U.S. debt. Both Social Security and the offshore debt are secured by the "full faith and credit" of the American government. That means, in Krugman's analysis, "we can't have a Social Security crisis without a general fiscal crisis – unless Congress declares that debts to foreign bondholders must be honored, but that promises to older Americans, who have spent most of their working lives paying extra payroll taxes to build up the trust fund, don't count."

Social Security is, in fact, the great scapegoat for the Bush Pirate regime's current and future corporate raids on the U.S. economy. "The long-term cost of the Bush tax cuts is five times the budget office's estimate of Social Security's deficit over the next 75 years," writes Krugman, in his New York Times column. "The botched prescription drug bill passed in 2003 does more, all by itself, to increase the long-run budget deficit than the projected rise in Social Security expenses." The prescription drug bill is a massive transfer of public funds to the pharmaceutical industry, without lowering prices for American consumers, the highest by far in the world – the job Republicans were put in office to perform.

Along with the fake Social Security crisis comes fake black leadership, in the person of Harold Ford, vouched for by People magazine as one of the "50 most beautiful people in the world." Ford, the perfect example of bamboozlement, and armed with a total immunity to facts, is so dense that he believes his relative youth trumps reason and data. "I'm 33 years old, and many in my generation will tell you they're not expecting to be able to rely on Social Security," Ford told the April meeting of anti-Social Security mercenaries. He was simply repeating a Bush line that is not rooted in reality, but endlessly echoed in corporate media. The Bush plan is, however, a self-fulfilling prophecy, designed to destroy both the political premise and financial basis of Social Security in the United States.

Lots of young black people are not as dumb or duplicitous as Harold Ford. Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, a vice president of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation who is roughly Ford's age, notes that the 20 cents on the dollar "gap" in Social Security inputs conservatively projected for the year 2052 is a statistical blip on the half-century screen. "What privatizers don't want Americans to know is that this 20 cent gap per dollar of promised benefits is manageable and can be closed without radically altering the system," wrote Rockeymoore, in the Dec. 16, 2004 issue of The Black Commentator. "In fact, the tax cuts President Bush gave away to the wealthiest one percent of Americans could have covered the amount of the long-term Social Security shortfall and there would have still been money left over for other important priorities."

Rep. Ford's dialogue with sworn enemies of Social Security has led him to devise schemes to "target benefit levels to those who actually work longer" – a dagger in the heart of black Americans, who are forced to work under less reliable terms of employment and with less compensation than whites. Thus, Ford would exacerbate the institutional racist bias against black workers – a population about which he appears to know nothing. But Dr. Rockeymoore does: "Because of historical patterns of discrimination in the U.S. education system and labor market, African Americans are more likely to earn a modest living during the course of their working lives, more likely to have experienced spells of unemployment or underemployment, and more likely to retire with less income from private pensions, assets or personal savings."

The Bush administration's assault on the last bastion of the American social safety net can be repulsed, but only if we reject the Trojan horses who have been positioned in black ranks – most notably, Harold Ford. The deplorable state of black media has set charlatans like Ford free to trot around the country, forging alliances with Republicans and Dixiecrats at will. Ford was among the "Four Eunuchs" of the Congressional Black Caucus who endorsed George Bush's Iraq War powers, in October 2002. He was re-elected the next month, and two years after that, as were the three other eunuchs.

There seems to be no accountability in black politics, no incisive coverage of political figures on black radio and effective print media (forget television), and no reliable campaign contributions except from the corporate sector and stingy labor unions. In this environment, media caricatures like Harold Ford thrive. The virus spreads, undermining the Black Political Consensus that nevertheless propels 90 percent of us in the same direction, every presidential election.

But we fail to exercise due diligence on the home front, in our own districts. That's why Harold Ford exists, as a political figure. We hope this article finds its way into as many Memphis households as possible, where it can do the most good.

Harold Ford styles himself as the candidate of youth. However, we know that greed and ambition are as old as dirt.

Concede Nothing

The worst possible outcome of Tuesday's election would have been that George Bush won with the help of a divided black electorate. Instead, African Americans reaffirmed the vitality of the Black Political Consensus – our eyes firmly fixed on the prize: peace, jobs and justice. Despite faith-based blandishments to the sell-out branch of the black clergy, massive deployment of the GOP's gay wedge issue and, most hurtfully, the Kerry team's initial determination to render African Americans invisible and mute in the campaign, blacks stood like a rock in defense of their own interests. Undeterred by disinformation that insanely (or maybe just inanely) predicted a doubling of black support for Bush, African Americans placed their numbers and sheer will in the path of the Bush II juggernaut. It rolled over us, by fair means and foul, but our Consensus – the impermeable historical glue that makes African Americans unique in the Diaspora – remained intact.

And, truth be known, we had more white people on our side in this election than at any time in modern American history – just not enough. The Bush men brag that their figurehead won more votes than any president, ever. Yet more people also voted against Bush than any previous president. We who have never – and will never – won U.S.-wide power on our own, were on Election Day at the vortex of the struggle against an enemy that makes the planet shiver.

This is the cross we bear – and it muscles us up. That's why the Republicans targeted black precincts and voter rolls, everywhere – not just in the battleground states – in the attempt to bowl over the front pins in the Democratic electoral configuration. Republicans know where the center of the party's demographic gravity lies, and they went for it, in full view of the world. After a "decent interval" of cynical niceties – a charade that began on Wednesday and will be catered by Kerry's DLC – the GOP has every intention to bring to bear the full power of the Bush II state against mainstream black America political structures.

As "provisional" citizens, we subjected ourselves to degrading identification interrogations, lined up like suspects deep into the night – or, as Harvard's Dr. Michael Dawson puts it, "standing patiently for regime change" – only to be finally assigned a "provisional" ballot that may never be counted, or even known to exist. African Americans didn't perform these electoral feats for John Kerry or any combination of white Democrats; we did it for ourselves, because we know what's coming down the road.

An 'Inside' Job

"We shall not be moved," went the civil rights song. Four years of mercenary black faces in high Republican places – Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Rod Paige – have failed to move us from our righteous Consensus for social justice and international peace, or to dim our highly evolved vision of black America's singular mission. These are the cards we have been dealt by history. However, African Americans are especially vulnerable to demoralization from within.

In mid-October, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies (JCPES), the venerable Washington-based black think tank, announced that its 2004 survey of African American opinion showed that 18 percent of respondents "would like to see" Bush win – dramatic "news" that the corporate media snatched up and clutched to their bosoms like the Holy Grail. Breaking down the figures, the JCPES claimed that 29 percent of "secular conservative" blacks and 36 percent of "Christian conservatives" wanted Bush to win on Nov. 2. Eight percent of 'liberal' African Americans and 13 percent of self-identified 'moderates' also wished for a Bush victory. "I think Bush's faith-based initiative, combined with the gay marriage issue and also Bush's sort of overtly southern religious personality has made him more popular among black conservative Christians," JCPES research director David Bositis told the New York Times.

Apparently, the self-selected black "conservative Christians" were actually less numerous than the JCPES assumed, or didn't understand the question, or said what they thought the pollsters wanted to hear.

Within less than two weeks, the New York Times and the St. Petersburg [Florida] Times claimed to have independently discovered that 17 and 19 percent of blacks, respectively, had lined up in the Republican column. This, as headlines screamed the full extent of the Bush administration's planned disruptions of black voter activities. A disclaimer was issued by the two white papers on Oct. 25, warning that their data could be off due to "large margins of sampling error because of the small samples of black voters." But by then, Republicans and their media allies were gleefully celebrating the giant crack in the Black Political Consensus, citing JCPES as the authority.

Head researcher Bositis began backing off the JCPES's finding, telling columnist Deborah Mathis the 18 percent figure was "an outside number; something in the 12-14 percent range may be more like it. Even so," Mathis wrote, "that would be almost double what W got from black voters in 2000."

When black voters finally got to speak for themselves on Nov. 2, Bush got 10 or 11 percent of the black vote, respectively, according to Washington Post and CNN exit polls. The ultra-high profile presence of Condoleezza and Colin, the millions lavished on corrupt Rev. Greedygut preachers, the endless propaganda about a growing "new class" of black conservatives, the disinformation from the New York Times and, yes, from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies – all this and more over four years had moved the black electorate a mere one percent or (maybe) two into the Republican ranks.

"The turnout should wash away any doubt about the conclusions African Americans have come to about the legitimacy of this regime," said Harvard's Dr. Dawson, a noted social demographer who, along with colleague Dr. Lawrence Bobo, has been studying racial divisions under the reign of George W. Bush.

The JCPES, which over the years has accrued great authority as a source of data and analysis about African Americans, should take much more seriously the harm that it inflicts through data that is not put into proper context, or just plain bad data. This is not the first time that the Joint Center has given aid and comfort to the Hard Right through faulty questions and imprecise conclusions.

The Black Consensus is perhaps our greatest resource. As distinguished from a reflexive, unthinking sense of "unity," the broad African American worldview is based on generations of shared experience with the same foe: American white supremacy. It is, in a sense, our collective genius: the ability to sustain a humane and progressive black polity while under constant assault from the larger society's corrupting commercial, political and cultural forces – including the coercive powers of an ever-hostile state. The Black Political Consensus should never be artificially buttressed or exaggerated, but to the extent that it exists, it is our sword and shield. It takes us into battle, and prepares us for the next one. It sustained us through Nov. 2.

Gays, Youth, Latinos and Lots of Whites

Union officials deeply involved in the get-out-the-vote effort in Detroit tell of "ferocious" debates among rank and file blacks over anti-same-sex marriage initiatives on the ballot in Michigan and ten other states, on Tuesday. While urban infrastructure and services crumbled around them, otherwise sensible African Americans allowed themselves to be engaged by the Republican's wedge issue. On Election Day, blacks were as likely as whites to vote against same-sex marriage – yet they did not take the bait set out for them by sell-out preachers, to vote for George Bush. There is no Black Consensus on homosexuality. The JCPES's 'Christian conservatives' – however many there are – knew where to draw the line.

New lines are being drawn by white youth who, starting in the Reagan years, polled even more conservative than their Sixties-influenced elders. Deep in the bowels of Alabama and South Carolina, where overwhelming majorities of whites swear by Bush, white youth broke ranks this week. "Even in the bastions of the Confederacy young people were breaking for Kerry," Dr. Dawson said. "That's the most positive sign for the future." Indeed, it is clear proof of the deep penetration of hip hop sensibilities outside of the black community. White rapper Eminem's anti-Bush video- animation "Mosh"will likely, through the perverse mechanisms of corporate racism, cause record labels to loosen the political controls that have stifled many black rap artists for more than a decade. Another political/cultural world is opening up even as the Bush men try to shut this one down.

