Black Agenda Radio Commentaries
News, analysis and commentary on the human condition from a black left perspective.

Killed and Killer Cops

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

The civilized world is aghast at the bloodthirstiness of U.S. police.”

Harris County, Texas, Sheriff Ron Hickman claims that one of his deputies, Darren Goforth, was shot to death “because he wore a uniform.” Goforth was gunned down while filling up his tank at a Houston gas station. Shannon Miles, the 30 year-old Black man charged in the killing, has a history of mental illness. Of course, a Black person doesn’t have to be crazy to want to harm a cop. But, cop-killing in the United States is actually quite rare, when compared to the huge number of civilian lives snuffed out by folks that wear “the uniform.” If there is some kind of war with the cops, as Sheriff Hickman deceptively infers, then it’s a very one-sided conflict.

We will never know the full historical extent of police mayhem and murder, since U.S. authorities have never compelled local police departments to keep records of who they kill, and why. Withholding information is part of police impunity from punishment – or even criticism – in this country. But, the cops are keen to keep track of their own casualties “in the line of duty” – which, it turns out, are at historically low levels. An FBI study of police fatalities shows that an average of 64 police officers per year were feloniously killed between 1980 and 2014. Only 27 cops were killed in 2013, the lowest death toll for the whole 35-year period. The next year, 2014, cop killings went up, with 51 officers dead. But, that’s still way below the average of 64 a year. This year, the number of felonious police deaths from all causes is on track to be about the same as in 2014. So, the statistics tell us that there has been no rash of attacks on cops. Those who try to portray cops as victims of what Sheriff Hickman calls “dangerous national rhetoric” are simply attempting to silence the real victims of police terror.

U.S. cops are already by far the most lethally aggressive and demonstrably racist in the developed world.”

Thanks to a process begun by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement’s 2012 “Operation Ghetto Storm” study of extrajudicial police killings of Black people, the civilized world is aghast at the bloodthirstiness of U.S. police. As the Guardian newspaper reported earlier this summer, U.S. police kill more people in days than other countries kill in years. For the first time, the names and pictures of the fallen are posted for planetary observation, so that the rest of the species can know how the U.S. government really feels about human rights. The figures are not yet in on the civilian body count for August, but July was the deadliest month this year for people who found themselves on the other side of police guns, tasers, chokeholds, and batons.

Civilians are also killing each other in large numbers, with homicides up in many cities. The cops want you to believe that’s because officers are being less aggressive in fear of being charged with brutality. That’s insane. First of all, U.S. cops are already by far the most lethally aggressive and demonstrably racist in the developed world, which is why one out of every eight prison inmates on the planet is an African American, and why the U.S. stands alone in police violence against civilians. Secondly, in the Black community, the cops’ job is not to protect the residents. It is to contain, control and terrorize the population. Sheriff Hickman wants to get on with the business of police terror, because that’s all he’s good at.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

 

 

Direct download: 20150902_gf_KillerCopsKilled.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:48 PM

A Rare Conviction of Killer Cops in South Africa

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by executive editor Glen Ford

A South African court found eight Black policemen guilty of murdering a Mozambican taxi driver by handcuffing him to a police van and dragging him two hundred yards behind the vehicle. Then, the cops beat the already badly injured man to death at the police station.

A cell phone camera video of the dragging of the victim, Mido Macia, went viral on the internet, back in February of 2013. The grizzly crime is reminiscent of the murder of James Byrd, Jr., by three white racists in Jasper, Texas, in 1998. Byrd was tied to a pickup truck by his ankles and dragged three miles to his death on a country road. One of the Texas racists was executed.

The murder convictions of the eight South African police are unusual – as they would be in the United States – because South African cops also operate under a culture of impunity. Just six months before Mido Macia was killed by cops in the city of Daveyton, east of Johannesburg, police massacred 34 workers on strike against a platinum mine at Marikana, ushering in a new phase of opposition to the increasingly corrupt and brutal African National Congress regime. Those killings were also caught on camera, but none of the cops has been punished, and a government commission of inquiry into the August 2012 Marikana bloodbath concludes only that the police acted on a “defective” plan, but that they murdered no one.

“Political assassinations of labor and poor people’s organizers are common.”

