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

The Black Misleadership Class Lines Up Behind Transit Privatization In Atlanta

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

Back in the 1960s residents of Fulton and Dekalb counties along with the city of Atlanta voted in a penny sales tax to fund MARTA, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. For all the usual reasons, the surrounding majority white counties declined participation in MARTA, claiming its acronym instead stood for Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta. Along with rural legislators they imposed savage and arbitrary funding and operational restrictions on the agency, so that to this day MARTA receives not a penny of gas tax revenue and is the only big city transit agency in the nation that gets not a penny from state government.

Though they wouldn't tax themselves to pay its bills, suburbanites were long represented on MARTA's governing board, and the rural and suburban state legislators although again, the state gives no money to MARTA, convene a permanent and powerful oversight committee that constantly interferes with its governance.

A generation of black Atlanta mayors have made it their business to push tens of thousands of low income black families out of the city in order to “revitalize” it with wealthier, whiter residents, and white suburbanites now covet the multibillion dollar transit infrastructure built by inner-city Fulton, Dekalb and Atlanta residents.

The next big play, openly demanded by Atlanta business leaders like the Chamber of Commerce, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the legislative oversight committee, and tacitly agreed to by Atlanta's black mayor, it's majority black city council, and most of the local black leadership class is privatization of the city's transit assets, all at once or piece by piece. The transit agency's own governing board is on the privatization bus as well.

They commissioned a recent audit that blames the city's transit woes on lazy, overpaid workers with too many sick days and much too lavish health care plans. And with the approval of the white governor --- again despite the fact that the state provides the agency NO funding --- and the black mayor, a new transit chief has been brought in from San Antonio, TX for the express purpose of breaking the black-led union, and transitioning the agency to state control so it can be privatized.

Privatization will be a good deal for whichever fat cats get the contracts. But it won't be good for ordinary people who need transit to get to and look for jobs. It won't be so good for businesses who depend on transit to bring workers and customers to their doors. It won't be good for the thousands of elderly who have less access to automobiles, often because they can no longer drive, and it won't be good for college and high school students who depend on public transit to get to school. It won't be good for folks who have to access medical care or government services, or who want to maintain family ties or get to church on Sunday.

But a whole layer of the black political class and their hangers on are foaming at the mouth at the thought of lucrative “public private partnerships,” and that will be the shape of the politics of black Atlanta for the near future. It's the privatizers and profiteers vs the rest of us. Which side are YOU on.

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 a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.

Direct download: 20121031_bd_transit-privatization.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:46pm EST

Arab Revolutions Will Never be Made-in-the-USA

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

The men that Obama used to get rid of Gaddafi, and is now using to get rid of Syrian President Assad, have their own ideas about what constitutes a revolution.”

The New York Times noted the anniversary of the murder of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi in typical imperial fashion: with a combination of lies and exhortations. The Times editorial was titled, “Making Revolution Work.” Of course, the nine month long NATO assault on a country of six million people was not a revolution in any meaningful sense of the word. The largely Islamist fighters that butchered Gaddafi after his convoy was disabled by foreign aircraft, and who subsequently executed 100 other captives were acting as proxies for the U.S. and its NATO allies who, together, account for 70 percent of the world’s arms expenditures.

No genuine revolution in world history has been brought into being by the massed arms of the globe’s reigning imperial powers. This was the old colonial order, showing once again who is in charge in Africa and the Arab and Muslim worlds. Revolutions do not emanate from Washington, Paris and London.

The Americans and Europeans, including the old Italian colonial masters who killed one-third of the Libyan population when they were in charge, were joined by the thieving royal families of Qatar and Saudi Arabia – who rightly perceive any hint of revolution in the Arab world as the equivalent of their own death warrants.

The United States and its allies and proxies ignited race war in northern Africa, a slaughter of dark-skinned Libyans and black migrants that continues to this day – as does the resistance. How befitting its national character that the United States provoke an orgy of racist violence, and call it revolution!

Hillary Clinton encapsulated the imperial nature of the overthrow of Col. Gaddafi. “We came, we saw, he died,” said the bestial secretary of state, picturing herself as Julius Caesar. Clinton understood perfectly that Libya was a war of conquest and empire.

