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

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

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), or via this state's contact page.

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

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

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at

Direct download: 20101003_gf_ShellSCOTUS.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:23pm EDT