South African police are as feared, today, as under the apartheid regime that slipped into history in 1994. And, just as under white rule, the main victims of police violence are the poor and powerless. The South African police now serve the Black-led ruling party, the ANC. Therefore, not only do they protect the interests of the wealthy corporations that still dominate the economic life of the nation, the police are also the enforcers of the African National Congress’s public services patronage system. The ruling party’s critics say desperately needed housing, utilities and other government services are distributed on the basis of loyalty to the ANC. This has contributed to South Africa being widely described as the “protest capital of the world,” with the highest levels and frequency of protests – thousands of demonstrations every month, most of them involving demands for housing and other basic services.

Political assassinations of labor and poor people’s organizers are common, in South Africa. Many activists suspect the police are directly implicated in the killings and cover-ups. In recent years, the police have often tolerated or encouraged mob attacks against Africans from elsewhere in the continent, especially Zimbabweans and workers from neighboring Mozambique, like Mr. Macia, the murdered taxi cab driver. The violence against African foreigners is a sad irony, since not so long ago the white regime considered all Black people in South Africa to be foreigners, with no rights of citizenship and no protection from civilian or police violence.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

 

Direct download: 20150826_gf_SouthAfricanPolice.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:29 PM

Black College Households Lost Half Their Wealth Despite Degrees

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by executive editor Glen Ford

“Black college families saw a steady erosion of their economic status.”

For generations, it has been an article of faith among Black people that education is the path to success, not just for the individual, but for the Black community as a whole. That’s never been entirely true, which is why W.E.B. Dubois was the first Black person to get a PhD from Harvard, but was not allowed to teach there, and why Black high schools in Washington, DC, during Jim Crow were full of teachers with doctorates who couldn’t find steady employment, elsewhere. The notion that college is the “great equalizer” in American society may have some validity for whites and Asian Americans, but for Hispanics and Blacks, the situation is much more complicated.

new study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis finds that the wealth of Black families headed by college graduates diminished dramatically between 1992 and 2013. There were three recessions over that time period, but despite the downturns the median net worth, or wealth, of white households headed by a college graduate increased by 86 percent. For Asian college families, the rise in net worth was even more dramatic over the two decades; their wealth went up nearly 90 percent. But, Black families in which the head of household held a college degree saw their net worth drop by more than half: 56 percent, when adjusted for inflation. In other words, three recessions in 20 years didn’t stop whites and Asian American college graduates from steadily increasing their family wealth, while Black college families saw a steady erosion of their economic status. Hispanic households headed by college graduates lost a catastrophic 72 percent of their wealth in the last recession, alone, largely because they were even more heavily invested in housing than their Black counterparts.

“They were deeper in debt, both on their houses and their college educations.”

Indeed, Black college graduate households lost a lot more during the recessions than Black families headed by people without college degrees, whose wealth declined less than 4 percent. But, of course, that’s largely because most Black people don’t have much wealth to lose. After the last recession, Black median household wealth shrank to one-twentieth that of white families.

Black college households, along with their Hispanic peers, sank a lot more of their money into the family home, where much of it disappeared in the Great Recession. The homes of white college graduates declined in value by only 25 percent, during the economic meltdown. But Black and Hispanic college graduates’ homes lost about half their value.

The authors of the study conclude that the Black and Hispanic college families fared so badly during recessions because they were deeper in debt, both on their houses and their college educations. Without the benefit of affluent relatives, and in a job market rife with racism, their college degrees provided little protection from economic downturns. 

The study states the obvious: that “higher education alone cannot level the playing field.” But a report by the Federal Reserve Bank cannot tell the real truth: that it is statistically impossible for Blacks, under the current system, to ever achieve economic parity with whites, no matter what their educations. What’s needed is a fundamental transformation of society – a revolution. Let that be a lesson to you.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. Find us on the web at BlackAgendaReport.com.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

 

Direct download: 20150819_gf_BlackCollegeHouseholds.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:11 PM

Pretty Words, Ugly Actions: The Obama Legacy on Climate Change

A Black Agenda Radio Commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

President Obama announced his plan last week to slash US carbon emissions by 2030, mostly by EPA rules which will effectively prohibit new coal fired electric plants.  This is unambiguously good news, especially from a president who once declared himself in favor of “clean coal.” .  

