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

FCC Opens Rulemaking Process To Lower Price of Prison Phone Calls

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

Some years ago, one of my own children was in prison on the other side of the continent. She used to call home 15 minutes each Sunday night. That brief weekly phone call cost our family almost $100 each month. We were not alone.

The families of millions of federal, state and local prisoners have been viciously squeezed by the legal collusion of long distance phone companies with jailers from the Federal Bureau of Prisons down to state departments of corrections and local sheriffs. Federal regs require phone companies to deliver cheap local phone service, with a locality usually defined as the telephone exchange, the first three digits after the area code. Rates for calls outside an exchange however, were classified as “long distance,” and not subject to rate controls.

Phone companies made deals with jailers for exclusive access to their prisons and jails in return for lucrative one time kickbacks or a percentage of the gross, along with the occasional campaign or charitable contribution. For the jailers and phone companies it was a classic win-win situation in which everybody at the table got over, except of course prisoners and their families. Researchers attempting to gather information on the actual rates across the country have often been met with non-cooperation on the part of state and local officials reluctant to divulge their manifestly corrupt deals which have constructed this onerous toll booth blocking communication between prisoners and their families.

Ten years ago a grandmother filed a petition with the FCC noting that a five minute call with her grandson cost $18. In the decade since agitation and organizing across the country has finally moved the Federal Communication to take the first tentative step to remedy the problem. On December 28, 2012, the FCC finally issued a "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” the beginning of the period in which it assembles information and takes public comment prior to the issuance of new rules.

At some point in the next few months a period of open public comment will ensue, in which members of the general public can weigh in online, by mail or in person on the issue. The place to go for updated information is www.phonejustice.org, that's www.phonejustice.org.

We need to re-integrate and absorb those currently behind prison walls into our families and communities. The cost of communicating with our relatives behind those walls must come down.

Visit phonejustice.org and sign up for their email list to keep our families connected. 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: 20130116_bd_prison_phone_justice.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:43pm EDT

Are African Union Peacekeeping Troops Really The Answer?

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

Back in the late 1970s and early 80s, in Nicaragua, Mozambique and Angola, Uncle Sam unveiled one of the era's most potent weapons of mass destruction against local revolutions in poor and underdeveloped nations. In Nicaragua they called themselves “contras” the counter-revolutionary army. The US supplied and equipped contras avoided combat with the national army, instead focused exclusively on raiding day care centers, schools, farmers' markets, health care facilities, irrigation, water and power works --- classic terrorism calculated to make ordinary economic and social life, and national development impossible.

In Mozambique and Angola, Africans had thrown off brutal Portuguese colonial rule, and were engaged in a regional war of resistance against the apartheid regime of South Africa. There the US supplied and equipped contra armies of RENAMO and UNITA followed the same brutal, cowardly course, and introduced a new wrinkle. They kidnapped children, and after forcing them to watch their parents, siblings and neighbors put to death, used them as child soldiers in wide-ranging terror campaigns that depopulated large areas of the countryside.

When the apartheid regime of South Africa fell in the 1990s, these forces lost their outside suppliers and were forced to come to the negotiating table. But the ghastly precedents had been set. In the 1980s Yoweri Museveni shot his way to power in Uganda with an army that included child soldiers, which were also seen in the 1990s Liberian civil war and other places. Both sides in the Rwandan civil war used child soldiers, and by the late 1990s an ever-shifting cast of local militia groups, sometimes fighting with and sometimes against the armies of Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Kenya, Burundi, Namibia and Zimbabwe virtually depopulated the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, killing seven million people since 1996, while ensuring that the country's raw materials, its timber, gold, diamonds and coltan, the strategic mineral used in every computer, aircraft and cell phone on earth, continued to flow mostly to the West.

And what is the Western-administered cure for the scourge of nameless militias of brutalized child soldiers? It's more men with guns, actual grownups and better trained --- peacekeeping forces of the African Union, airlifted and supplied by the masters of disaster, the same United States that trains the military of every African country except Libya and Eritrea.