Beyond the bling, hip Hop activism is getting serious, portending a radically different – but no less rooted – political aesthetic as the Black Consensus evolves. Maya Rockeymoore, author of "The Political Action Handbook: A How To Guide for the Hip Hop Generation," speaks of "an unprecedented focus on the presidential campaign among the 34-and-under crowd. The challenge will be to get them to engage in driving a transformational political agenda beyond Nov. 3."

Black youth are conscientiously assuming responsibility for the ancestral legacy. For many young activists, hip hop is a means to share African American wisdom and solidarity with the world. Bush can bum-rush the polls, but this show goes on. Harvard's Prof. Dawson is cautiously optimistic, fearing that elections-programmed youth might "go into a three-year funk" until the next campaign. "We have to organize from the grassroots up. It's a perilous future. The national government is going to go after the NAACP and the unions."

African Americans are approaching that future guided by a Consensus on core issues that has so far remained largely impervious to outside manipulation – although it is subject to diversions and distractions such as the ridiculous debate on gays emanating from a gay-saturated black church!

The Nov. 2 data on Latino voters is disturbing. Bush appears to have garnered substantially more Latino votes than in 2000, a development that some observers credit to deepening Hispanic involvement in the military. Yet, no group includes more families with members in the military than African Americans, who nevertheless are the least inclined to support U.S. adventures abroad. Many Latinos are apparently headed in a different political direction, but we should not draw general conclusions without a nationality-by-nationality analysis. There is a whole world of Spanish-speakers in the Americas. There is no consensus on Latinos among African Americans, or among Latinos, themselves. Nov. 2 has presented us with troubling questions.

Christians from Hell

The swelling white Republican base that triumphed on Election Day is a nightmare. Although their actual numbers may well have been augmented by electronic means in counties with computerized voting (including the whole state of Georgia, for example), there can be no doubt that the Bush victory was propelled by something very much like a mass social movement, with its own vocabulary and leadership structures. This is Bush's army, says Dr. Dawson. "The Bush administration has achieved absolute mastery of white Protestants, particularly those with less education. This is damning for the country and its future."

It is actually a familiar enemy, drawn from the same "stock" that have cut off their economic noses to spite black faces since the end of the Civil War. They were once the Dixiecrat base, who then became the southern Republican base, and are now tied together with similar white elements throughout the country by interlocking networks of churches and the Republican Party. The corporate media feign surprise and fascination at the emergence of this huge group of whites – a posture that strikes many blacks as disingenuous, since those of us with southern roots know that crowd all too well. According to the Washington Post's David Broder, "the exit poll indicated that about 22 percent of [Tuesday's] voters were white evangelical or born-again Christians, three-quarters of whom went for Bush." That amounts to about one-third of Bush's total national vote.

This indispensable core, which now acts as a mass citizen militia for Karl Rove and other Bush commandants, scares the hell out of many of the 44 percent of white folks who didn't vote for Bush. Black Americans do not need European models of fascism to understand the grave threat these people represent to life and liberty. They are the folks standing under the tree, while we swing from the limbs.

These whites – or rather, their leaders – are masters of euphemism. They swamped the polls (with some technical and political assistance) on Tuesday with the words "moral values" on their lips – white evangelical code for the "good people" versus the "bad" people. The ancient but still fiercely operative black-white paradigm has been overlaid with "Arabs," "clash of civilizations" and "homosexuals," but it's still the same onion. The new texture of the old paradigm of oppression simply allows more whites to act/vote on what NAACP Chairman Julian Bond calls their "racist impulses." These are the impulses that fueled the Republican electoral machine.

On the other hand, we believe that there is a far deeper and wider white opposition to the current regime than existed at any point in the supposedly "turbulent" 1960s and early 1960s. Many anti-Bush whites are aware that when black folks were disenfranchised by a criminal conspiracy of George W. Bush's national government, they were also disenfranchised. Even larger proportions of white youth know the deal. Black people's only obligation to them is the same one we have to ourselves: to lead.

Kerry's Separate Peace

As usual, the corporate media pretend that the Republican's bullying and official criminality in the weeks preceding Election Day – events they covered – never happened. John Kerry collaborates in the farce, proclaiming in his public concession speech that America is in "desperate need for unity, for finding common ground and coming together. Today, I hope we can begin the healing."

But the troops who carried him, the black men and women targeted for harassment and humiliation at the polls, are bleeding on the field, many of their votes never to be counted or even acknowledged. The vaunted legions of Democratic lawyers that were supposed to descend on Ohio and Florida to tear apart the rigged systems of electoral apartheid were told to stand down on Tuesday night. PBS News Hour's Margaret Warner told viewers that Kerry's legal team advocated a "scorched earth" policy to challenge the crooked system until it screamed – a result Democratic troops would have cheered. Kerry overruled his lawyers, to make a false peace with the Pirates.

At Harvard, Dr. Dawson reports that "students don't understand how Kerry could concede before all the votes, particularly black votes, were counted. He owes those people, who stood for hours in line and were asked for multiple identifications. We have another bounced check."

And what of the provisional ballots in Ohio, which Democrats at one time numbered at 250,000? What about all the federally-mandated provisional ballots in each of the 50 states. Are these all to be swept under the rug to avoid what Kerry calls "a protracted legal process?" Once again, reconciliation between the rich and white trumps justice for blacks every time.

In Florida, the computer-generated Bush-heavy election returns that so dramatically clashed with earlier Kerry-heavy human exit polls are now explained away as the result of the stealth invasion of Karl Rove's church-based mass voter movement – a half-million-strong evangelical invasion force that most hard-wired Republican pundits did not even know existed. As "Ghosts of Florida" author Tom Grayman III writes, "by no method has it been determined that the [exit] polling was incorrect and the voting equipment was not."

On Washington-based XM Radio, talk show host Mark Thompson remarked that the "third eye" of every black person in America was wide open, blinking in disbelief as Kerry Democrats and Bush Republicans rearrange the facts about Nov. 2, 2004.

The last thing America needs is unity with thieves, pirates and punks. The nation and the world need peace, jobs and justice. Let's get back to work.

Comparing Bush and Kerry on Civil Rights

Now that the presidential debates are over and campaign surrogates have tried to interpret or misinterpret what we saw for ourselves, there is no better time to ignore the rhetoric and check out the candidates' records.

Because John Kerry and his Democratic vice presidential running mate, John Edwards, served in the Senate, their votes can be reviewed. And the same can be said for Vice President Dick Cheney, who served in the House. Like many groups, each year the NAACP issues a Civil Rights Report Card, grading members of Congress on issues important to African-Americans. Every year they were in office, both Kerry and Edwards received As. When Cheney served in Congress from 1977 to 1988, he received an F every session.

Of course, President Bush has never served in the House or Senate, making it more difficult to assign him a grade. But the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has examined Bush's White House years and last week issued a draft staff report titled, "Redefining Rights in America: The Civil Rights Record of the George W. Bush Administration, 2001-2004." The report is available online at www.usccr.gov/pubs/bush/bush04.pdf.

The 166-page study by the independent, bi-partisan agency concludes, "President Bush has neither exhibited leadership on pressing civil rights issues, nor taken actions that matched his words."

It explains: "Public statements are a means by which Presidents draw the country's attention to important matters. However, President Bush seldom speaks about civil rights, and when he does, it is to carry out official duties, not to promote initiatives or plans for improving opportunity. Even when he publicly discusses existing barriers to equality and efforts to overcome them, the administration's words and deeds often conflict."

Although it is impossible to review all of the findings in this limited space, let's look at a few key areas:

NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND - Described as the most sweeping public education change in decades, President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law on Jan. 8, 2002. It requires states to test students on a regular basis, issue statewide progress reports and have all students academically proficient by the year 2014. "The Bush administration has not pushed for funding to support the requirements," the Commission study says. "... The actual funding has fallen short of levels authorized in the legislation. In 2003, funding fell $8 billion short, and in 2004 the President's request was $11 billion below target."

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION - When the Supreme Court decided to rule on two affirmative action cases involving the University of Michigan, one to admit undergraduates and another for entry into law school, the Bush administration opposed both programs. The court struck down the undergraduate plan but upheld the law school program. After the rulings, Bush praised the court for "recognizing the value of diversity" and announced that his administration favors race-neutral approaches. The study notes, "The president's comments mischaracterized the Court's holding, using the decision as a platform to promote race-neutral alternatives and to defend the administration's briefs, neither of which matches his verbal support for diversity."

FAIR HOUSING - "The president shifted resources away from rent assistance for the poor and toward home purchasing programs for minorities," the report says. "Although a worthwhile effort, the president's 'A Home of Your Own' program is hampered by insufficient funding to relieve the chronic affordable housing crisis."

JUDICIAL NOMINATIONS - The study notes that Bush's critics accuse him of packing the federal courts with rightwing judges, some of them Black. It observes, "... Race and gender alone do not guarantee support for civil rights. Some of President Bush's non-minority nominees hold views that would limit the scope and strength of civil rights laws, as some of his minority and female nominees."

FAITH-BASED INITITATIVES - Upon entering office, Bush pushed for expansion of religious groups to receive federal funds. The study by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights observes, "Although the initiative constitutes a retreat from civil rights, President Bush has consistently presented it as an extension of civil rights to religious groups."

HISTORICLALY BLACK COLLEGES - In 2002, Bush re-established the President's Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. "The board recommended that 27 participating agencies designate 10 percent of all money spent on higher education to HBCUs; only the Department of Education has met the goal," the report states. "The board also is more than two years behind schedule in releasing annual performance reports, rendering a government-wide evaluation of HBCU programs difficult."

No amount of post-debate spinning can alter that record.







Welcome to Africa Town

Desperate circumstances cause human beings to make questionable decisions. Take the Detroit City Council, please. They recently approved by a vote of 7-2, a proposal to purchase city-owned property with the intent of creating an area known as African Town. The purpose of African Town would be to create an economic development zone promoting black owned businesses. Detroit could do much worse. It could be like Washington, D.C., which has just entered into an economically ruinous agreement to bring the Montreal Expos, a baseball team no other city wants, to a brand new RFK stadium. Taxpayers will foot the $440 million bill for this corporate welfare handout.

The impetus for African Town and homes for moribund baseball teams is the same. Black urban areas are in bad shape. High unemployment rates, a dwindling tax base and a lack of community-owned businesses are all recipes for high crime, bad schools, and well meaning but foolish solutions.

