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

Why Isn't Closing 129 Chicago Public Schools National News?

A Black Agenda Radio Commentary by Bruce A. Dixon

If you don't live in Chicago you might not know that the CEO and the dozens of other six figure a year mayoral cronies who run the Chicago Public Schools want to close 129 public schools this year, more than a third of the city's total. It's not national news for the same reason that closing 40 public schools in Philadelphia last year wasn't national news, and massive school closings in the poorer neighborhoods of cities across the country is not news either.

It's not news because school closings and school privatization, the end game of the bipartisan policies the Obama administration, Wall Street, the US Chamber of Commerce, a host of right wing foundations and deep pockets and hordes of politicians in both parties from the president down are pushing down the throats of communities across the country, are deeply unpopular. The American people, and especially the parents, teachers, grandparents, and other residents of poorer neighborhoods where closings and privatization are happening emphatically don't want these things.

Even the word describing their policy, “privatization” is so vastly unpopular that they've taken it out of circulation altogether. The best way, our leaders imagine, to contain and curtail resistance to their deeply unpopular policies is to avoid naming them for what they are, to keep them on the down low, to not report on their implementation, and certainly to not cover any civic resistance to them.

Local elites in each city and school district concoct real or imaginary “crises” to which the solution is always firing more experienced teachers, hiring more temps in their place, instituting more high-stakes testing, closing more public schools and substituting more unaccountable (and often profitable) charter schools, frequently in the same buildings that once housed public schools. In Chicago the “crisis” is precipitated every year when the CPS (that's Chicago Public Schools – Chicago's never had an elected school board, they're all mayoral appointees) honchos announce the schools are in a billion dollar hole. The Chicago Teachers Union of course, took a look over the same books and revealed that despite the host of top $100,000 a year officials whose jobs never seem to be cut, the system was nine figures in the black, not ten in the red. Naturally, local and national media didn't report that either.

Chicago's teachers have done what those in New York, Houston, Dallas, L.A. and others have not, and spent their union dues funding outreach and collaboration with parents across the city, so neighborhood hearings on the school closings are packed to overflowing with outraged parents, indignant local business people, angry teachers and concerned students. If CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News gave the school closings and privatization story a fraction of the coverage they gave deceptive and dishonest pro-privatization movies like Waiting For Superman and Won't Back Down, the outrage against the move to privatize education would be unstoppable. The most coverage the wave of school closings have received lately was a misleading segment on Melissa Harris-Perry's weekly TV show on whether school closings were “racist” or not, with no examination of the how or why they happen or the growing resistance to them.

Oceans of ink and hot air have been expended claiming that “social media” would somehow take up the slack created by the disappearance of local news gathering organizations, and how these things can somehow fuel and sustain a wave of public outrage that can topple unjust authority and make the will of the people felt. But when it comes to the war of our elite waged to privatize public education, we haven't seen it yet.

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 longtime Chicagoan, he now lives in exile near Marietta GA, where he is a state committee member of the Georgia Green party and a partner in a tech firm. Contact him via this site's contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.

Direct download: 20130227_bd_why_aint_closing_129_chgo_public_schools_news.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:02pm EDT

Farewell Jesse Jr., We Hardly Knew Ye: A Lesson on the Limits of our Black Political Class

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Bruce A. Dixon

It was late afternoon on a special election day in Chicago, 1995. I was working for a congressional candidate, former State Senator Alice Palmer. The outcome was not in doubt, we were going to lose. But a professional does what a professional has to do, so I'd rounded up a couple brothers to work the thousands of homeward bound commuters passing through the 95th St. el station for our candidate those last three or four hours before the polls closed.

As it happened, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., the father of our main opponent was working the same crowd for his son, Jesse Jackson Jr. the next congressman from that district. When the crowd slacked off a little between trains, we talked. It was impossible not to feel good for Rev. Jackson, who was about to see his son have a chance to expand and build upon the work he'd pursued for decades. Junior, I remember telling his dad, was about to have a chance to do a lot of good, maybe even some great things, and I congratulated him before leaving.

Jesse Jr. wasn't the first or the worst African American princeling to be handed a congressional seat by his family at or before the age of 30. He probably did a lot less damage in his 17 years than Memphis TN's Harold Ford, whose folks gave one to him at 27. To be entirely fair, Junior also did a lot less harm to the long-term interests of African America than many of his other colleagues in the Black Caucus, worthless souls like Alabama's Artur Davis, New York's Greg Meeks, or Georgia's David Scott.