This second round of blowback will make the first look like a schoolyard fight.”

The New York Times, which, along with the rest of the U.S. corporate media, acted as cheerleader for the conquest of Libya, now exhorts America’s former Libyan proxies, posing as a government, to disarm the rowdier elements in their midst, lest they tarnish the so-called revolution. We certainly don’t want any more U.S. ambassadors turning up dead. But the men that Obama used to get rid of Gaddafi, and is now using to get rid of Syrian President Assad, have their own ideas about what constitutes a revolution – Salafist, jihadist ideas that do not include continued U.S. domination of the world. They gladly accepted Washington’s money and guns, and remain grateful to NATO for incinerating the real heroes of the war, the Libyan soldiers who fought on for so long while death rained on them from the skies. But a favor or two from the Great Satan doesn’t alter these jihadis’ obligations to God, as they perceive them.

The new round of blowback has begun. The U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan virtually created the global jihadist network to fight the Soviets, in Afghanistan – with results we have all witnessed. This second round of blowback will make the first look like a schoolyard fight. So, if the New York Times and Hillary Clinton and President Obama think they are now such great friends of the Arab revolution – they ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

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: 20121031_gf_LibyaAnniversary.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:08pm EST

The War Against “Excessive Pensions” For Govt Workers Is War Against Black Families, Prosecuted by Our Black Elite

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

The late Kwame Toure used to say that there was a war in progress, a war against black people, and that we seemed to be the only ones who didn't know it. The war at the heart of today's black polity has a similar character. It's war between the black elite, our own native class of African American cultural and political misleaders, and the rest of us. And since that class of misleaders possesses near-exclusive access to our black pulpits and newspapers, the radio and TV stations most of us listen to, it's no surprise that only one side is awake and aware.

Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed is a rising black star in Democratic political circles who enjoys the favor of big corporate donors like Home Depot, SunTrust and Bank of America, because he is a tireless warrior against, not for, the interests of most black people in Atlanta and around the nation. Reed is widely credited in corporate media like the Wall Street Journal for having solved the intractable problem of ballooning pensions for city workers, which they say threatened to bankrupt the city.

If there had been an actual black press to explain this for us, the explanation would have went something like this....

Generations of teachers, city, county and state government workers, in their negotiations with bosses --- in Atlanta those have been black mayors the last 40 years --- agreed in good faith to forgo immediate wage increases now in favor of pensions and in some cases medical benefits later in their retirement, which both they and their employers were to jointly pay for. But although cities, states and school districts took the money out of workers checks each month, they never felt obliged to keep their promise and pay their part of those pensions. To do so might have required higher taxes, especially on the wealthiest individuals and corporations who over the last decades have paid a lower and lower share of their wealth in taxes, while governments have been forced to borrow operating money from them at loan shark interest rates. This is the pattern followed by hundreds of US cities and school districts, and probably most of its states.

Pension managers mostly said not funding the pensions was OK because they could make smart enough investments to compensate for the money public employers weren't putting into those pension funds. The crash of 2007 and 2008 made lots of their smart investments worthless.

Now big city mayors, governors and school district execs are not about to go to the public and to the wealthy and say “since we didn't keep our promises all these years we've got to tax you heavily to pay these pensions we know we should have been funding all along...” Instead they have to recast their broken promises as “unfunded liabilities” and the retirement benefits previously agreed upon as excessive, greedy, and unsustainable.

Atlanta's Kasim Reed has been a champion at this. Last the black mayor of Atlanta broke just about every pension promise made to Atlanta city workers by 40 years of black mayors, and sharply limited retirement compensation of new city workers. In Atlanta most of those city workers are African American. Reed now has his sights on reducing the wages and pensions of Atlanta's 4,000 transit workers, perhaps as a prelude to privatization or a state takeover.

If the targets here had been black contractors instead of city and transit workers, there would be a storm of denunciations from black pulpits and pundits, black newspapers and commentators. But since the spear chuckers in this war against ordinary black folks are our own black leadership class, those leaders are mostly silent. It's time to dismiss that whole class, and raise up new leaders.

