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

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

Democrats: Branding and Hypocrisy on the Minimum Wage

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

President Obama and national Democratic party spokespeople now agree that the minimum wage ought to be raised, and the mighty executive pen of the White House will soon force federal contractors to pay workers at least $10.10 an hour. Though this only applies to federal contractors, and can be rolled back if Republicans win the White House in 2016 it IS better than a sharp stick in the eye. It's also something the president could have done five years ago, during his first hours in office.

Back in 2007 and 2008, when President Obama was candidate Obama he campaigned on a promise to put legislation through Congress to raise the minimum wage, and to reform labor law so as to make it easier for workers to organize unions and fight for their rights on the job. Both those cynical promises were immediately forgotten when Barack Obama assumed the presidency, and during the two years his party held a thumping majority in the House with a narrower one in the Senate. The administration has never mentioned easing the restrictions on union organizing again, but once in a while, when their poll numbers get low enough, and as long as Republicans are safely in control of the House of Representatives, they dust off their rhetoric on the minimum wage. This is one of those times.

To tell the truth, $10.10 an hour isn't much, it's such a low floor that it probably can pass the House if leaders ever allow a floor vote. But it's far from a wage that will lift people out of poverty.

The elite bipartisan consensus – that's the president and his spokespeople and Republicans too, agree that the “solution” is not so much raising the wage for what people already DO as “training” which will make them fit for better jobs. But that's a joke as well. The US economy isn't producing “better jobs.” Starbucks is full of baristas with M.A. degrees, and most college teachers are now “adjuncts” which means their advanced degrees enable them to work for poverty wages and few or no benefits. PhD incomes have fallen off a cliff the last ten years as colleges and universities re-organize themselves more to resemble the corporations who rule our society.

Early in his presidency, Barack Obama proposed recalculating social security benefits to lower them, and late last year he signed off on the reduction of unemployment benefits he now wants immoral Republicans to take all the blame for.

It's not hard to see that Democrats only take up the cause of the minimum wage when Republicans are in office, to reinforce their fake brand as champions of the oppressed. When they're in power, and raising that wage is a sure thing, their attention is somewhere else. But once Republicans get the House or the Senate, they talk about “passing a jobs bill”, about “universal pre-K” and about raising the minimum wage, more to embarrass Republicans than with a view to actually accomplishing any of these things.

They are all branding slogans, blatant and shallow hypocrisy, but so far they have worked to reinforce the Democrats' brand as the party of the oppressed. 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 Georgia Green Party. He lives and works in Marietta GA and can be contacted via this site's contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.

Direct download: 20140115_bd_hypocrisy_on_minimum_wage.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:06pm EDT

Cory Booker Hits Senate Just in Time to Vote for Private School Vouchers

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by executive editor Glen Ford

Booker has never turned his back on the private school hucksters that launched his political career.”

Cory Booker, the new U.S. Senator from New Jersey and the darling of corporate executives, everywhere, may have an early chance to show Capitol Hill his true colors on vouchers for private schools. Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee, has introduced a bill to transfer about 41 percent of federal public school moneys to the states, which could then turn the funds into vouchers. Parents would be allowed to use the vouchers to pay for private schools, or charter schools, or a public school outside their district. It is a formula designed to hasten the already rapid dissolution of public education in America.

Cory Booker began his public career as an advocate of private school vouchers. Along with two prominent Republican soul mates, Booker founded a local New Jersey outfit called Educational Excellence for Everyone. That’s how he first became embedded in the universe of rightwing foundations and think tanks whose pet project at the turn of the 21st century was private school vouchers. They bankrolled Booker’s rise to mayor of Newark and used their media machine to make him a nationally known politician while still in his early 30s. If Booker had not narrowly lost his first bid for mayor, in 2002, he – not Barack Obama – might have had the inside track on becoming the first Black President. As it turned out, both Booker and Obama represent the most corporate elements of the Democratic Party – and the most hostile to public education.

Once he had secured a national spotlight, Booker founded another group, called Democrats for Education Reform. By that time, the term “reform” had become a code word for charter schools and busting the teachers unions. Democrats for Education Reform morphed into a political action committee fueled by contributions from Wall Street fat cats who wanted to get a piece of the school privatization action. As always, Cory Booker was their man.

By 2016, thanks to both Booker and Christie, charter schools will account for more than a third of Newark’s student enrollment.”

Booker and Republican New Jersey governor Chris Christie worked hand-in-hand as preachers of the school charter gospel. Both took credit for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to Newark schools, and, both made sure that charter schools got more than their fair share of the money. By 2016, thanks to both Booker and Christie, charter schools will account for more than a third of Newark’s student enrollment.