The bad news is that the Obama administration could have done this in its first weeks in office rather than half past its seventh year, and it doesn't begin to redeem Obama climate change legacy.

The bad news is that the US still leads the world in water polluting, earthquake causing fracking, in taxpayer subsidies to the fracking industry, and in the export of fracking technologies, for which the Obama administration has been a tireless advocate.

The bad news is that when the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the largest known gas and oil spill in history occurred, the Obama administration actively colluded with oil companies to lie to the public concealing the volume and extent of the leak.  President Obama had the US Navy and Coast Guard ban civilian overflights of the spill area, and local police agencies bar civilian access to affected shorelines apparently to prevent independent experts from assessing the extent of damage and the speed at which the poisonous discharge was settling on the sea floor.  The Obama Justice Department even protected British Petroleum by declaring that damage awards could only be assessed against BP's holdings in the US Gulf rather than against its global assets on six continents and oceans across the planet.  And although the president's party controlled both houses of Congress for another six
months, President Obama and his party sponsored not one piece of legislation, not one administrative rule to rein in the plundering
and polluting activities of Big Oil.

The bad news is that despite past disasters and future dangers the Obama administration continues to issue new permits for drilling up and down the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and is even permitting deepwater offshore fracking.  What could possibly go wrong?

The bad news is that the Obama administration, just like the Bush and Clinton ones before it, has continued the bipartisan American
tradition of subverting and destroying international accords on climate change, giving the final coup de grace to the Kyoto Accords, condemning hundreds of millions in Asia, Africa and Oceana to suffer theravages of climate change.

The bad news is that the Obama administration's equivocation on the Keystone pipeline seems transparently calculated to get his party through the 2016 election, after which it will almost certainly be approved, whoever is elected.  The Obama administration has issued permits for drilling in the Arctic Ocean, accessible for the first time in human history due to the melting of polar icecaps.

Actual leadership on climate change would set a near term goal of 80 to 90% of US energy needs met by renewables like wind and solar, an end to fracking on land and sea, and banning of offshore drilling, especially in the Arctic.  Leadership would be applauding the citizen activists who are delaying the departure of Shell's mammoth Arctic drilling rig from the port of Seattle.  Leadership would have the US look more like Germany, which although it's as far north as Canada derives most of its energy from wind and solar power and other renewables.  At this point climate leadership would mean popularizing the case for leaving the coal in the hole, the gas beneath the grass, and the oil in the soil while we fund and find other ways to power our agriculture, our cities and our lives. 

But none of that is part of the Obama legacy on climate change, which is pretty words but ugly actions.

For Black Agenda Radio I'm Bruce Dixon.  Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com, and be sure to subscribe to our free weekly email newsletter at www.blackagendareport.com.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report.  He lives in Marietta GA where is a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party.  Contact him via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Direct download: 20150805_bd-climate-change-legacy.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:50 AM

 
 

The Obama Legacy on Nuclear Weapons at the 70th Anniversary of the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

If you grew up in the US, you learned in school that President Truman near the end of World War 2 was forced by the diehard Japanese government to nuke the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to prevent a seaborne US invasion that might have cost hundreds of thousands of American lives. Like many things we learned in school this is a complete fabrication.

As a US Senator Harry Truman had declared the US should help the Nazis of the Soviets were winning and the Soviets if the Nazis were winning, so as to kill as many of both as possible. The Soviets faced more than 80% of the Nazi armies, and suffered more than 20 million dead absorbing and rolling back the Nazi invasion forces to Berlin. Despite early assurances, the US and Britain delayed entering the land war against Nazi Germany from 1942 to 43 and finally to the summer of 1944.

By the summer of 1945 the US had sunk the Japanese navy, defeated its isolated forces from the Philippines to Okinawa, blockaded Japan into near starvation and bombed most if its wooden cities to burnt matchsticks. US officials were pointedly ignoring Japanese surrender overtures. The Japanese badly wanted to surrender before the Soviet Red Armies could invade their Chinese and Korean colonies, where the bulk of their intact forces still were. But the eyes of US policy makers were fixed upon the next war, and the next enemy, the Soviet Union.