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. He lives and works near Marietta GA and is a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He can be reached via this site's contact page, or at bruce.dixon@blackagendareport.com.

Direct download: 20121024_bd_pension_wars_and_black_families.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:03pm EST

A Profitable Genocide: Rwanda and Uganda Annex Eastern Congo

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

The genocide has been very profitable for Uganda and Rwanda.”

Rwanda is warning its western benefactors not to cut off aid, in the wake of yet another leaked United Nations report on its role in the genocide of millions in the neighboring Congo. Rwanda and Uganda, both staunch allies of the United States and Great Britain, continue to support so-called rebels in the mineral rich eastern Congo, according to a Group of Experts at the UN Security Council. Rwanda and Uganda invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1996, ostensibly to hunt down Hutu fighters among millions of refugees from ethnic violence in Rwanda. But the invasion became an occupation that has killed six million Congolese – the world’s greatest holocaust since World War Two.

The genocide has been very profitable for Uganda and Rwanda, who have plundered eastern Congo’s mineral resources for sale to multinational corporations, most of them based in the United States and Europe. According to the UN’s chief of peacekeeping, Rwanda has effectively annexed eastern Congo, raising taxes and controlling the population through so-called rebels who answer directly to Rwanda’s military. Foreigners have noted how Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, has prospered during the Congolese genocide, as a base for trading plundered minerals.

A 2010 UN report charged Rwanda’s army with “committing atrocities that could be classified as crimes of genocide.” Another UN study came to similar conclusions back in 1997. But, each time, the United States has used its muscle to suppress the findings and shield its African allies from punishment. The latest report – which only came to light because it was leaked – implicates officers at the highest level of Rwanda’s military as the real command structure behind the so-called M-23 rebels – confirming that the Tutsi force are not really rebels at all, but extensions of the Rwandan army.

Rwanda has effectively annexed eastern Congo.”

Uganda has also profited mightily from the death of millions of Congolese. It is part of the arrangement, in which Rwanda and Uganda act as mercenaries for American and European interests in Africa. In return, both regimes are armed to the teeth, generously supported by foreign aid, and allowed free rein to plunder their Congolese neighbors. The blood of millions flows into the ground, while billions of dollars in minerals are extracted from the earth and delivered to their corporate customers – with Rwandan and Ugandan middlemen pocketing their cut.

The United States, embarrassed by the leaked reports, has withheld token funds earmarked for a Rwandan military school, and the European Union has frozen support for the killer regimes. But the British shamelessly restored all aid to Rwanda and Uganda in September, praising the mass murderers for constructively pursuing peace.

The Congolese genocide is, first and foremost, an American and British crime, a superpower-engineered holocaust that has continued for 16 years, under Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama – all of whom are guilty of the worst offenses known to international law. Uganda and Rwanda are merely henchmen in this monstrous crime against humanity that is comparable only to the crimes of Hitler and his Nazis. It is an American Democratic and Republican genocide – a pure evil. Don’t you dare claim to find some “lesser evil” under that mountain of dead African flesh.

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.co

Direct download: 20121024_gf_RwandaCongo.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:15pm EST

Haiti: The Streets Come Alive

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

The liberation of Haiti does not depend on the United Nations, but on the Haitian people.”

The people of Haiti are in motion, and the U.S.-installed government is responding with tear gas and bullets. Demonstrations have erupted across the country, denouncing the regime of “Sweet Mickey” Martelly for corruption, demanding jobs at livable wages and the basic services that states are supposed to provide, and calling for an end to the eight-year occupation of the country by the United Nations.

UN soldiers took over from U.S. Marines after Washington’s coup against the democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, in 2004. Since then, Aristide’s party has been effectively banned. Former U.S. president Bill Clinton holds no public office in his own country, but he rules like a viceroy as the UN’s Special Envoy to Haiti. The country has been reduced to a kind of protectorate of the UN – which, for all practical purposes, translates as a colony of the United States.