In their infinite wisdom, the members of the Detroit City Council added an extra dose of unneeded drama to an already bad situation. It is true that Detroit's city government created a Greektown and a Mexican Town to promote tourism and economic development. The idea of an African Town is equally legitimate, and yet it would have the dubious distinction of recommending that immigrant groups be excluded from enjoying any of its benefits.

The Council commissioned the report, "A PowerNomics Economic Development Plan for Detroit's Under-Served Majority Population," from Dr. Claud Anderson. Dr. Anderson's report makes statements such as this:

"For blacks, immigration has always had negative consequences. It has harmed native blacks in Detroit and across the nation."

Black American resentment of immigrants is not new, neither is it unfounded. The group most subject to oppression and the resulting inability to build wealth, watches again and again as people from every corner of the globe move into their neighborhoods and accomplish what they have been prevented from doing. To add insult to injury they are then told that the newcomers' success is proof of their own worthlessness.

Needless to say, the immigrants in question are not happy about taking the blame for all of Detroit's deeply entrenched problems. Asian, Latino and Arab groups rallied against the proposal and demanded an apology from the City Council. The anti-immigrant sentiment in the report begs another question. Would black Americans in Detroit and elsewhere be better off if immigrants left? Would their businesses suddenly become owned by black people?

Residents in those communities not already in business for themselves would not magically turn into entrepreneurs. The lack of access to capital is an ongoing problem that would not be resolved if Koreans no longer sold black people their own hair care products.

The furor created by the African Town proposal raises another issue. Detroit's population is 80% black. In theory, the entire city should be a boom town for black people. If a majority black population and black political leadership can't provide economic development for Detroit, then the African Town discussion is a waste of time and energy that might be better spent developing a real plan for that city.

Detroit is doomed if its elected representatives spend time and money to commission reports that only result in made up terms like "PowerNomics," hurt feelings, and lots of back and forth in editorial columns. Perhaps Detroit should have taken the Montreal Expos. Two baseball teams might succeed where "PowerNomics" failed. Then again, maybe Detroit needs Ebonics. The City Council could host an Ebonics/PowerNomics summit that would bring millions of dollars to city coffers.

It is easy to make fun of all this sound and fury, but the rest of the country is no better than Detroit. New York City just suffered through major inconveniences and a mini police state in order to host the Republican National Convention. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire, promised a windfall for New York but the event may end up costing the city $309 million.

The corporate model for development simply does not work. It doesn't work in Detroit, in Washington, or in New York. The Detroit City Council and city councils throughout the nation should think of these words from the Black Commenator the next time they address this all important issue:

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Flying the Hysterical Skies

What happened on Northwest Airlines flight 327? The question has been on the lips of the press, public and punditry ever since the story was published on the website WomensWallStreet.com.

The author of the article, Annie Jacobsen, was traveling with her family from Detroit to Los Angeles on June 29, 2004. She and other passengers grew frightened when 14 Middle Eastern men behaved in what they felt was a "suspicious" manner during the flight. One gave her a "cold defiant look" and others went to the bathroom in succession. The crew shared Ms. Jacobsen's alarm and dialed the airline equivalent of 911. When the plane landed in Los Angeles the FBI and other law enforcement personnel were on hand.

A subsequent search of the plane turned up nothing suspicious and it was later confirmed that the group of men were musicians on their way to a performance near Los Angeles. By now, however, the tale has been spread all across the Internet and on radio and television talk shows. It has become commonly accepted that the musicians were practicing for a terrorist attack or might have planted explosives on the aircraft.

September 11 made it easy to justify racial profiling and this story has bolstered the argument. Anyone who questions the practice is dismissed as "politically correct," naïve, or forgetful of the terror attack that took nearly 3,000 lives.

If it is acceptable to be queasy on a plane if a group of Arabs go to the bathroom on a three-hour flight it should also be acceptable to assume the worst about other groups. If Arabs can be automatically suspected of terrorism just because they are Arabs, then white people should be suspected of chicanery, thievery, and corruption, just because they are white. Paranoia is often justified, and we should not exclude any group from our own personal security alerts.

Richard Grasso was CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, which unbeknownst to all but a few, is a non-profit organization. Mr. Grasso was forced out of his job but not before he convinced a passive board of powerful New York movers and shakers to give him an exit bonus totaling $139 million.

When the startling sum was made public, Board Chairman H. Carl McCall, former Comptroller of New York – and the only African American ever elected to statewide office – was forced to resign due to the board's dereliction of duty. Not only has Mr. Grasso refused to return any of the money wrongly given to him but he has sued his successor, John Reed, for defamation because Reed had the gall to criticize the pay package.

The list of corruption, conflicts of interest and outright theft among the white, high and mighty is a long one indeed. Who bankrupted Enron? If one listens to those on the daily "perp walk" the culprit is a mystery. Ken Lay, a fund-raiser for George W. Bush, pleads ignorance. His cohorts who cashed in their chips before the bottom fell out on Enron employees and their 401(k)s are likewise clueless, even as they cut deals with prosecutors to get the shortest prison sentences possible.

Who worsened prescription drug coverage for retirees? It wasn't Arabs, terrorist or otherwise. It was white American politicians, lobbyists, pharmaceutical companies and a corrupted AARP. The recently passed Medicare prescription drug package will not provide adequate coverage for needy seniors, but it also imperils coverage that millions of middle-class Americans already have.

If Arabs should be suspect while in flight, then white people should not be allowed near anyone's money. Taxpayers, shareholders, and workers have all been taken by the group that is most trusted but is the least worthy of anyone's trust. The United States is occupying Iraq, incurring the wrath of the Iraqi people and millions more around the world. The total of American soldiers killed in action now stands at 900. The Iraqi death toll is 11,000. Anyone who wanted payback for September 11 should be happy. The Iraqis have paid a very high price for the American desire for revenge.

Of course, powerful white people in executive suites brought this tragedy to fruition. They wanted to make lots and lots of money. So began a litany of no bid contracts, deals to transport oil to an oil-rich nation, jobs for non-Iraqis (while Iraqis look for work) and immunity from prosecution for any corporate wrongdoing.

To those who argue that we can't take a chance with suspicious Arabs I say that we should be consistent. If we can profile in the airport we should profile in banks, board rooms and in the halls of Congress. White people should be banned from involvement in any transactions involving large sums of money. If every Arab can be a presumed Mohammed Atta, then every white man should be a presumed Richard Grasso or Ken Lay. Let's have racial profiling everywhere in America. We will all feel a lot safer.

More Than Music and Style

"We need a national agenda to make sure that our community has more than music and style. We can't continue to do bootleg activism. We've got to do institutional activism, creating media outlets that will push our propaganda."
– Jeff Johnson, America Votes youth coordinator and commentator for BET's "Rap City"

"We're all activists. The question is, what are we active for? Are we active to forward a rightwing agenda in America, or are we active for liberation?"
– Rosa Clemente, co-founder, National Hip Hop Political Convention (NHHPC)

"Just as the Christian Coalition tapped into an existing infrastructure of conservative churches, we as a hip hop generation are tapping into an existing infrastructure that has been created by the hip hop movement."
– Bakari Kitwana, author and co-founder, NHHPC

American capitalism markets everything it can package and discards or mangles the rest. As a result, most "information" found in the marketplace is, by definition, disinformation – a "product" molded to suit a transaction, containing no reliable connection to the truth.

In the absence of a mass black political movement, the generation born after 1965 has been named for the culture it created, rather than – as with the preceding generation – the political goals for which they fought. Hip hop culture, the miraculous invention of black and Latino youth, is now marketed to the world by five multinational corporations. The social "reality" and political worldview of an entire generation (now going on two generations) has been packaged for sale to both its creators and the larger market: the planet.

Having been commercially defined as a raw demographic – a cohort of customers and product-modelers – the hip hop generation stares into a mirror that has been purposely cracked and deformed for somebody else's profit. Its activists, as brilliant as any produced at any time or place in history – and intent, like all healthy young humans, on changing the world – find that they must first confront the marketed version of themselves.

The 3,000 young people who attended the National Hip Hop Political Convention in Newark, New Jersey, June 16-20, were determined to define themselves through a politics of struggle – to begin to redraw the map of the world through the prisms of their own experience.

"We are here today as young people under the hip hop umbrella," said Ras Baraka, the 34-year-old Deputy Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and one of the organizers of the event. "Politics is about the seizure of power," Baraka told the crowd. "Some of us don't understand what that means. Our kids think that seizing power is standing on a corner and doing the things they usually do." Each of the 500 official delegates from 17 states had registered 50 voters to earn the right to represent their generation.

Baraka, who is also an assistant public school principal, doesn't show up on the Right's short list of hip hop generation "leaders." By cynically misinterpreting polling data that show black youth to be increasingly estranged from the Democratic Party, and through relentless national media exposure of young, corporate-sponsored black politicians, the Right attempts to package the hip hop generation as essentially more "conservative" than its elders. The darlings of the Right include Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, 34, the Democratic Leadership Council's most prominent voice in the Congressional Black Caucus, and Cory Booker, the 35-year-old former Newark Councilman who, with the backing of the national conservative political and funding network, nearly captured City Hall in 2002.

What the conservatives prove is that the current younger generation contains its share of opportunists – just as did the last generation, and the one before that. But opportunists only show up when they get paid, and represent nothing but the finances of their sugar daddies. The National Hip Hop Political Convention had no deep-pocket sponsors, yet it succeeded on the strength of the organizers' peer credibility, and the near-universal desire among black youth to overturn the status quo.

Continuity of Struggle

So vacuous has American political discourse become that corporate spin-makers posing as journalists find it possible to produced 24-hour news cycles that reveal nothing at all except the political preferences of media owners. The mass marketing of attitudes and styles in place of issues and substance seeks to drain the language itself of the capacity to resist power. A generation of black youth that is imprisoned in astronomical numbers is simultaneously deployed as lifestyle models for the privileged, prison-immune classes – mass-produced insanity on its face. Yet in the continuity of black struggle, people and truths "crushed to earth" inevitably rise again to confront oppression.

"I believe that we are in this room because some slave willed us here," said Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, the 30-something Executive Director of New York Common Ground, and a mover-and-shaker of the convention. "We need a living wage for everyone. I call that a moral question."

Moral people seek to end injustice, mass media's truly taboo topic. Only by relentless avoidance of the continuity of injustices against black people can the media create the impression of vast chasms between black generations.