The US bombed the undefended cities of Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9 not to end the war with Japan but in the hopes of intimidating the Soviet Union, which that same week rolled up most Japanese forces in China and Korea.

So the atomic bombing of Japanese cities, and the firey immolation of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians and the slow killing of an equal number over the next few decades wasn't even about Japan. It was US imperial bluster to set the stage for more than forty years of the Cold War against the Soviet Union and eventually China as well, to establish the US as the sole and only global superpower.

It didn't work. The Soviets tested their own nukes in four years and a global arms race was on. In the late 1980s before the fall of the USSR, its leaders proposed major mutual cutbacks of all nuclear weapons, but President Reagan said no.

The Russian state that succeeded the Soviet Union was assured at birth that the US and its Eurasian military arm NATO would never threaten Russia, but that was almost immediately proven a lie. President Obama early in his first term made hopeful noises about curtailing nuclear weapons, but was careful not to move on this intention till the Congress was safely in the hands of Republicans. Under President Obama, NATO bases, some with nuclear arms now ring the western and southern rims of Russia. The US funded the overthrow of the Ukrainian government, US warships are now in the Black Sea and America has long forsaken its commitments to nuclear nonproliferation, disarmament and peace with Russia. Nuclear armed US aircraft carriers are parked in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, allegedly to deter Chinese expansion.

President Obama inherited a bloodstained, radioactive, murderous legacy on nuclear weapons, and managed to make it all a little bit worse than he found it. Not bad for a Nobel Peace Prize winner whose acceptance speech justified preventive war.

For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com, where you can subscribe to our free weekly email newsletter.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report. He lives in Marietta GA where is a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Direct download: 20150805_bd-hiroshima-nagasaki-70th-anniv.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:33 AM

Black Parents Should Opt Their Children Out of High Stakes Testing

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by executive editor Glen Ford

This is a battle for democracy in public education.”

The movement by parents to opt their children out of high stakes testing is growing by leaps and bounds, but remains largely white and suburban, despite the fact Black folks are the primary targets of the destructive testing regime. Almost two decades ago, the corporate world began pouring millions of dollars into a massive campaign to split the two pillars of the Democratic Party: teachers unions and Black voters. It began as a mainly Republican strategy to divert public funding to private school vouchers – an idea that was never very popular among Black parents. But, corporate Democrats discovered that public education could be privatized even more effectively – and much more profitably – through chartering the schools. Charter schools are a capitalist’s dream, in which the public provides all the money, private companies get rich contracting services, teachers are deprofessionalized and deunionized, and Black parents lose all democratic rights concerning their children’s education.

In one of the great ironies of recent U.S. history, the Democratic Party took the lead in what had begun as a Republican project to vilify teachers and privatize schools in Black neighborhoods. High stakes testing became a weapon guaranteed to fail the students, fail the teachers, fail the neighborhood schools, and fail entire school districts in largely Black cities. Everybody loses except the hedge funds and other billionaire investors in the charter school marketplace. These are the people whose interests President Obama has served for the past six and a half years. Obama became the biggest public school privatizer of all time, wielding executive power to force the states to establish more charter schools or lose federal education funds.

A scam to destroy any semblance of democracy in inner city schools.”

Studies show that charter schools are not better than public schools, but they are great sources of wealth for big investors, while the public – mostly, the Black inner city public – takes all the risk. But, because Obama is Black, and Democrats are the party pushing hardest for charters, the established civil rights organizations are urging Black people to opt in to the high stakes testing madness. Twelve of these misleadership groups signed a letter in support of high stakes testing, including the national offices of the NAACP and the Urban League.

At root, this is a battle for democracy in public education. The white parents that make up the bulk of the anti-testing movement are accustomed to democracy in their school districts, through active and empowered local school boards. They know their rights, and they exercise them. However, the whole charter school scam is based on destroying any semblance of democracy in inner city schools, many of which are already under the control of the states or strong-mayor forms of government. The testing regime is crafted to make local control of schools an impossibility – forever – and to reduce the teaching staffs of inner city schools to temporary drones, not educators.

Black people desperately need to opt-out of this nightmare.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, find us at BlackAgendaReport.com.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

 

Click HERE to watch Glen Ford’s informative speech on the Corporate Assault on Public Education.