Because Aristide’s Lavalas party was excluded from the voting, most Haitians did not even go to the polls in April of last year, allowing “Sweet Mickey” Martelly to win the presidency with the support of only a small fraction of the Haitian population. That means politics in Haiti is mainly the politics of the street. And the streets of virtually every large Haitian city and town have been alive with demonstrations in the past few weeks. Teachers in Port-Au-Prince demanded a living wage equivalent to $1,200 a year. Slum dwellers in Cite Soleil protested deplorable conditions. In Fort Liberte, residents demanded a shipping facility. More protests are planned in Cap-Haitien and the capital city, this week.

The whole country is standing up.”

Haitians and their supporters demonstrated last week at the United Nations, in New York, asking the UN Security Council to pull its troops out of their country. Instead, the Council voted to extend the so-called peacekeeping mission for another year, although the force’s size will be reduced. One of those that met with UN peacekeeping officials was Haitian Senator Jean Charles Moise. At a meeting in a Haitian neighborhood of Brooklyn, Moise said he understood “the game that is being played” at the UN, but will continue to insist that the foreign soldiers be withdrawn, that security be turned over to an enlarged Haitian police force, and that reparations be paid to the families of the 5,000 Haitians that have died from cholera introduced into the country by UN troops.

Senator Moise is known for riding a white horse at anti-Martelly demonstrations. He says the liberation of Haiti does not depend on the United Nations, but on the Haitian people. “The whole country is standing up,” he said, “so I had to come into the street, with the people. You have to be with the people when they are in motion.” Then the senator rushed to the airport to rejoin the protests.

Bill Clinton and the multinational corporations he represents have other plans for Haiti. Clinton says Haiti’s greatest advantage is its low wages, to better attract foreign capital. In other words, Washington’s goal is to keep Haitians desperately poor, so that they will take any job, at any wage. But Haitians are determined to win back their national sovereignty, and set the terms of their own development.

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: 20121017_gf_Haiti.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:46am EST

What Happened to South Africa’s Freedom Charter

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

The official voice of labor, COSATU, cannot credibly claim to represent the interests of working people when it is a partner of the ruling party whose police kill, beat and imprison workers.”

In 1994, the African National Congress of South Africa made a deal with the devil. There would be one-person, one-vote, majority rule of electoral politics. But corporate power over the South African economy would not be tampered with, and white civil servants would be guaranteed they could their well-paying jobs, for life. The ANC also set itself another goal: to create a class of Black millionaires.

Much earlier, the ANC had made a solemn commitment to the broad masses of people. It’s called theFreedom Charter, adopted in 1955, which served as the unifying document of the struggle against apartheid that culminated in the elections that brought the ANC to power. The Freedom Charter promised that “the national wealth of [the] country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people;” that “the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole;” that “all other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people; all the land re-divided amongst those who work it to banish famine and land hunger;” and that “all shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose.”

Yet, none of this has come to pass. The Freedom Charter is absolutely incompatible with the deal the ANC made for a peaceful transition to Black majority rule. If corporate privileges are untouched, there can be no collective ownership of the mineral wealth, the soil, the banks and industries. And social systems that breed new Black millionaires – or millionaires of any kind – cannot possibly give priority to the well-being of the masses of people.

The Freedom Charter is absolutely incompatible with the deal the ANC made for a peaceful transition to Black majority rule.”

South Africa was one of the most unequal places in the world in 1994, and it is at least as unequal, today – because of the deal cut by the ANC. The covenant with white privilege and corporate power was also entered into by the ANC’s partners: the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, COSATU. Thus, the three pillars of the liberation movement agreed that they would not upset the existing corporate framework, and they would not implement the clearly socialist aims of the Freedom Charter. Instead, they nurtured a tiny, Black capitalist class made up largely of ANC insiders. Union leaders became rich men, while conditions for the poor and working classes deteriorated.

These chickens have now come home to roost, especially following the massacre of 34 miners at Marikana. The mining industry is in turmoil, with 41 percent of South Africa’s gold output shut down. Hundreds of thousands of municipal workers will go on strike this week to protest poor pay and corruption. Yet the official voice of labor, COSATU, cannot credibly claim to represent the interests of working people when it is a partner of the ruling party whose police kill, beat and imprison workers.