You see the problem here. Men, and sometimes children with guns can start or stop a civil war. But economies and societies are built with teachers, with health care workers, by engineers, artists, and construction workers. The African Union is sending peacekeeping troops this week to the Central African Republic, but it can't send the teachers, the health care workers, the engineers and such to build hospitals or medical schools or to usher in universal free public education and health care,in the Central African Republic. The African Union can't do this for the Central African Republic because they can't do it in their own countries either --- their own governments are devoted mostly to extracting resources, rent and debt payments from their own lands and people to the west, and their outsize military establishments trained by the US are the guarantors of that anti-social contract.

Until the African Union and its member states are free enough themselves to send not just men with guns to places like the Central African Republic, but the doctors, teachers, artists and engineers it takes to build vibrant civil societies in the places that need them most, it fails to fulfill the reason for its existence.

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: 20130116_bd_peacekeeping_troops_but_no_peace.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:33pm EDT

France and the U.S. Play Tag-Team in Africa

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

Only the United States has the logistical capacity to maintain a long war over great distances in Africa.”

The French military has taken the lead in attacking Islamists in the former French African colony of Mali. If recent history is any guide, the United States will be not far behind. Remember that France was, initially, the most aggressive in calling for a NATO war against Libya, in 2011. But the fact is, only the United States has the logistical capacity to maintain a long war over great distances in Africa. Without U.S. refueling tanker aircraft and the awesome infrastructure of U.S. Navy carrier groups, NATO’s eight-month assault on Libya would have been impossible.

In the same way, France would never have committed to putting at least 2,500 ground troops into Mali without assurances that the American superpower has its back. Without U.S. airlift capacity and other logistical support, neither France nor the West African nations of the region can hope for a swift victory over the rebellious Tuaregs of northern Mali.

The war in Mali is a direct result of the Euro-American aggression against Libya. The Tuareg people live in deep poverty. Many found employment in Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, as did immigrant workers from elsewhere in Africa. Some worked with Libyan security services. When Libya’s government was brought down by the U.S. and its allies, the Tuaregs gathered up as many weapons as they could in the chaos and headed south for home.

Many other Tuaregs never left, and were employed by the Malian Army and its sugar daddy, the United States. The year after 9/11, the U.S. military established its Pan Sahel Initiative, enlisting the militaries of Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania into America’s so-called War on Terror on the African front. By 2005, the U.S. had added Algeria, Morocco, Senegal, Nigeria and Tunisia to what was now called the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative. This was the beginning of AFRICOM, the U.S. Africa Military Command, which assumed control in 2008.

The war in Mali is a direct result of the Euro-American aggression against Libya.”

In Mali, the Americans relied heavily on Tuareg soldiers to fight their war against Islamists and independence fighterss in the northern part of the country. But when their Tuareg brothers returned from Libya, three of the four Malian military commanders in the north defected to the rebels , which then led to the virtual collapse of the Malian Army.

Now the French, as the former colonial master, have sent their warplanes to strike at the Tuareg fighters and are preparing to send in 2,500 French soldiers. A regional African force was not scheduled to come to the aid of the Malian army until September, but with the rebel advance and the French response, that timetable will be speeded up. The Americans will be arriving soon, with their massive airlift capacity. And soon the U.S. will have serious boots on the ground in Africa, when a 3,500-member combat brigade from Fort Riley, Kansas, arrives to hold exercises with military units from 35 African countries, later this year. It seems more likely that the brigade will find itself in an actual war in the Sahel.

Back in October of 2011, we wrote that NATO’s “attack on Libya threatens to set the whole northern tier of Africa ablaze,” providing “a pretext for further U.S. and French operations.” In the east, the Horn of Africa is already in flames, and central Africa has become a cemetery for millions. Now it is the Sahel’s turn to burn.

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: 20130116_gf_FranceInAfrica.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:20pm EDT