Direct download: 20150805_gf_OptOutOfTesting.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:22 PM

Predator Cops Fill Graveyards

U.S. police killed 412 people in 1976, 333 in 1984, and 385 in 1990, wrote Mumia Abu Jamal, the nation’s best known political prisoner, in an essay now republished for his new book, Writings on the Wall. The cops “obviously haven’t protected or served the thousands they’ve murdered over the years. They serve and protect the system, not the people,” he wrote. “They are predators.”

Stop Police Terror

Murder by police can only be stopped by “our independent action,” said Carl Dix, co-founder of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network. “We are not looking for Obama, Loretta Lynch or any governors or mayors to do this, because they preside over the horrors that we have to stop.” Dix spoke outside the recent national conference of the Movement for Black Lives, in Cleveland. He’s gearing up for “Rise Up October” campaign of actions to “stop police terror,” under the slogan: “Which side are you on?”

Baltimore Black Political Class Protected White Mayor O’Malley

Jill Carter, a young Black lawyer from Baltimore and the most progressive member of the Maryland state legislature, said it’s no wonder that former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley has trouble dealing with Black activists’ on the presidential campaign trail. During his term as mayor of Baltimore, between 1999 and 2007, O’Malley oversaw the arrest of 750,000 people, more than the total population of the city, many of them on charges that “were illegal or unwarranted,” said Carter. Nevertheless, the entire Black city leadership supported and protected O’Malley, “even when faced with the reality that he was destroying the city and the community’s relationship with the police department.” O’Malley’s protectors included the current and former mayors of Baltimore, the whole of the city council, plus all of the city’s delegation to the state legislature – except for Jill Carter.

Bernie Sanders Runs as Populist, not Socialist

Paul Street, the veteran political scholar and activist, said Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is running as a populist, not a socialist. “He doesn’t say ‘socialism’” in his campaign speeches,” said Street, who was among the first to point out Barack Obama’s conservative political tendencies. Senator Sanders “identifies himself with the social democratic states of Scandinavia, particularly Denmark, Sweden and Norway, but does not refer to himself as a socialist,” said Street. “And, unlike the serious Socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, back in the day, I haven’t heard him mouth the term ‘capitalism’ once.”

New Black Movement Combines Mix of Older Tactics

The emerging Black political movement “combines the tactics of the Civil Rights Movement – mass marches, civil disobedience, shutting things down – with programs and ideas that did not always crystallize in the Black Power Movement, but were thought about” during that period, said Dr. Anthony Monteiro, former professor of African American Studies at Temple University, in Philadelphia. Protesters gathered on Temple’s campus to demand Dr. Monteiro’s reinstatement to what chairman Molefi Asante has renamed the “Department of Africology.”

Black Agenda Radio on the Progressive Radio Network is hosted by Glen Ford and Nellie Bailey. A new edition of the program airs every Monday at 11:00am ET on PRN. Length: One hour.
Direct download: Black_Agenda_Radio_20150803.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:46 PM

NetRoots Nation Confrontation Wasn't About #BlackLivesMatter At All

A Black Agenda Radio Commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

The first thing to know about the #BlackLivesMatter confrontation with Democratic presidential candidates Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders is that it didn't happen on the street or some neutral setting, it didn't happen at some random campaign appearance. It happened at the annual NetRootsNation gathering, this year in Phoenix.

NetRoots bills itself as “the largest gathering of the progressive movement” in this country. Unless you think the Democratic party IS the progressive movement, or that all “progressives” are Democrats, this is nonsense. I know, I've been to NetRoots.

What it actually is, is the largest gathering of paid and wannabe paid Democratic party activists, Democratic candidates and Democratic campaign managers, of consultants and vendors to Democratic campaigns, and folks of all kinds who are part of the far-flung partisan and ostensibly “non-partisan” machinery that gears up every even numbered year to elect Democrats to local, state and national office. Some of them want to change the Democratic party from within, some of them want to take it as it is, but they're all committed to staying inside the Democratic tent, and to keeping you there as well.