"Get the foot of oppression off our necks." From the hip hop perspective, 54-year-old Rev. Calvin Butts, of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church, qualifies as an elder. Yet his irreducible demand, delivered at a Town Hall meeting on the first full day of the convention, was identical to that of his hip hop audience. Many were aware of Butts' history of broad brush criticism of hip hop culture. However, in the context of a shared struggle against historical oppression, differences shrink. "Organizing must be done around a moral core. That moral core must respect all of us – our women, our children, our elders," said the preacher. "Without a moral core, the revolution is wiped out."

Who would argue with that?

Rich corporations mass-market immorality (after all, they are the only ones who can), and then label their products as authentic representations of hip hop generation morals. Righteously, the organizers of the Newark convention gave primacy to the morality of struggle – to the chapter and verse of resistance.

A secular elder, Ron Daniels, currently Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a prime mover in over three decades of black political conventions, showed the seamless connections between culture, morality, and politics. "Art must be functional and committed," said Daniels. "This generation must come to the forefront and lead us to change America." Nevertheless, "We cannot, in the name of 'realness,' denigrate ourselves."

"Denigration" was the last thing on these young people's minds. At the core of the convention were perhaps a thousand committed activists – ranging from seasoned, 30-something veterans to promising neophytes – who have the potential to do great damage to the powers-that-be.

Fight the Power

In what now seems the Golden Age of socially conscious hip hop, Public Enemy's Chuck D demanded that his audiences "fight the powers that be." Born in 1960, Chuck D and his peers, the inventors of the culture, are the political and chronological links between the so-called "Black Power" and hip hop generations. Currently a host on radio's Air America network, Chuck D recalled the suppression of hip hop. "From 1979 to 1992, there was a sheer abandonment [of hip hop music by black radio programmers]," he said. They banned it."

During that period, hip hop broke out of the neighborhoods and fueled the founding of a host of independent (mostly white-owned) record labels – an explosion of musical creativity and social commentary of all kinds. But not until the early nineties, after mega-corporations moved to swallow up the genre, did black-programmed radio embrace the music of black youth. Programmers ponderously intoned that hip hop fans were too young to attract advertisers, that they were not a valuable demographic – an amazing claim, since the R & B music that carried black radio to new heights in the Sixties was also the music of youth. But many in the hip hop industry understood the real deal: Black programmers were afraid of projecting a street "image." Essentially, hip hop had an intra-black, class problem. Don Cornelius wouldn't touch it, even though his "Soul Train" TV audience skewed to the younger demos.

In one of the great ironies of African American cultural history, black radio finally embraced hip hop in the early nineties – precisely when the huge corporate record labels shifted to gangsta rap. Industry researchers discovered that hip hop's most "active" consumer base was composed of 12- and 13-year-olds – tweens – a cohort that is drawn to repetitive profanity and, not having reached the sexual pairing-off stage of development, revels in misogyny. Artists and recordings (A & R) executives put great pressure on rap acts to become more "real" – a word that became a euphemism for egregiously profane and abusive language. In no time at all, the industry began churning out music geared primarily to younger juveniles. Black radio, which had had such a problem with hip hop before the corporate-guided ascendance of gangsta rap, dived into the cesspool with wild enthusiasm. The airwaves became filled with edits, bleeps and audio interruptions that did nothing to hide the "denigrating" content.

Black middle-class propriety was trumped by the servile imperative to follow the (white) corporate leader. No one can measure the accumulated arrested development afflicting youngsters raised on a profane corporate formula designed for tweens.

New Times, New Tasks

However, the music industry's version of "real" hasn't blotted out reality for the entirety of the hip hop generation. Mutulu, of Dead Prez, sees the world, clearly. "We gotta keep going," he urged the Newark convention. "If we don't keep going, rap will continue to be drafted into the capitalist world, the crack world, the prison industrial complex."

With a seriousness that wholly contradicts hip hop stereotypes, conventioneers fanned out in the scorching sun over three connected campuses – Essex County College, Rutgers-Newark and New Jersey Institute of Technology – to attend 50 workshops on every conceivable aspect of organizing.

The "movement" that was largely demobilized by an upwardly mobile, self-conscious "leadership class" in the late sixties, was getting an update.

"We looked at cities that have higher levels of black cops," Monifa Bandele explained to a workshop titled: Why Vote? Community Voices on the Criminal Justice System. "What we saw, clear as day, is that high levels of black cops is not the solution."

Bandele is a Brooklyn leader of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, which also has chapters in Alabama, Mississippi and California – all represented at the Newark convention. Black cops are often an active or passive problem, she said, as was revealed in the 1997 torture of Abner Louima. "You would be shocked to know how many black cops were there, in the precinct [where Louima was sodomized with a mop handle], and they said nothing, they did nothing."

At a workshop on Our Schools, Our Kids and the Money, gray-bearded Junius Williams, a legendary Newark scholar/activist who directs the Rutgers Abbott Leadership Institute, spoke of a brief period when street youth were drawn to political warfare rather than mindless gang-banging.  "Had these men been around 30 or 35 years ago," said Williams, referring to local gang members who had spoken to the convention the night before, "they would have been in a group like the Black Panthers or the Young Lords."

Whether as neo-Panthers (the New Black Panther Party was represented at the convention), as hip hop advocacy journalists (former Source Magazine executive editor Bakari Kitwana co-founded the convention), or among the numerous young teachers gathered in Newark under the hip hop "umbrella," what's crucial is that youth become engaged in struggle of some kind.  Rather than whine about older politicians who refuse to get out of the way, convention co-chair Angela Woodson exhorted: "Don't wait for the old guard. If you're ready, run!"

Electoral politics, the route taken to the exclusion of all others by critical elements of a previous generation's movement, has demonstrated its hollowness in the absence of year-round, grassroots organizing. "Electoral politics is futile, until they put revolution on the ballot," said Dead Prez's Mutulu, 32. But he says it without prejudice to those who choose electoral political action – as long as they act!

Very late on a Saturday night, hours behind schedule due to failure to anticipate a flurry of amendments, the exhausted delegates to the National Hip Hop Political Convention adopted a Five-Point Agenda on Education, Economic Justice, Criminal Justice, Health and Human Rights.

Last week, hip hop music blared at the entrance to a downtown Chicago park, where a huge food- and drink-tasting festival was underway. The local chapter of the National Hip Hop Political Convention was busy, registering voters. All across the country, they are taking action.

American Extremists

The South will rise again, and again and again. There is no end in sight to the effort to redeem the Confederacy and promote white racism and supremacy. Our late and now endlessly lamented 40th president, Ronald Reagan, began his campaign for president in Philadelphia, Mississippi by calling for "states rights." He then gave a sheepish "Did I offend anyone?" when he was called on the carpet for using this blatantly racist language at the scene of the murders of civil rights workers Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman.

Despite this very obvious appeal to the worst instincts in Americans, the GOP faces a quandary when admiring white supremacists take them at their word and run for office as Republicans. The latest to cause embarrassment is Ron Wilson, national commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who is running for a seat in the South Carolina State Senate. The Southern Poverty Law Center has given Wilson the dubious distinction of being named one of the top 40 white supremacists in need of constant monitoring.

If history is any indication, Wilson's candidacy will have an all too predictable response. Republican pundits will demand that the bum be thrown out of their ranks. Black Republicans will whine that their brethren's hearts and minds will never be won over if the commander of Sons of the Confederacy is a Republican elected official.

The GOP's southern ascendance coincided with both overt and covert appeals to white racism. Unfortunately the unspoken bargain that says racists must stay in the closet is sometimes broken. Louisiana's David Duke was the first such troublemaker for Republicans. The former Klansman must have been just a little confused by all the fuss. The Republicans make racist appeals and then grow anxious when the less subtle want to come along for the ride.

The poor Republicans cry and scream that they do not have a racist bone in their collective body and that it is slander to think otherwise. Poor Senator Trent Lott got the boot as Majority Leader when he went over the top in praising the nearly moribund Strom Thurmond (who had been literally propped up for yet another Republican love fest). We can feel Lott's pain. He hadn't said anything he hadn't said before and neither Democrats, nor the press, nor other Republicans had ever said a word against his racist diatribes. Lott may have gotten the last laugh, however. He is now free to say that prison abuse is a fine idea and remain in synch with his party.

Not only is Ron Wilson destined to become the GOP pariah, but he has managed to alienate the southern cultural heritage crowd to such an extent that some were forced to form a counter organization, Save the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Let's call them Confederate light. They want to remember southern heritage, but take great pains to disassociate themselves from the white power group. Recalling that great-great-grandpa's regiment took a hill at Gettysburg is acceptable, but membership in the KKK is not. The distinction is probably without a difference. We are talking about people who exalt the effort to preserve slavery. If some are racists with smiling faces the rest of us should not be impressed but the amusement factor is too good to resist.

Are white supremacists getting an undeserved bad rap? The facts are as follows. America wouldn't exist if it weren't for white racism. Black people wouldn't be here instead of in Africa if white racism had not been sanctioned and institutionalized from the very beginnings of this country's history. America would not have the world's highest rate of incarceration if there were no white racism. But alas, if an overly exuberant Confederate re-enactor has the nerve to give a salute a la Hitler and yell "white power" then he is cast out, forced to live with the Aryan Nation in Idaho alongside others who thought that the nation was serious about putting one group on top and all others at the bottom. It is little wonder they are so angry.

The ascendancy of David Duke, Ron Wilson and their ilk is inevitable, particularly when the appeal to domination and supremacy get the proverbial thumbs up from the powerful. Republicans may moan that these people have nothing in common with them, but how is it that white supremacists continue to emerge from Republican ranks? Do they get the wrong idea about the GOP over and over again?

The answer is that they do not. Republicans are very extreme. What else would one call a group that allies itself with a chemical weapons terrorist? Yes, Saddam Hussein was once a friend of current Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other administration officials. When Rumsfeld was Reagan's special envoy to the Middle East he met Hussein in Baghdad in 1983. At that time a search for Weapons of Mass Destruction would have been successful. Saddam Hussein not only had WMDs but he was using them against Iranians and Kurds. These atrocities didn't stop Rumsfeld and the Republican party from shaking hands with the devil.

The Republicans even put in writing that torture is not so bad after all and maintain that if a pesky Congress asks for the information they are just out of luck. Perhaps they will begin advocating torture for Senators who ask too many questions.

The Republicans should welcome Ron Wilson with open arms. He is one of their own and it would all be so much easier if they would just admit the mutual affection. Extremism is as American as apple pie and everyone knows that Republicans are the best Americans of all.