This fundamentally corrupt arrangement has run its course. There will be nothing but mass bloodshed at the end of this journey unless the African National Congress breaks the pact that it made with corporate power, in 1994. The ANC stands at a crossroads, and must make a turn. 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: 20121017_gf_SouthAfrica.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:28am EST

Chavez Beats the Devil, Again

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

In the United States, his ten percent winning margin would be considered a landslide.”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez won a resounding victory in last weekend’s elections. If you’ve been following U.S. corporate media coverage of the campaign, that may have come as a surprise to you. Chavez is routinely referred to as a “strongman” and other variations on “dictator” by the U.S. media when, in fact, he remains one of the most popular persons in all of Latin America. In the United States, his ten percent winning margin would be considered a landslide, but all the American media can talk about after Chavez’s latest victory at the polls is how much his lead has shrunk since the 2006 election, when he won by 25 percent.

Every time Chavez and his Bolivarian socialists win at the polls, the corporate media have to eat crow. One would think all that heartburn would force the U.S. press to finally admit that Chavez is the leader of oil rich Venezuela because large majorities of its citizens want him in the presidential palace, and are enjoying the fruits of his wealth distribution policies.

It is also impossible for American media, which are mouthpieces for their corporate owners and take their day-to-day cues from the State Department and the White House, to understand that most Venezuelans agree with Chavez when he denounces the imperialists in Washington. They knew what Chavez meant when he called President Bush “the devil” and said that he stank of sulfur, back in 2006. Venezuelans remembered how Bush backed a coup that almost toppled Chavez in 2002 – a coup that was reversed by a counter-rebellion of the people and loyal soldiers. They remember that the coup leaders’ first act was to abolish the Constitution and start drawing up lists of people to be thrown into prison, or worse. They remember the dark days when nearly all of Latin America was placed under the rule of generals allied with Washington, and the hands of the torturers and the death squads could reach into every family with impunity. They know who was the author of that nightmare: the United States.

Every time Chavez and his Bolivarian socialists win at the polls, the corporate media have to eat crow.”

That’s why Latin America is the corner of the world that has achieved the greatest success over the last 20 years in throwing off the dead weight of the North, by rejecting the so-called Washington Consensus. And that’s why, this time around, the Venezuelan opposition chose a candidate who pretended to be a leftist, himself. Challenger Henrique Capriles, a young state governor, styled himself as a protégé of former Brazilian president “Lula” da Silva, a more business-friendly type of leftwing politician. But Venezuela’s poor know the who opposition really are: the affluent, mostly light-skinned people that live in swank neighborhoods and whose hearts dwell in Miami. The people who draw cartoons in opposition newspapers depicting Chavez as a monkey and openly sneer at his mixed race heritage – the heritage of most Venezuelans. They know what real democracy feels like, because they remember what living under the yoke of a rich white minority felt like. Democracy is having a government that’s not made up of those people whose hearts are in Miami. Democracy calls the top Yankee a devil, and the people cheer, and then the people vote.

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: 20121010_gf_ChavezWins.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:16pm EST

Black is Back, With a Conference in Washington, Nov 3

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

Breaking the silence means pollinating our communities with the direction and skills necessary to break the back of those who oppress and kill us.”

When the Black Is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations first came together in October of 2009, millions of African Americans were still flush with the glow of Barack Obama’s inauguration, nine months before, when a million African Americans gathered at the Washington Mall like faithful Muslims on a pilgrimage to Mecca. But by October of his first year in office, President Obama had already announced that he would be putting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on the chopping block; he had already sabotaged Durban II, the international conference against racism, just as George Bush had sabotaged Durban I, eight years before; and Obama had already announced that he would not be proposing any programs to alleviate extreme Black suffering in the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression – even as his friends on Wall Street were already moving towards a taxpayer-funded recovery. Clearly, it was time for Black activists to get activeagain – to make some noise and formulate some plans - rather than passively accept the corporate policies of the icon in the White House.