Wall Street is betting on charter schools, because that’s where the most profits can be made. How can a speculator lose, when the public foots the bill while the education corporations reap the rewards? That’s why President Obama, the consummate corporate politician, has acted as chief national booster and bully for charter schools. However, most Democrats draw the line at private school vouchers. Cory Booker would very much like to appear to be a mainstream Democrat – the kind that can win presidential primaries or be tapped as vice presidential running mate. But Booker has never turned his back on the private school hucksters that launched his political career. He will have little choice but to vote in favor of Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander’s school vouchers bill, thus putting himself at odds with most of the Democratic Caucus in the Senate. Booker is likely to start his tenure as Senator in the same place he began his political career – in bed with the most reactionary rich white people in America.

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: 20140129_gf_BookerVouchers.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:33pm EDT

America on MLK’s Birthday: The Trifecta of Evils

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by executive editor Glen Ford

The people of the world think the U.S. is the most significant threat to peace.”

When Dr. Martin Luther King died at the age of 39, he was quite clear about who and what was at the root of human suffering. He believed that “racism, militarism and extreme materialism” were the “giant triplets“ of “interrelated” evil that had to be overcome if society was to be transformed. Dr. King said the United States was host to all three resident evils, and that America reigned as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, today.” Forty-six years later, the United States clearly leads the world in all three of Dr. King’s categories of evil. And, we can prove it by the numbers.

It is true that racism is hard to measure, but the effects of racism can be quantified. If a racist government is defined as one that consistently uses its powers in ways that harm a particular racial group, then the U.S. is indisputably the most racist major state in the world. The U.S. prison population is by far the largest on the planet, in sheer numbers and in the proportion of Americans locked up. No other country comes close – which makes the United States the superpower of mass incarceration. America’s police and prison custodial forces dwarf the militaries of most countries – which tells us that militarism is now so deeply embedded in U.S. domestic structures that you can’t tell where the military ends and the police begin. Nearly half of U.S. prisoners are African American, although Blacks are only one-eighth of the total U.S. population. Since Americans make up fully one-quarter of the world’s prison inmates, that means one out of every eight prisoners on the planet is an African American. This could only occur in a thoroughly racist state, whose institutions work overtime to produce the biggest and most racially unbalanced incarceration numbers on Earth. Clearly, America has racism – triple evil number one – covered.

The United States is the superpower of mass incarceration.”

Number two is militarism. The U.S. military budget is almost as large as the military spending of all the world’s other nations, combined. Together, the U.S. and its NATO allies account for more than 70 percent of global weapons spending. At last count, the U.S. spent six times more on war than China, and 11 times more than Russia. In fact, if you count up the U.S. and all of its allies, they are probably responsible for about 90 percent of total moneys spent on war. Therefore, today, 46 years after Dr. King’s death, the United States is not just the greatest purveyor of violence in the world – it is right at the center of just about the totality of militarized violence in the world, today. Which is why a recent international poll shows that the people of the world think the U.S. is the most significant threat to peace.

Finally, the third of the triple evils: extreme materialism. By that, Dr. King meant great disparities in wealth and income. According to the Suisse Global Wealth Databook, wealth is so unevenly distributed in the United States, it no longer resembles a First World country. Of all the rich nations, the U.S. is dead last in terms of material equality.

So, by Dr. Martin Luther King’s measurements, America is in bad shape – more bedeviled by the triple evils than back in his day. In fact, things are much, much worse because...it’s the silence that kills you.

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: 20140122_gf_TripleEvils.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:19pm EDT

US Court of Appeals: The Internet is a Plantation, With Comcast, Verizon, AT&T Its Masters

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

“Network neutrality” on the internet is the idea that anyone can access it, with any device to view or contribute any content. Network neutrality is the foundation of the internet as we have known it. According to the federal court of appeals in DC, network neutrality on the internet is now over.

From this point on, the court has ruled, internet providers can levy extra tolls upon, slow down or , simply ban any content or any users they choose, for any reason whatsoever. Internet companies can now tell you which hardware and software devices, what kinds of computers, phones, programs and applications you may or may not use, and from which locations. The internet is now a plantation, with Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon its masters, and the rest of us serfs or worse.

This is one of those ground breaking, those earth shaking moments that reveal how capitalism works, how greedy corporations have captured the media, the courts and the other two bipartisan branches of government in these United States. This ruling is anything but a surprise. It's what the telecom companies have demanded for years, and what the administrations of President Bush and Obama alike seem determined to give them.