All Souls to the Polls

American politicians, of all races, do not know how to address the concerns and needs of black voters without making a mad dash to the church pulpit. The tradition of candidates for county sheriff or President of the United States visiting black churches has become a parody, an insult to the intelligence of black voters, and an activity of questionable political value.

In 2003 the right wing succeeded in recalling the elected Democratic governor of California, Gray Davis. Their goal was to push the state with the most electoral votes toward George W. Bush. (After all, it will be hard to cheat in Florida twice.) The recall was another skirmish in the war to bring America under one party rule for Republicans. It was a textbook case of brilliant political strategy. The effort succeeded because it was not met with an equally audacious democratic response. Gov. Schwarzenegger is in office in part because of the Democrats' ineffectual outreach to black voters.

The plan to reach black voters consisted of the same stale strategy. As usual, no black Christian in the state of California was safe from the clutches of Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson or Al Gore. On the Sunday before Election Day all three ran from church to church, appearing with preachers and singers in choir robes, exhorting the faithful to vote against the recall. Schwarzenegger won of course, and proved that last-minute church hopping is not the grand political strategy it is made out to be.

The political appeal of the black church is obvious. An appearance before a large congregation is one-stop shopping for likely voters. A connection with the pivotal role played by black religious leaders is an undeniable benefit for candidates. Black leadership is still skewed toward the clergy. The only black men to run for president, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, are both reverends.

But the history of the black church should not be an excuse for laziness and lack of imagination in making political appeals to the black community. While the presidential candidates campaigned in Iowa and New Hampshire they held pancake breakfasts, firehouse chili feeds, school auditorium rallies and luncheons in living rooms. The candidates ought to know that black voters also have living rooms and their neighborhood schools would be excellent sites for political events. Our activities do not begin and end at the church door and those who do not attend church are equally entitled to know what politicians are proposing for their communities and for the nation.

During the 2000 presidential elections the NAACP created the slogan "Get all souls to the polls." The words were harmless enough, but a poor substitute for speaking to the needs of black voters, who always provide Democrats with the necessary margin for electoral victory. It is imperative for everyone to go to the polls, and special appeals to a variety of constituencies are an American tradition. But those appeals should be made all year long and should not exclude astute and concerned citizens who don't have a church home.

In November 2000, I personally witnessed the emptiness of church-centered thinking in a political campaign. On the Sunday before Election Day, opera singer Jessye Norman arrived in my Harlem church near the end of the service. Sister Norman was in the sanctuary to encourage voter participation. I am sure her intentions were righteous, but an opera singer performing "Oh, Freedom" was somewhat bizarre and unintentionally amusing. I give Ms. Norman credit for her desire to strengthen democracy, but her time would have been better spent elsewhere. The members of my congregation are frequent voters who do not need exhortations from opera singers to vote, particularly in a presidential election year.

One New Hampshire pastor made a very vocal point of chiding those who use his church and others as backdrops. Rev. Arthur Hilson is the pastor of New Hope Baptist church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In December of 2003 the reverend had one political visit too many when he castigated politicians who "pimp the black church."

"When you come, come honestly ... come speak to us as you speak to America," he said. "Don't feel that you have to have a special message for us because what is good for America is good for us (African-Americans)."

Rev. Hilson's point is well taken. Black voters should not be treated as after thoughts when the polls show a tight race. If we were approached by the Democrats in a meaningful way there wouldn't be panicked visits to black churches two days before ballots are cast. After the failures of November 2000 and November 2002 the Democratic Party ought to have learned the value of addressing black American concerns. Instead there is still a fear that connecting with blacks will alienate whites. Terry McAuliffe and other leaders must remember that no one wants to be called for a Saturday date on a Friday night. It is disrespectful and always produces an excuse to stay home.

Margaret Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City.

The Problem with Al Sharpton

Rev. Al Sharpton's race for the Democratic presidential nomination should be considered a resounding success -- for just about everyone except the candidate himself.

By sheer dint of will and force of personality, Sharpton imposed a vibrant black presence on the party's primary process. (Had Sharpton not run, Carol Moseley-Braun would not have been drawn into the race -- ironically, as a counterweight to Sharpton.) "Big Al" was truly large on the stage, a daunting deterrent to the intrusion of the usual coded racial rhetoric into the Democratic debates or on the stump: Don't even think about it, said Al, without having to move his lips. Sharpton gave voice -- at times, brilliantly -- to the core progressive principles of the black political consensus, causing big-footed white men to step lightly and in the right general direction.

Sharpton's candidacy has had a magical effect on the racial chemistry of the Democratic dialogue, in starkest contrast to the White Citizens Council-type language of the GOP. He caused the white candidates to repeatedly demonstrate, through their words and campaign schedules, that they valued black voters.

In that sense, Sharpton's very success detracted from his appeal. It was not fear of George Bush that caused four of five black voters in South Carolina to opt for a white candidate. There was never any possibility of Sharpton being the nominee, so "electability" was not a consideration. From the beginning, his candidacy promised African Americans the opportunity to send a message to the Democratic Party: you'd better pay attention to us. The frontrunners -- and it seems that every white candidate but Dennis Kucinich has been a frontrunner at some point -- had already gotten the message long before last Tuesday. They embraced black South Carolina.

Unlike whites, who are the ultimate bloc voters, African Americans have always responded across racial lines to direct, respectful appeals for their votes. Sharpton worked a civilizing mojo on the white contenders this season. (Even Democratic Leadership Council favorite Sen. Joseph Lieberman -- now, thankfully, gone from the race -- dropped his references to the red herring, "quotas.") Call it nine months of behavior modification therapy, courtesy of Rev. Al. Thanks to Sharpton, others in the Democratic field struggled to make themselves worthy of black votes. They were rewarded and are, presumably, grateful.

The Debacle

Sharpton may or may not appreciate the effect he has had on the behavior and marketability of his white opponents. However, he has much more to worry about than whether he gets to speak at the Democratic convention in Boston. The growing storm over his covert alliance with rightwing Republicans probably came too late to have any measurable impact on Tuesday's elections, but the revelations are a deathblow to his actual goal: to become the recognized leader of African Americans. Although the story has been framed in terms of treachery to the Democratic Party, or as evidence of Sharpton's visceral disdain for white "liberals," the tale will resonate somewhat differently among African Americans. Sharpton comes across as a hapless stooge of the worst elements of the GOP.

Roger Stone, a millionaire political consultant who began his career as a 19-year-old Watergate dirty trickster, virtually took over the Sharpton campaign in the last quarter of 2003, according to reports in the New York Times (January 25), Salon.com ("A GOP Trickster Rents Sharpton," February 3) and New York's Village Voice ("Sleeping with the GOP," February 3). Stone and Sharpton were introduced two years ago by Donald Trump, the celebrity millionaire, said the Times. Stone brought in Charles Halloran to replace Sharpton campaign manager Frank Watkins, a longtime advisor to the Jesse Jacksons, Junior and Senior, who resigned in late September. (In the Village Voice article, Sharpton says Watkins was fired.) Halloran previously managed the New York gubernatorial campaign of far-right billionaire Tom Golisano, on the Independence Party line. He also managed a mostly white, conservative party's attempt to unseat the first black-led government of Bermuda.

Stone provides "ideas and direction, while Mr. Halloran...does the front-line work," said the Times. "In the attacks on Dr. Dean, Mr. Stone helped set the tone and direction while Mr. Halloran did the research. Mr. Halloran came up with Dr. Dean's hiring record as governor, for example, aides to Mr. Sharpton said."

Another rightwing purported Sharpton crony, Tucker Carlson of CNN's "Crossfire," said Stone and Sharpton are both motivated by a "disdain for white liberals."

Joe Conason, of Salon.com, contends that Sharpton is a menace to the Democratic Party. "Stone certainly serves the Republican party by sustaining and promoting Sharpton," wrote Conason. "The Democratic Party, whose institutions and candidates [Sharpton] has consistently undermined for many years, is merely a convenient vehicle for his advancement."

Blinded by the Right

As the primary votes were being counted on Tuesday night, crack investigative reporter Wayne Barrett's bomb exploded in the Village Voice, a devastating document-of-no-return for Al Sharpton. Barrett and his team describe what amounts to a lock, stock and barrel takeover of the Sharpton apparatus by Stone and the "half-dozen incongruous top aides who've worked for him in prior campaigns."

The Republican consultant also appears to have absorbed Sharpton's Harlem-based National Action Network (NAN). "The combination of the unpaid or underpaid services of Stone, Halloran [and Stone operatives], Baynard, Archer, et al., together with the NAN subsidies, paint a picture of a Sharpton operation that is utterly dependent on his new ally Stone, whose own sponsors are as unclear as ever," wrote Barrett.

Possibly most disturbing of all is Stone's role in securing federal matching funds for the campaign. To qualify for matching dollars, candidates must first raise $100,000: $5,000 from each of 20 states. Each individual contribution must be of no more than $250. The combined resources of the Sharpton campaign and NAN ("A shell," according to an aide imported by Stone) either could not or would not assemble the necessary 400-plus contributors grouped by state, to meet the federal threshold. Stone stepped in, filling the gaps with small checks from relatives, lobbyist friends and assorted denizens of the Right.

Did Sharpton really need a Republican organization to do that? Was a household name incapable of finding 20 people in 20 states with $250? Or does he instinctively opt for the quick fix or favor?

Stone has "loaned" Sharpton at least $270,000, and the candidate has made frequent use of Stone's credit card, according to the Voice story. NAN funds have been hopelessly commingled with campaign monies -- a potential legal disaster.

The relationship boggles the mind. Roger Stone is the Hard Right storm trooper whose goons bum-rushed the Miami-Dade elections offices in 2000, shutting down the recount and setting the stage for George Bush's "selection." Sharpton claims he and Stone are just friends. But reporter Wayne Barrett is a veteran dirt-digger who has taken down a number of New York's Sleaziest. Sharpton and Stone seem to have made Barrett's job easy -- indeed, Stone doesn't appear anxious to hide the fact that he has captured a Negro.

Sorely Tested, He Failed

Barrett's article sketches Rev. Al's wheeling and dealing in the Byzantine world of New York politics, arrangements in which, as often as not, he has actively or tacitly backed Republicans. So have lots of New York Democrats; the city is a shadowy, immensely corrupt environment -- a gray political landscape. Sharpton has long been known as an influence trader. This time, he got eaten -- whole.