With longtime Jackson strategist Frank Watkins, Junior co-authored a valuable and insightful book, Toward a More Perfect Union, in which he proposed constitutional amendments for the rights to vote, to a decent job at a living wage, a clean environment, and more. The other two books which he co-authored with his father were forgettable at best.

If Junior had shown imaginative leadership in Congress, he might have been mayor of Chicago by now. But imagination and leadership seem to have eluded the young prince. Junior mostly kept his head down in Congress, voted with the crowd on Iraq and other mattters, and by 2003 he was shilling for a south side casino and a new airport in his district supposedly as “job creation” measures.

The very specific acts that led to his downfall and disgrace are almost inexplicable. Blonde bimbo stripper girlfriend, $40,000 gold Rolex watches, buying Michael Jackson's hat and living off one's campaign fund are all such obvious no-no's it's hard not to view them as cries for help from a man who might have been over his head almost from the beginning. Who knew the life of a black prince came with so much pressure, so many expectations and demands he just could not meet? Personally I hope Junior eventually gets it together and finds a way to make a real contribution.

For the rest of us, the lesson of Junior's rise and fall is that it's time to put aside the princes and princesses of our black political class, and come up with new leaders, new pathways to, and new models of leadership. That's going to mean casting aside the two party system, in the Democratic half of which our black political class have made their careers.

A young man in Junior's former south side Chicago congressional district, LeAlan Jones has apparently survived a challenge to his status on the ballot as a Green Party candidate. If Jones can get it together for the special election in April, and the November 2014 general election, maybe we'll see a glimpse of what that new leadership could look like.

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 longtime Chicagoan, he now lives in exile near Marietta GA, where he is a state committee member of the Georgia Green party and a partner in a tech firm. Contact him via this site's contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.

Direct download: 20130227_bd_farewell_jesse_jr.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:36pm EDT

Remember: Sequestration was Obama’s Idea

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

Disaster capitalism is manifesting itself as disaster governance.”

The Obama administration has been very skillful in framing itself as the good guy in the latest looming fiscal disaster, this time under the heading of “sequestration.” On Friday, across-the-board cuts of $85 billion are set to go into effect, wreaking havoc on most government operations. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and what’s left of welfare are not directly affected, but these so-called “entitlement” programs have, in fact, always been the primary targets of this cascade of manufactured crises. Disaster capitalism is manifesting itself as disaster governance, and President Obama is fully complicit in the corporate-imposed charade. Indeed, Obama is most culpable for infecting the nation with austerity fever.

It was Obama who swallowed whole the corporate argument, previously championed by Republicans, that the national debt was Crisis Number One and that entitlement programs were the root cause. From the moment in January of 2009 when Obama served notice that Social Security and all other entitlements would be put on the chopping block, he became the chief mover and shaker for so-called entitlement reform. He created the model for austerity, through his Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission. It was Simpson-Bowles that provided the basis for the massive cuts offered by President Obama in 2011. When the Republicans balked at even a modest tax increase for the rich, it was the White House National Economic Council Director, the corporate deal-maker Gene Sperling, who came up with the sequestration scheme, which was timed to explode right after the 2012 elections. The idea was to make every popular constituency in the country scream – and accept the inevitability of massive entitlement cuts.

The Republicans are his partners, not his opponents.”

Let me repeat: Sequestration was Obama’s idea. So-called entitlement reform is Obama doctrine. Austerity was embedded in the Democratic Party’s agenda under President Obama. More than any other individual, it was Barack Obama who engineered the current disaster scenario. These waves of austerity crises were not inevitable, but they are the inevitable result of President Obama’s calculated statements and actions since Election Day 2008. The Republicans are his partners, not his opponents. The closest thing he has to an opposition – at least on paper – is the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose two co-chairs introduced a bill that would turn the austerity juggernaut on its head. It’s called the Balancing Act of 2013, and would replace all of the sequestration cuts with new revenues, and then add a $276 billion stimulus to the economy. Needless to say, the progressive bill will get nowhere, not just because of Republican opposition, but because the top Democrat, Barack Obama, wants to go down in history as the smart austerity president. Just as he said he wasn’t opposed to wars, but only to dumb wars – which is why he has built tens of thousands of the smartest drones and smartest bombs ever devised by man. He’s outsmarting what passes for a Left in the United States at every turn. They cheer him as he effectively consummates his grand bargain with the GOP, in a cacophony of manufactured crises, exhausting what little opposition remains. That’s why we at BAR call him the more effective evil.

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: 20130227_gf_Sequestration.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:30am EDT