President Obama did campaign declaring he would take a back seat to nobody in fighting for network neutrality. The White House has occasionally, though increasingly feebly renewed that pledge. But Obama's first FCC chief was Julius Genakowski, a former telecom lobbyist who wrote the 1990s laws privatizing the internet backbone, which was built with taxpayer dollars, giving it to telecom companies like Comcast and AT&T for pennies on the dollar. Under this notorious privatizer, the FCC did almost nothing to assert the public right, to advance the public demand for a free and open internet, to head off this disastrous ruling of corporate rights over public property which was clearly in the pipeline. It's not the first time this or any president or Congress has campaigned on the public interest, but governed in the corporate interest, and telecom companies are always big campaign contributors.

This is an emergency. It's time for everyone with a computer, everyone with a cell phone, everyone who uses discount phone cards – those place calls over the internet – to insist, to demand of this president and this Congress that they protect the public's right to communicate with itself, that they protect the free and open internet upon which we all depend. You won't hear Al Sharpton, your other civil rights dinosaurs or the NAACP talk about this because they depend on telecom money.

The first necessary step in neutralizing this awful court ruling the corporations have purchased is a simple one. President Obama must instruct the FCC to reclassify broadband internet as a telecommunications service, so that it comes under existing laws which do preserve a measure of internet neutrality and freedom, and prevent Verizon, AT&T and Comcast from treating the internet like their company town or plantation and us as serfs. The president alone has this power, nobody can stop him if he decides to use it. This is the time.

For more and ongoing information on how to preserve the limited degree of internet freedom we now have, visit the web site of Free Press, at freepress.net. That freepress.net. Sign on to their alert list and let the White House and the FCC know that the internet cannot be a plantation, and you are not a serf.

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 GA Green Party.  He lives and works near Marietta GA, and can be reached via the contact page at http://blackagendareport.com/contact or via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.

Direct download: 20140115_bd_network_neutrality.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:05pm EDT

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by executive editor Glen Ford

The United States, which boasts that South Sudan owes its independence to Washington, seems poised to repossess the new nation’s sovereignty. With Sudan’s uniformed warlords locked in combat, the usual American “experts” are calling for the U.S. to assume trusteeship of the country – especially its oil.

South Sudan: When the Empire is Your Liberator, You're Not Really Independent

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by executive editor Glen Ford

The South Sudanese military has broke up into its component warlord parts.”

For decades, the United States and Israel sought to bring about the fracturing of Sudan, which had been, geographically, the largest nation in Africa. Secession of the South was a special project of Israel, whose most enduring and fundamental foreign policy is to spread chaos and dissention in the Muslim and Arab worlds. Sudan, under the political control of the mostly Muslim North, joined the Arab League immediately upon independence, in 1956. Israel has sought to destabilize Sudan ever since, both to strike a blow at “Arabized” Africans and to curry favor among Christians on the continent.

John Garang, who rose to leader of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, received military training in Israel in 1970, during Sudan’s first civil war. However, Garang favored keeping the South in federation with a united Sudan. In 2005, under a Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Garang became vice president of the whole of Sudan and premier of the southern part of the country. He died in a mysterious helicopter crash six months later. Garang was succeeded by Salva Kiir, who sports a black cowboy hat given to him by President Bush, in 2006.

Dismembering Sudan became a U.S. obsession under Bill Clinton, who bombed a pharmaceuticals factory in the capital city, Khartoum, in 1998, falsely claiming it was a chemical weapons facility. After 9/11 Sudan moved to the top of President Bush’s enemies list. The U.S. and Israel provided arms and training to rebel groups in Darfur, in the west of the Sudan, fueling another front of civil war.

Washington openly bragged that it was the Godfather of the South Sudanese state.”

President Obama entered the White House the year after AFRICOM, the U.S. Africa Command, came into being, and two years before the South Sudanese were to vote in a referendum on whether they wanted to become an independent nation. With much of Africa now under the sway of the U.S. military, Washington dropped all diplomatic pretense and openly bragged that it was the Godfather of the South Sudanese state that emerged in July of 2011. What was left of Khartoum’s part of Sudan lost most of its oil. China had good reason to be worried, having invested $20 billion in Sudan before it was split, and pledged $8 billion more to South Sudan after independence – but now the Americans were strutting around like they owned the place.