We have been holding our breath ever since the Reverend announced that he was serious about running for president. Somebody black had to do it. The Democratic Leadership Council had just engineered a sweeping Republican victory in the off-year, congressional elections, and corporate media favored DLC champion Joe Lieberman as frontrunner for the nomination, followed by a mealy-mouthed Sen. John Kerry. It was imperative, we believed, that black voters show their strength within the Democratic Party in an unmistakable way, by coalescing in large numbers around a black candidate in the primaries. Al Sharpton stepped forward.

In our April 24 issue, "What the Black Presidential Candidate Must Do," we declared, wishfully: "We believe that Al Sharpton is up to the task, if he maintains a clear vision and personal discipline." Believing in the possibilities of human growth, if not redemption, and in the transformative powers of righteous political movements, we wrote: "Sharpton will show who he is in the course of the race. Even those of us who think we know him cannot predict what the National Action Network leader will become as he is tested by the experience."

Now we know.

The Sharpton campaign's descent into what looked like madness became apparent shortly after the resignations of Jesse Jackson family confidant Frank Watkins and South Carolina coordinator Kevin Gray, September 30. We don't know what precipitated their exits, but Roger Stone and his Republicans moved right in. In late October, when it became clear that Chicago Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. would endorse Howard Dean, Sharpton went on the attack, shedding the steady, even statesmanlike persona he had cultivated in the previous months of campaigning. We described the spectacle in the November 13 story, "Al Sharpton's Political-Emotional Breakdown":

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African Americans Crucial to Dem Victory

Carol Moseley Braun's candidacy for President of the United States is now history. Ambassador Braun, the first African American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate, used her time on the campaign trail to champion issues such as pay equity, single-payer health care and economic development. Although her voice and beautiful smile will be missed, African American voters still have a lot of quality candidates to choose from in the coming primary season. With Carol on the sidelines and many of the white Democrats competing for support, civil rights activist Al Sharpton must begin to refocus his energies on winning over undecided African American voters.

There is no question that the Democratic Party cannot win without the support of African American voters in 2004, and African Americans cannot affect the issues most important to them if they do not participate in changing the direction in which this nation is headed. African Americans are the most loyal block of voters the Democratic Party has, supporting it in numbers that far exceed their percentage of the U.S. electorate.

Just look at the numbers. In 1996, Bill Clinton trailed Bob Dole among whites 46 to 43 percent, but got 84 percent of the African American vote and won the election handily. In 2000, Al Gore won an historic 90 percent of the African American vote, which was critical to his success in the popular vote. Given the increased polarization of the electorate and the disappearing "swing voter" in 2004, African American voters are more important than ever.

African American voters have especially forceful reasons to turn out to vote against George W. Bush in 2004. Chief among these is the high unemployment numbers the African American community has faced over the past three years. Corporate earnings may be back up, but the unemployment rate for African Americans rose to over 11 percent this fall. African Americans have been particularly affected by job losses in the manufacturing sector, meaning that they will face an even tougher struggle finding new jobs. By reconnecting with its core economic values, the Democratic Party can speak credibly to the failed economic policies of this president.

African Americans are acutely aware of the conservative part of Bush's agenda, but are left to wonder where the compassionate part went. Like the banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished" several months ago, the Bush White House is good at crafting images, but not so good at providing the substance behind them. The tax cuts -- Bush's sole economic policy -- have certainly not helped African Americans. During the last round of tax cuts, half of all American families received less than $100 in the mail, a disproportionate number of them African American. Those Americans in the top 1 percent of households received more benefits than the bottom 84 percent combined.

Bush's rhetoric of optimism in the American economy has not reduced the record deficits he has caused, and even if GDP growth continues, Bush has still saddled future generations with massive debt. African Americans already face a tough time getting financing to purchase homes, and more deficit spending inevitably means higher interest rates, hurting African American families even more.

The Democrats running for president are all proposing ways to establish tax fairness and restore fiscal sanity by at least repealing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. In an era in which all segments of American society should unite behind common causes, many American corporations have betrayed the nation, through fraud, deceit and greed. To many Americans, especially working Americans, Bush himself is symbolic of the corporate greed and cronyism that has undermined trust in the fairness of America. African Americans, acutely aware of the inequalities in the U.S. economy, must help change the direction in which this country is headed.

One in five African Americans has no health insurance. The costs for those who do have health insurance continue to rise. African Americans, more than ever, must ensure that America's political leaders take action on this ever-growing problem. African Americans have good reason to challenge other domestic policy failures of the Bush administration. In 2000, Bush promised America that he'd reform education as we knew it. His "No Child Left Behind" initiative did saddle states and local school district with unfunded mandates and strict testing standards, but Bush never provided the resources. What the Bush Administration has offered is more than $8 billion dollars less than what Congress authorized for NCLB.

African American children, a majority of whom often attend overcrowded classes in dilapidated buildings, deserve better. Their parents take a back seat to no one -- Republicans or Democrats -- in supporting high standards and accountability. They want highly qualified teachers in their children's classrooms and a bright light focused on how their children are doing. But African-Americans know that real, effective reform can't be done -- as the Bush Administration is attempting to do -- on the cheap. Democrats, who have always championed education, must remind African American voters that they will push real efforts to support and improve our public schools.

African American voters, many of whom did not support war against Iraq, must also question the President's record on foreign policy. They are right to question the President's failure to have a plan to rebuild in Iraq and the inexcusable lack of an exit strategy there, and to wonder why America has alienated itself from the rest of the world.

Those who believe the Republican Party can make a genuine appeal to African Americans and other minorities cannot overlook this President's record on race -- from the appointment of conservative judges who are not strong defenders of important civil and voting rights remedies of past discrimination, to its failure to invest in America's urban centers. Still, Democratic candidates must show African Americans that they stand for equality and opportunity in America.

The outcome of the 2004 election is going to be especially close. As the 2002 midterm elections indicated, even slight increases in African American turnout can be a deciding factor in who wins elections. Yet there may be a tendency by some in the Democratic Party to want to ignore appeals to African American voters in urban areas and the South, and instead go after coveted white suburban types. While Democrats clearly need to attract white voters to win, ignoring the African American community virtually guarantees yet another Democratic loss. African American voters stood with Bill Clinton -- most especially through the darkest days of the impeachment scandal -- because they believed with conviction that Bill Clinton stood with them. At the same time, Clinton was able to reach out to white and suburban voters. The choice is not mutually exclusive; the Democratic Party can reach out to all Americans in 2004.

The way in which Democrats reach out to African American voters in 2004 is critically important. Drive-by campaigning, in which candidates spend months courting white voters and independents and then spend the last two weeks courting African American voters, is simply not acceptable. Democrats must reach out to African American voters and community leaders now and engage them not just for their votes but to get their opinions about how our future should be shaped.

In numerous battleground states -- including Missouri, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee and Florida -- African American turnout is critical for Democratic victory. Voter outreach to African Americans in 2004 must be done at the grassroots, retail level. Reengaging African American voters will depend on a sophisticated coordination of the presidential campaigns, state parties, local activists and grassroots community leaders. There is definitely a strong case for defeating George W. Bush in 2004. Democrats must work especially hard to sell that case -- and to listen to the interests of voters on whom their success depends. The Democratic Party must use its national leaders who are credible champions of issues African-Americans care about to spread the word in 2004.

Finally, Democratic victory can be achieved if every vote is counted. We must demand that states comply with the new Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and ensure that minorities are not systematically disenfranchised in 2004. As 2000 indicated, states have a variety of methods of doing just that -- by purging voter roles, by discriminatory distribution of antiquated voting machines, and by intimidating voters at the polls. There must be a vigorous voter education campaign, training of poll watchers, and an army of lawyers ready to monitor the elections to ensure that African Americans are not denied their constitutional rights in 2004.

With the New Hampshire primary behind us, African American must be ready to take center-stage in South Carolina, Missouri, Delaware, Michigan and Virginia. After all, these contests take place during Black History Month. This is our moment to make history.

Donna Brazile is a Democratic strategist and former campaign manager for Vice President Al Gore.

The Disturbing Death of Charles Singleton

On January 6, 2004 the state of Arkansas executed 44-year old Charles Singleton, who was convicted of stabbing a grocery store clerk to death in 1979. He was on death row longer than any other Arkansas inmate. The Singleton case was not unusual in and of itself. Singleton was black and his victim, Mary Lou York, was white. The execution ended in the usual way with attorneys trying in vain to spare their client�s life, and outside agitation from the usual suspects -- Europeans pleading with an American governor to stop an execution. The execution took place in a southern state, where the overwhelming majority of murders and executions take place.

But the Charles Singleton case raised another important issue for the American criminal justice system. Singleton was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. His last words were an incomprehensible ramble that made sense to no one but himself.

�The blind think I�m playing a game. They deny me, refusing me existence. But everybody takes the place of another. As it is written, I will come forth as you go.�

In 1986 the Supreme Court ruled that execution of the mentally ill constituted cruel and unusual punishment. The state of Arkansas concluded that if Singleton were given anti-psychotic medication he would be �sane� and therefore eligible for execution. Lower courts ruled in Singleton�s favor, but the decision was later overturned, and the United States Supreme Court let that decision stand.

Another black Arkansan who suffered from mental illness, Ricky Ray Rector, became world-famous upon his execution in 1992. Then-governor Bill Clinton left the campaign trail in January of that year to sign the warrant for Rector�s execution. Rector�s mental capacity was such that when taken from his cell as a �dead man walking� he told a guard to save his pie. He thought he would return to finish his dessert. I try to remember this story when I am told that all black people love Bill Clinton or that he should be considered the first black president. Clinton wasn�t black when Rector needed him. He was just another politician who didn�t want to be labeled soft on crime.

While the number of executions, death row populations, and support for capital punishment have all dropped in recent years, 64 percent of Americans still support the death penalty. That strong level of support is why the punishment still exists. Most politicians are like Bill Clinton on the presidential campaign trail. An accusation that a candidate is �soft� on crime or �coddles� criminals can be enough to finish a political career.

But as with every other issue in America, race is never far from discussions of the death penalty. Blacks are just 12 percent of the overall population but 42 percent of residents on death row. Whites are 50 percent of murder victims but represent 80 percent of victims in death penalty cases. The death penalty is used to punish people of color who kill whites. Black victims of black killers get short shrift from the criminal justice system and the media, unless there is a lurid story line or celebrity involvement. Otherwise, our all too common intra-group victimization goes unnoticed.