If you're a black Democratic party activist like I was for 25 years, even if like me, you never called yourself that, you go to NetRoots to connect with other Democratic party activists, and hopefully, with the people who will be handing out grassroots money, among other things, to get out the Big Black Vote in November, without which Democrats on every level have no hope of winning.

High ranking Democrats who hand out money, whether through partisan campaigns or to ostensibly nonpartisan and/or nonprofit organizations are always on the lookout for new activist blood with catchy new hooks, for activists who'll say the things they will not say in the effort to turn out the black masses for that Big Black Vote. So if you're a black activist at NetRoots you really NEED to stand out, to get noticed by the people who can give you fellowships, grants, jobs, funding of all kinds, and a career.

Since Hillary is the all but inevitable Democratic nominee, confronting two minor white male candidates, demanding they “say her name” and come up with solutions that address white supremacy, structural racism and the runaway police state is pretty much a foolproof strategy to get noticed, and as Hillary did not attend NetRoots, they got to do it without antagonizing the Clinton camp. Hillary wisely covered her own ass by releasing a tweet that unequivocally said “black lives DO matter.”

But all in all, the NetRootsNation confrontation wasn't the stirring of black women activists “taking their rightful place at the front of the progressive movement,” as one breathless tweet called it. It didn't tell us anything we didn't know about O'Malley or Sanders, or about hypocritical Hillary.

It was about flying the #BlackLivesMatter flag to jockey for positions inside the machinery that is the Democratic party and its affiliates.

For Black Agenda Radio I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com, where you can subscribe to our free weekly email newsletter.

 

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.

Direct download: 20150723_bd-netroots-nation-confrontation.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:11 PM

Obama’s Takes His Prison Reform Con Game on the Road

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by executive editor Glen Ford

Don’t expect anything other than cynical theatricality and double-dealing from this president.”

President Obama last week took his criminal justice con game into the U.S. prison system, home to one out of eight incarcerated persons in the world. On any given day, about 80,000 inmates are held in solitary confinement, some of them for decades. Obama proclaimed that’s not a “smart” thing to do, and ordered his Justice Department to conduct a study of how to cut down on solitary confinement. If that means Obama’s going to pursue a “smart” criminal justice policy, in the same way that he wages “smart” wars, then not much will change in U.S. prisons.

The president waited until the second half of his second term in office – and the rise of an incipient mass protest movement – before experiencing his epiphany on mass incarceration. So-called prison reform is now a thoroughly bipartisan affair. Republicans have harbored a strain of prison reformism ever since many of Richard Nixon’s men found themselves behind bars in the aftermath of Watergate, and even the rabidly reactionary Koch brothers are funding prison reform. The legislatures of at least 15 states have either passed, or are debating, ways to limit solitary confinement. And Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, a crucial swing vote on the high court, has all but invited prison reform groups to challenge solitary confinement on Constitutional grounds. So, although Obama is the first serving president to actually set foot in a prison, he is moving in politically safe territory.

However, don’t expect anything other than cynical theatricality and double-dealing from this president. When it comes to the criminal justice system, Obama is a consummate trickster. This month, with great fanfare, he commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders. Eight of them had been convicted for crack cocaine. But, two years ago, Obama’s Justice Department successfully argued against retroactive release of prisoners convicted under the infamous 100-to-1 crack cocaine penalties. Because of Obama, 5,000 people, most of them Black, were left to languish in prison – yet he is praised for letting just eight of them out, under presidential commutation, two years later. Now, that is champion con man.

The Curtain’s About to Close

If Obama had launched his reviews of solitary confinement and other U.S. criminal justice atrocities during his first term in office, then, theoretically, tens of thousands of inmates might have been spared millions of collective days and nights of isolation and psychological torture. But, Obama will have less than a year left in office when his new study is completed.

Five percent of all federal prison inmates are currently in solitary confinement. Federal prisons are 35 to 40 percent overcrowded. High security federal prisons, where solitary confinement is most widely practiced, are 55 percent overcrowded. Obama last week told the NAACP that solitary confinement has “no place in any civilized country.” But he has overseen such practices for six and a half years. The NAACP roared its approval, anyway – willing participants in Obama’s criminal justice con game.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
Direct download: 20150722_gf_ObamaPrisonCon.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:24 PM

A Black Agenda Radio Commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

Six and a half years into his presidency, Barack Obama has discovered black mass incarceration. He's shocked, visits a federal prison and frees a token handful of prisoners. Fifteen years out of office, Bill Clinton half-apologies for his 1990s crime bills which nearly doubled the US prison population. What's got into these guys? It's election season. Hillary is running for the White House and she needs the black vote.