By November of 2009, the Black Is Back Coalition was in motion, with a march and rally at the White House. It was not the most popular thing to do, but it was surely the only sane response to the deepening crisis in Black America, and for the entire world. The worst elements of the financial oligarchy were emerging from the Great Recession more powerful than ever. We are talking about the gentrifyers, who boost the price of urban living until African Americans can no longer sustain themselves in the nation’s cities, and must scatter, their political power dissipated, lost forever. It was clear to the new Coalition that there is no choice but to resist the jobs destroyers, who relentlessly push down wages, here and abroad, and have already made Black youth expendable. The American Prison Gulag bulged at the seams with caged Black people, who now represented one out of eight of the entire planet’s incarcerated population. The new U.S. Africa military command, AFRICOM, was on the march, setting the stage for a neocolonial offensive to steal the continent’s independence and resources, once again.

It was clear to the new Coalition that there was no choice but to resist.”

So, in 2009, the Black Is Back Coalition broke the silence and passivity that has gripped Black America, most dramatically since Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. The Coalition marched again, in 2010, and 2011, and will break the silence again on November 3 of this year, at Malcolm X Park, in Washington.

The Black Is Back Coalition does much more than hold rallies. Its organizations and individuals strategize and teach and learn, organize and plan for the Movement that must arise from the aspirations and talents of our people. Breaking the silence means pollinating our communities with the direction and skills necessary to break the back of those who oppress and kill us. As Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” On November 3 and 4, the Black Is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations will be shouting and organizing, plotting and scheming, to win power for Black people, everywhere on the planet. Go to www.BlackIsBackCoalition.org and register for the November 3 conference. Break the silence. Black Is Back!

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: 20121010_gf_BiB.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:10pm EST

Jay-Z's “We Need Less Government” Quip Proves Harry Belafonte Right: He's A Selfish Loon

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

Back in August, actor, singer and longtime humanitarian activist Harry Belafonte took Jay-Z, Beyonce and current black celebrities to task, declaring that they were selfish, lacking the vision of a better world or the will to help make it happen.

Beyonce's staff of publicists were quick to reply with a list of tax deductible and officially approved charities that she funds. But to tell the truth, that kind of giving, the kind that often combines public charity, public relations and big tax advantages in roughly equal parts is pretty much an accounting and PR requirement for celebrity actors and athletes. It works like this --- they're going to pay taxes anyhow, at much higher rates than with so-called “investment income.” Divert that tax money into deductible charities, and it's cash they would have paid out anyhow, but now it's combined with photo opportunities and human interest stories showcasing their personal struggles and bolstering their brand, making them more money. That's why her answer was no answer at all, it really proved what Belafonte said.

Beyonce and hubby Jay-Z are frequent guests at the White House. But Belafonte, and before him Paul Robeson went walking and talking among those organizing and demonstrating outside the White House, against big business, against the kind of established authority and privilege the Jay-Z's and Beyonce's of this generation are so delighted to be seen with. Dr. Martin Luther King was almost an outlaw, universally reviled and denounced throughout the corporate media the final year of his life, after he denounced the Vietnam war and linked the struggles against empire and economic injustice to that against racism. Harry Belafonte's work with him, and Paul Robeson's association with labor organizers and activists him didn't carry tax advantages for either of them. They walked picket lines outside the courthouses and jails where activists were tried and imprisoned. They solicited their peers to fund strategy meetings, legal expenses for movement activists. Almost none of that was tax deductible, and much of it wasn't public knowledge for years afterward.

That meant they did it out of selfless vision and love, and out of their own pockets, not to build their brands, lower their taxes or bolster their bank accounts. It cost Belafonte lots of money. It cost Muhammad Ali a year in prison. It cost Paul Robeson his career. Look it up.

Back in the nineties somebody publicly told Michael Jordan that Nike paid him more than all its Vietnamese shoe factory workers put together. Michael said he'd “see about that” sometime soon but he and his publicists never mentioned it again. That was a long long decline from the unselfish humanitarian spirit of the Belefonte generation.