Despite a declining national crime rate, too many of us are convinced of the need for the state to become a killer. If America is to be rid of the travesty that is capital punishment we have to ask, �What is the appeal of state sanctioned murder?� Massachusetts has one of the lowest murder rates in the nation, ranking 37 out of 50, and yet its Republican Governor, Mitt Romney, is in the process of devising death penalty legislation. One of the inconsistencies of those who advocate capital punishment is that they ordinarily do not trust government and belittle it whenever possible. The same people who castigate government at every opportunity suddenly become trusting of the institution when it has to decide who should live and who should die. In the conservative mind government is incompetent at best and evil at worst. And yet the same incompetent or evil bureaucrats who shouldn�t be trusted to collect taxes ought to be able to make life and death decisions in capital punishment cases that require the wisdom of Solomon.

If Americans were honest they would admit that they support the death penalty because they want revenge. By now most honest people concede that the deterrent effect of execution is non-existent and few are unaware of an increasing number of death row exonerations. But apparently it is too diffcult to give up the thirst for retribution, especially in a society where racism still looms so insidiously large.

None of the current Democratic presidential candidates has signed an execution warrant a la Clinton, but that is because there is only one governor in the race; Howard Dean, and his state, Vermont, is among those without a death penalty statute. Kucinich and Sharpton stand out as being the only candidates opposed to the death penalty. Given the opportunity, most of the 2004 candidates would act as Bill Clinton did back in 1992.

The year 2004 did not begin well for Charles Singleton or for the rest of us either. In the 21st century too many of us are still wedded to the notion that cruel and unusual punishments must be maintained to keep us all safe. It is time to stop the killing of paranoid schizophrenics on our behalf. We can�t depend on politicians for leadership when they are following the worst instincts of American voters. It is only a matter of time before another Ricky Ray Rector becomes a trophy for a winning candidate.

Margaret Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City.

Big Box or Bust

The retailing giant Wal-Mart must be nirvana for black people. Its commercials, full of sentimental background music, soft focus photography, and earnest looking real people give the impression that it is just short of heaven on earth. I have seen commercials showing a black mother exhorting her daughter to pursue a career at Wal-Mart. In another we are told that the Crenshaw area of Los Angeles was saved by Wal-Mart. By occupying an empty space Wal-Mart brought jobs, hope, love, respect, and good karma to this community. A discount store had accomplished what urban planners, academics, and politicians could not.

Wal-Mart is the nation's largest retailer and with 1.2 million workers the largest employer as well. It prevents union organizing on its sites, and before being sued forced employees to work overtime but did not pay them for doing so. The American desire for a good bargain has created a retailing behemoth with low prices and low wages to match. Wal-Mart had already cut a swath across mostly rural America by putting smaller retailers out of business. But the giant that began as a five and dime store in Bentonville, Arkansas is now conquering new territory.

Apparently some among black leadership believe that businesses, no matter how exploitative, are always good for their needy communities. John Mack, President of the Los Angeles Urban League, said, "We need to have retail outlets that are convenient and offer quality goods and services at low prices. I really think that there are potential economic benefits for this community with the addition of a Wal-Mart."

It may be a difficult choice for distressed communities to reject potential employers, but the growth of Wal-Mart in California jeopardizes the jobs of 250,000 unionized grocery store workers who currently make $10 per hour more than their Wal-Mart counterparts. The need to compete with Wal-Mart has sparked a strike in Southern California that began in October. Grocery stores want to reduce union worker benefits out of fear that they will be unable to compete with Wal-Mart's low wages. Are black communities so needy that they have to take jobs that won't pay a living wage? Others are less enamored of Wal-Mart's false image of love and happiness. The City of Oakland has passed legislation to prohibit so-called "big box" stores in an attempt to curb the threats that Wal-Martization presents to its residents.

The issue of Wal-Mart's supposed benefits to distressed neighborhoods raises the recurrent theme of economic activity, or lack of same, in black communities. Communities with greater resources reject Wal-Mart and its ilk out of hand because of concerns about sprawl and destruction of neighboring businesses. It may be easier to say that Wal-Mart is better than nothing, but a corporation that has cheated employees out of wages and fires them because they are in interracial relationships makes the case that half a loaf is worse than none.

It is understandable that John Mack and others are looking to increase employment, but what happens when the employer pays such low wages that its employees are eligible for public assistance? Some Wal-Mart employees in California were given information on how to apply for food stamps and other welfare benefits. Do black neighborhoods really need more public assistance? I was under the impression that employment was supposed to end the need for public assistance, not provide for it.

Unfortunately, even some of Wal-Mart's detractors miss the significance of its growth and paint it as some sort of aberration in the history of American capitalism. In fact Wal-Mart has perfected this system and the result is the logical conclusion of capitalism unrestrained. One can argue that it all works out. The Wal-Martization of America provides us with the lower cost goods we will all need when our wages are lowered by the Wal-Marts of the world.

Black leadership should not give into the argument that our communities are in such need that Wal-Mart and its acts of harassment can be considered an asset. Wal-Mart employees are punished for involvement in union activity and are encouraged to spy on one another. Is it asking too much for these leaders to think of other ways to bring new employment opportunities or respond to redlining and other factors that keep businesses out of our neighborhoods? Apparently it is, and not just in Crenshaw.

In my community, Harlem, the so-called capital of black America, we hear much about redevelopment. Bill Clinton opening an office was supposed to bring a 180-degree change in the fortunes of our neighborhood. There are now large retailers such as Old Navy, Marshall's, and H&M on 125th Street. I don't argue against their presence, but we still lack the business development that is so much more evident in other Manhattan neighborhoods. Outside of the showcase that 125th Street has become there are still too many empty store fronts and those that exist are the usual fast food outlets, hair dressers, small churches, and check cashing places.

When we do have vital businesses they often disappear. My favorite restaurant, Wilson's, which had a bakery, waiter service and good, inexpensive food was open one week and closed the next without any explanation or warning. I went for an after-church brunch to find a tiny note on the door that read "closed." A Dominican restaurant now occupies the space, which is not surprising given the demographic changes to that part of Harlem. But the fate of Wilson's and other Black owned businesses remains a mystery to once loyal customers and residents who desperately want to see a strong economic base in their neighborhoods.

My Walton relatives hail from the same region of Arkansas as the late Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart. My family would joke that perhaps we were related and were due some of the wealthy Walton cash. No one was able to substantiate any connection and our wishful thinking remained just that. Now I wish that the black communities were not so downtrodden that an Old Navy opening was big news or that a bad employer might be welcomed with open arms.

Margaret Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City.

The Truth About Tulia

Tonya White is a very lucky woman. Ms. White lives in Tulia, Texas but she was in a bank in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma at the same time she was accused of dealing drugs in Tulia.

The terrible injustice perpetrated on residents of Tulia, Texas is not a new story. Forty-six innocent individuals, 39 of them black, were arrested, tried and convicted for drug dealing, solely on the word of former police officer Tom Coleman. Coleman is now under indictment for perjury.

Here in New York City crooked cops find it necessary to plant evidence in order to win convictions, but not so in the Texas panhandle. Coleman had no evidence, not wire taps, videotapes or even the drugs that had allegedly been sold. Yet he succeeded in getting sentences of up to 99 years in these cases.

I first read about the Tulia case in Bob Herbert's New York Times column. Attorneys in Texas, New York, and Washington, many of them volunteers, were all part of the successful defense effort. The result is that all of the defendants have been freed and 35 have been pardoned by the governor of Texas.

I watched a story about Tulia on the September 28th season premier of 60 Minutes and it was truly painful to revisit. Some of the cases were dismissed because the accused were able to prove they were at work or, like Tonya White, not in Tulia during the alleged drug dealing. One defendant, Joe Moore, is a pig farmer living in what I can only describe as a shack. That alone should have been evidence that he wasn't a drug dealer. I always thought that drug dealers plied their trade to avoid living in shacks.

Correspondent Ed Bradley interviewed Coleman in an exchange that was both frightening and comical. Coleman was defiant but kept addressing Ed Bradley as "Sir." The former cop admitted using the word nigger many times but when asked if he would address Bradley that way he replied, �Oh, no sir, not you.� He still maintains that the defendants were drug dealers, even when presented with Tonya White�s proof of being in Oklahoma. The strangest question from Bradley was, "How has this affected your life?" Tom Coleman is not yet behind bars. Because of his actions 46 people were imprisoned unjustly and lost their freedom for more than three years. I hope I was not the only viewer who wasn't concerned about Coleman�s life. But surprisingly, this segment was not the most disturbing portion of the broadcast.

Bradley spoke with Elaine Jones of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, whose attorneys played a key role in overturning the convictions. Ed Bradley asked a very predictable question, "How did this happen?" Ms. Jones stated the obvious when she said, �The defendants in Tulia are guilty of being Black and living in Tulia.� She went on to say that the town was too small to have a market for drug dealing on such a scale, and also blamed the excesses created by the war on drugs.

My initial reaction to Ms. Jones� statement was that such a heinous injustice required more than a matter of fact explanation about population size and overzealous bureaucracy. But in fairness to Bradley and Jones, I am sure that their conversation was much longer than the snippets shown to viewers. They may have discussed the nature of racism, the farce that is the war on drugs, and how that led to Tulia and other cases of police and judicial misconduct. Elaine Jones and her colleagues who worked on this case could tell us all a lot more if they were not constrained by the need to allow time for real news, advertisements, and the genius of Andy Rooney.

However, the rest of us are under no such restrictions and should use these much needed if incomplete news reports as an opportunity to speak honestly about Tulia and other injustices. The sad truth is, these convictions occurred because of white supremacy. Tom Coleman had credibility with jurors because he has white skin. He didn't need wiretaps or fingerprints. A white face declaring black guilt was sufficient evidence to get prison sentences for non-existent crimes.

Talking about white supremacy takes a lot longer than sixty minutes and is difficult for people of every race to acknowledge. It is easy to call a member of the Aryan Nation or KKK a white supremacist. They give us an out by publicly embracing their beliefs. But what do we say about physicians who treat white and black patients differently, or the loan officers who refuse mortgages to blacks and Hispanics who have the same income as whites?

The words white supremacy are so loaded, and conjure up such horrible images that it is no surprise most people aren�t willing to own them, even as they reject the more qualified job applicant or hire him but pay less than he deserves. The pain it causes is so terrible that even victims are in denial. As Tulia defendant Freddie Brookins Jr., said, "I can't just dwell on being angry. If I stay upset about it, I can't go on with my life.� Most of us have not had his experience, and yet his words are familiar. We acknowledge racism but don�t dwell on it too much because we want to live our lives without anger and bitterness.