Why Bill Clinton's Apology and Barack Obama's Prison Drive-By, Token Clemencies Are Cynical Election Year Posturing

A Black Agenda Radio Commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

Ten whole years ago, back in July 2005 when the Black Agenda Report crew was still at Black Commentator, I wrote that

With under 5 percent of the world’s people, the US accounts for 25 percent of the planet’s prisoners.  More than half its 2.2 million prisoners come from the one eighth of its population which is black.  Today, an astounding 3 percent of all African Americans languish in prisons and jails, and nearly as many more are on probation, parole, bail, house arrest or court supervision... Right now, the shadow of prison squats at the corners of, and often at the center of nearly every black family’s life in this nation.”

Yesterday President Obama repeated some of these same figures, and they are pretty much the same. Total US prisoners are still 2.2 or 2.3 million, and a slight drop in the black incarceration rate makes us now a little less instead of a little more than half, but the overall picture is unchanged in a decade. The president then announced the release of forty-some nonviolent federal drug offenders out of a total of about 70,000, and stopped in at a federal prison Thursday. The same day, ex-president Bill Clinton offered a half-hearted “apology” for his 1990s crime bills, which he admitted “set the stage” for state and federal governments to nearly double the US prison population.

Why? Why did President Obama wait six and a half years into his presidency to say the basic damning numbers and free a token handful of drug war prisoners? And how come Bill Clinton, fifteen years out of office chose this week to publicly admit that black mass incarceration was maybe not the best public policy?

The short answer is that Hillary Clinton is running for president, and she needs that big black vote. Barack and Bill are working hard to position Hillary as the lesser evil, so that a large black vote, an essential component of what Democratic party consultants call their “base vote” can be mobilized for her.

We shouldn't forget however that despite the posturing of former presidents, that mass black incarceration has been the joint and bipartisan policy of both Republicans and Democrats.

The federal prison budget rose every year but one in the Clinton years, the Bush years, and so far the Obama years look about the same. The First Black President approved new federal supermax solitary prisons in places like Illinois, where citizen action closed the infamous Tamms penitentiary, and his Justice Department went to court to keep thousands who should have been freed when Congress relaxed the crack to powder sentence disparity from 100 to on to 17 to 1 behind the walls to this day.

Why? Why is black mass incarceration the bipartisan policy of America's rulers?

It's not about a continuation of slavery or to get free prison labor, that's silly. Nine out of ten prisoners do no work at all. And it's not because prisons are especially profitable. Apart from immigration prisons under Obama, privatization has never been big enough to drive the engine of mass incarceration at any time in the last 3 or 4 decades.

The America prison state came into fullest flower at the same time as and as the flip side of Bill and Hillary Clinton's so-called “welfare reform.” Whether Republicans or Democrats are in office black mass incarceration serves the vital purpose of morally justifying America's viciously unequal and racist economic and social order. The prison state does this by creating mostly black and brown class of permanently stigmatized and “unworthy” poor who can be portrayed as not deserving decent housing, real educations, affordable health care, dignity or jobs at living wages and whose precarious lives and devastated communities can be blamed on anything except the failure of neoliberal capitalism to provide bread, education, housing dignity or justice.

The more unjust and unequal capitalist America becomes, the more it needs prisons, and that stigmatized class defined by them. Their precarious lives are also a standing lesson to millions more with falling wages and rising debts to shut up and suck it up or this could be you.

We at Black Agenda Report have been talking about black mass incarceration for ten years now, longer than Michelle Alexander, and before anybody heard of the New Jim Crow. We're glad that presidents Bill and Barack have rediscovered it, even if only just in time to get another Democrat elected, which for them is about all that matters.

For Black Agenda Radio I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and serves on the state committee of the GA Green Party. Reach him at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.

Direct download: 20150715_bd_bill_n_barack_on_mass_incarceration.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:37 PM