And the decline continues. Last week Jay-Z was asked at the opening of Barclays in New York about a his own political aspirations. “I don't even like the word politics,” the rapper said. “It implies something underhanded. I think we need less government.

This is a new low, perhaps two new lows.

First, Jay-Z cannot possibly be that stupid. The word politics does not imply anything. Politics are the processes fair and unfair, just and unjust that we humans use to conduct our collective affairs for the good or otherwise. When poor people mystify “politics” as something inscrutable and irrelevant to those who hunger and thirst for justice they indulge in escapism. When rich people do it they engage in misdirection.

Secondly, Jay-Z's “we need less government” quip has long been a right wing staple, a codespeak slogan of the very rich and privileged who have in fact captured the government, but only object to “big government” when it benefits little people.

It's proof positive that Harry Belafonte was right about Jay-Z and Beyonce. It's time to look somewhere else for selfless visionaries among this generation's celebrities.

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, a state committee member of the GA Green Party, and a partner in a technology firm. He lives and works in Marietta GA, and can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com, or via this state's contact page.

Direct download: 20121003_bd_jay-z_we_need_less_govt.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:37pm EST

Obama on Wrong Side in Shell Oil Human Rights Case

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

Shell Oil, which profits most from the Ogoni people’s degradation and oppression, claims it is just a bystander, an innocent party.”

When Shell Oil walked into the U.S. Supreme Court building, this week, claiming that it is not responsible for the torture and murder of Nigerians in its oil fields in the Niger River Delta, the Dutch corporation had a friend in the courtroom: the Obama administration. The U.S. Solicitor General’s office was there to urge the High Court to rule in Shell’s favor in the case, and to shield other foreign corporations from being sued in U.S. Courts for complicity in human rights abuses overseas. Obama’s lawyers also asked the Supreme Court not to make any decision on whether U.S.-based corporations could be sued under the 200-year-old Alien Tort Statue. A ruling on that question would affect some of the biggest corporations in country: Exxon Mobile, Chevron, Unocal, Coca-Cola, Pfizer pharmaceuticals, and the Ford Motor Company – all of which have been sued under either the Alien Tort law or the Torture Victim Protection Act. By asking the court not to make a broad decision, the administration is also protecting these corporate giants from culpability for rights abuses.

In Shell’s case, 12 Nigerians charge the oil company with being an accomplice to torture, extra judicial executions and crimes against humanity. One of the plaintiffs is the widow of Dr. Barinem Kiobel, who wasexecuted by the Nigerian government along with human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and other leaders of the Ogoni people in 1995. Their homeland, the Niger Delta, had been turned into an environmental wasteland for the benefit of Shell Oil and corrupt Nigerian government officials, with the population living under martial law. Shell Oil, which profits most from the Ogoni people’s degradation and oppression, claims it is just a bystander, an innocent party – that it had nothing to do with the Nigerian government’s atrocities. But, of course, the Nigerian government’s murderous policies were designed to protect the profitability of Shell’s operations. Shell Oil created the nightmare in the Niger Delta – just as its sister corporations do all around the world, under the protection of friendly governments.

Shell claims it is not a person.”

At the U.S. Supreme Court, Shell Oil argued that the United States should not “impose our law onto foreign countries.” What an outrageous position! Shell Oil imposes itself on the people of the Niger Delta, unleashing what is arguably the worst environmental disaster on Earth, and then asks for legal immunity.

Shell Oil also argues that it cannot be sued under the Alien Tort Statue, because it is not a person. Two hundred years ago, when the law was written, nobody thought corporations were people. Later, corporations fought for and got recognition as a kind of legal person in the United States, allowing them to claim the inalienable rights of actual human beings. But now, under these circumstances, Shell Oil claims it is not a person, subject to human law, but an entity possessing corporate immunities.

The Alien Tort Law was used to compensate Holocaust survivors who had been used as slave labor by corporations that worked with the Nazis. Shell Oil’s operations in Nigeria have also sown a holocaust, for which there must be no impunity.

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: 20101003_gf_ShellSCOTUS.mp3
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