But we are still angry and bitter. We waste time asking questions that more often than not have an obvious and simple answer. �Why am I followed around in the store?� Answer: white supremacy. �Why does the world stop brutality in Bosnia but not in the Congo or Liberia?� Answer: white supremacy. �Why doesn�t Angela Bassett get more and better roles?� Answer: white supremacy. I could go on with important and unimportant issues alike but you get the idea. When these questions arise we should take a deep breath, count to ten and then say, �White supremacy.� The initial discomfort will be overcome by a feeling of freedom. Our circumstances may not be any different, but the willingness to tell the truth will be liberating.

People of color are imprisoned unjustly, victimized by police brutality, die earlier than they should and are excluded from the opportunities this country has to offer, all because of a belief that white people are superior and more deserving than non-whites. It seems that this belief also causes otherwise worthy sources of information to address even the most egregious examples of racism in a superficial manner. I don�t expect anyone at CBS to have a serious discussion about white supremacy, but I would have thought that a more in-depth analysis would take place in telling the story of Tulia. It didn�t happen. The reasons are obvious.

Margaret Kimberley is a freelance writer in New York City.  She can be reached at margaret.kimberley@blackcommentator.com.




Two Civilized Men Among the Barbarians

The character of much of what passes for debate in the United States signals that the nation has become the moral equivalent of Tobacco Road, a backwater of civilization.

Humankind has traveled a long journey since the time when some folks walked out of Africa, and others decided to stay. Yet at the American center of the Earth's material wealth and military power, human progress has been short-circuited -- smothered -- by a ruling group bent on dragging the rest of the species toward a social and moral dead end.

This hyper-aggressive group maintains an iron grip on both the mechanisms and the terms of civil discussion, retarding the rest of the citizenry's ability to think and speak like other humans privileged to live in the developed countries. American political conversation is becoming nonsensical, divorced from the very purposes of life.

Measured by the most minimal standards of the modern, industrial world, only two of 10 Democratic candidates for President passed civilized muster at a recent debate in New York City: Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Rev. Al Sharpton. The rest of the field, to varying degrees, fail to even comprehend modern assumptions of what it is to be human, living among other humans.

The civilizational divide

Why do we work? What is the purpose of industry and commerce? Do other peoples have rights that stronger nations are bound to respect? Only Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton appear prepared to take part in the evolving global discussion on the central issues facing humanity, Americans included. Other nations have begun fashioning answers to these questions, to the moral, material and physical betterment of their inhabitants. They are reaping the benefits of a long and sometimes bloody debate over humans' obligations to one another, and the proper uses of wealth and power.

In the U.S., Sharpton and Kucinich must shout to even broach these subjects. Kucinich is labeled a kook when he argues for "health care for people, not for profit" -- although this is the premise on which all the other wealthy societies begin their discussions of health matters. Rev. Sharpton's platform calls for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing quality health care as a right, and seeks universal, single-payer coverage in the interim. "I would rather have no bill and fight for something real," he said.

The mind-shrinking corporate media snicker and sneer, focusing instead on the other candidates' partial schemes based on the concept of "affordability" -- barbaric constructions in which the lives of fellow citizens are endlessly devalued. (Candidate Carol Moseley-Braun favors single-payer national health care, but reveals her barbaric side in other matters -- casting doubt on the moral grounding of all her positions, as becomes clear, below.)

The "top tier" is oblivious to the obscenity of their Social Security retirement age debate. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean is in trouble for having once suggested that the age be raised to 70, to ensure the continued "solvency" of the system. However, Dean's sin is worse than the rest of the media-favored pack only in degree -- they all discuss Social Security retirement in insurance company actuarial terms, morbid calculations that fail entirely to address the basic questions: why are people expected to work hard for much of their lives, and what is the value of life after one's time in the workforce is over? These are the logical, natural and civilized questions with which societies grapple once there is enough wealth to provide acceptable standards of food, clothing, education and shelter for all. It is at this point that human populations can envision the larger possibilities of existence, as individuals, as nations, and as a species.

Western Europeans treat time not spent on the job very seriously -- and have arranged a social contract that finds many of them in the Caribbean for long stretches of the summer. They debate ways to implement national goals for progressively shorter work weeks and earlier retirement ages, so that the collective nation can enjoy its wealth and become -- more interesting! The United States is even richer than Western Europe, but the debate over Social Security is confined to formulas that leave concentrated wealth untouched. In this sense, U.S. Social security is not a "national" program at all, since the futures of citizens who have outlived their usefulness to employers is not financed as if it were a key component of the common, national mission. Longer life spans, the greatest benefit that society can convey to its members -- and the reason humans band together to create societies -- becomes a "problem," or so it is treated by the leading voices of the two American mass political parties.

Dennis Kucinich promises to restore the retirement age to 65. He is, at least, peeking through the window at civilization.

Non-thought processes

Americans have been trained to cheer when the stock market goes up. They don't know why. Nowadays, the closing bell on Wall Street is likely to be tolling for their jobs. No matter -- the Pavlovian conditioning is general: up is good. "Trade" has also become a positive mantra to be chanted rather than debated, even when what is being traded away is millions of jobs and the industrial capacity of the nation. None of the top tier Democrats can find the words to directly address the vast dislocations and suffering that other, corporate Americans are inflicting on their fellow citizens and the world. Better to bash China, instead.

Kucinich is made to seem hallucinatory, when he points out that U.S. government policy is facilitating the impoverishment of America. "We need to cancel NAFTA, cancel the WTO, which makes any changes in NAFTA...illegal." But even "staunchly" pro-union Rep. Dick Gephardt cannot bring himself to "challenge the underlying structure of our trade," as Kucinich puts it. Dean and Kerry make just enough noises about workers' rights and such to convince wishful thinkers that they are really listening.

Rev. Sharpton also opposes NAFTA and the World Trade Organization. "I disagreed with NAFTA when Clinton was in, and I think that we have come to see that that disagreement was correct," said Sharpton, following up on Kucinich's broadside. "I think that we cannot have trade policy that overlooks labor, overlooks workers' rights, overlooks environmental concerns. We can't act like just because something is trade, that also that makes it right. African-Americans are here on a bad trade policy."

Now that's breaking it down in civilized language. The slave trade was fantastically lucrative, a centuries-long commerce that shaped every society in the Americas south of Canada and allowed Europe to assume its unnatural position of dominance in the world. "I'm here on a bad trade policy," said Rev. Al. "So just because it's trade, doesn't mean that it is good and it is something that we should support."

The largely conservative audience and the Wall Street Journal and CNBC hosts got a good laugh out of that one. No doubt they considered Rev. Sharpton's remarks gritty and homespun, a kind of comic relief. In fact, he is by far their superior in both intelligence and civilization.

Trade in what, and on what terms? Business and commerce for whose benefit? These are the burning questions, the stuff of national and global debate -- except in the United States, where substantive discussion is confined to the bottom tier of the out-of-power party. (Were conservative Democrats in power, as in the Clinton years, we would likely hear even fewer challenges to "underlying structures.")

'No choice' candidates

Wars, and war profiteers, require money. No funding, no war. Occupations can be even more expensive. The entire cast of characters running for the Democratic nomination -- including Lieberman -- now claims to be opposed in some fashion to Bush's Iraq policy. But only two propose that Bush's policy be de-funded.

Howard Dean: "...even though I did not support the war in the beginning, I think we have to support our troops."

Joe Lieberman: "...we have no choice."

Bob Graham: "...whatever is required for the troops in Iraq."

John Edwards: "I will vote for, what's necessary to support the troops."

"We have no choice" is also the Kerry and Clark position. Thus, the entire top tier sees no alternative to funding a policy that they so loudly oppose. They denounce the madness -- and then hand the madman a check.

Kucinich: "I will not vote for the $87 billion... I say bring the troops home unequivocally."

Sharpton: "I would unequivocally vote no... Real patriots don't put troops in harm's way."

It is eminently logical to withhold funding from adventures that one opposes. In a sane society, Kucinich and Sharpton would be thought neither courageous nor kooky for following the logic of their stated positions. However, voices of reason and logic are forced to the margins of American discourse.

Possibly hoping to somehow escape from marginality, Carol Mosley-Braun revealed that in the final analysis she, too, is a creature of barbarism. Moseley-Braun has opposed the war for nearly as long and as fervently as Kucinich and Sharpton but, like Lot's wife, at the critical moment she looks back -- and is lost.

Braun: "...it is absolutely, I think, critical that we not cut and run..." In the end, the former U.S. Senator cannot escape the imperatives of Manifest Destiny. By her moral compass, demonstrations of U.S. resolve are more important than other people's national sovereignty. The black woman from Chicago cannot imagine that she is talking like a barbarian, that such patterns of thought are the principal threats to the survival of the human race -- in short, that she is warring against civilization.

Seconds later, Moseley-Braun waged war against English as a coherent language: "...it's going to be important for us to come up with the money to make certain that our young men and women and our reputation as leaders in the world is not permanently destroyed by the folly of preemptive war." It's not so much Moseley-Braun's fault that this sentence makes no sense. The logic of barbarism does not mesh with the realities of an inter-dependent globe. It becomes difficult to communicate in civilized company -- the essence of George Bush's problem at the UN, last month.

Civilized language

Americans think they are guardians of civilization. In reality, they don't even live there. The proof is plain for all to see in the statistics on wealth and public service disparities, infant mortality rates and, most damning, incarceration levels that certify the U.S. as the world's gulag (25 percent of the planet's prisoners). This is barbarism writ large, since these conditions exist as the direct result of public policy, rather than as a consequence of general deprivation or factors external to the nation.

The U.S. evolved as a nation without a real "social contract" -- merely an agreement that white males could pursue riches without too much interference from the state. The contract for Indians and blacks took the form of bounties for scalps and bills of sale for slaves. Now a relatively small elite composed of a few million millionaire households, and led by piratical corporate politicians, have seized the state. The people -- the whole people -- face a multitude of disasters, and desperately need to forge the beginnings of a real social contract, but they have few national historical references to draw upon. The dramatic exception is black America, which has been compelled by history to value justice above all else.

Sharpton and Kucinich bring social justice to the national political conversation, for which they deserve our deepest gratitude. The black activist preacher and the white leftist congressman speak to civilized values, without which the United States will become a failed nation. At a pace that corporate media cannot comprehend and, therefore, cannot convey, the world recoils from the backward model that the U.S. presents in domestic as well as foreign policy. There is nothing surer than that the U.S. will in coming years be shrunk to normal size in the community of nations. When that day arrives, Americans will only prosper if they have learned to speak to a world of equals, in civilized language.

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