Then came the collapse, as the South Sudanese military broke up into its component warlord parts. Suddenly, the U.S. political class is talking about repossessing the country’s sovereignty. In the pages of the New York Times, Princeton Lyman, the former U.S. special envy to South Sudan calls for the United Nations to assume the role of “protector” of the country, with oversight of the economy and the oil fields (of course). Another establishment foreign policy “expert,” G. Pascal Zachary, calls on the United States to assume “trusteeship” of South Sudan, including control of its military and police. That sounds a lot like Haiti, a country whose independence was stolen by George Bush in 2004 and which remains a “protectorate” of the United Nations – actually, of the United States, France and Canada and any corporation that wants to set up a sweatshop. What the American Godfather giveth, he also claims the right to take away.

So, what have the South Sudanese won? Certainly, not independence. It’s just another oil rich, neocolonial spot on the map of U.S. empire.

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: 20140115_gf_SouthSudan.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:04pm EDT

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

What if policymakers wanted to make marijuana safe for taxation and corporate profit, but needed to make sure legalization didn't produce new jobs and economic opportunities for poor and working class communities, or make them lay off any cops and judges, or have to close any prisons or jails? Well, the model in place in Colorado today would be a good start.

Is the End of Marijuana Prohibition the End of the War On Drugs? Probably Not.

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

The forty years of so-called “war on drugs” has been the rhetorical excuse for a nationwide policy of punitive overpolicing in black and brown communities. Although black and white rates of drug use have been virtually identical, law enforcement strategies focused police resources almost exclusively upon communities of color. Prosecutors and judges did their bit as well, charging and convicting whites significantly less often, and to less severe sentences than blacks.

The forty years war on drugs has been the front door of what can only be described as the prison state, in which African Americans are 13% of the population but more than 40% of the prisoners, and the chief interactions of government with young black males is policing, the courts and imprisonment. Given all that, the beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition, first in Colorado and soon to be followed by other states ought to be great good news. But not necessarily.

Ask yourself, what would it look like if policymakers wanted to end the prohibition of marijuana, but not necessarily the the war on drugs. What if they desired to lock down the potential economic opportunities opened up by legalizing weed to themselves and their class, to a handful of their wealthy and well-connected friends and campaign contributors? What if they wanted to make the legal marijuana market safe for predatory agribusiness, which would like to claim lucrative patents on all the genetic varieties of marijuana which can be legally grown, as they already try to do with other crops?

If they wanted to do those things, the system in place in Colorado today would be a good start. In Denver today, low income property owners can't just plant pot in the back yard or on the roof in hopes of making one mortgage payment a year out of twelve, it doesn't work that way. Ordinary households are limited to 3 plants per adult, and for reference only the female plants are good for smoking, and prohibited from selling the weed or the seed. To participate in the marijuana economy as anything but a consumer requires background checks, hefty license fees, a minimum of hundreds of thousands to invest, and the right connections. All this currently drives the price of legal weed in Colorado to over $600 per ounce, including a 25% state tax, roughly double the reported street price of illegal weed.

So to enable the state to collect that tax money, and the bankers, growers and investors to collect their profits from marijuana taxed by the state and regulated in the corporate interest, cops and judges and jailers in near future, in Colorado and in your state as well, figure to be just as busy as they always have been the last forty years, doing pretty much what they've always done... conducting a war on illegal drugs, chiefly in the poorer and blacker sections of town, with predictable results.

The end of marijuana prohibition is not designed to create jobs in our communities, nor is it intended to shrink the prison state. Our ruling class simply does not allow economic growth that they can't monopolize, and the modern prison state has never been about protecting the public from drugs or crime. Prisons and our lifelong persecution of former prisoners serve to single out, brand and stigmatize the economic losers in modern capitalist society, so that those hanging on from paycheck to paycheck can have someone to look down upon and so that they might imagine that this vast edifice of inequality is, if not just, inevitable.

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

Bruce A. Dixon is the managing editor at Black Agenda Report and the co-chair of the Georgia Green Party. He lives and works in Marietta GA and can be reached through this site's contact page or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.









Direct download: 20130108_bd_legalize_it.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:36pm EDT

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by executive editor Glen Ford

South Africa appears poised to reclaim its revolutionary legacy from the clutches of the African National Congress, which has “devolved into a fat and corrupt partner of white capital.” As the Age of Obama nears its end, Black America must also awake from the catastrophe of racial symbolism and self-delusion.

Black South Africa Rediscovers Itself – Will Black America?

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by executive editor Glen Ford

With the death of Mandela, the spell has been broken in South Africa.”

African Americans and Black South Africans have shared a special relationship within the larger African Diaspora. Both peoples struggled against entrenched white settler regimes obsessed with racial separation and European supremacy, societies that had grown fantastically rich on stolen land and labor. Gil Scott-Heron expressed the Black American-South African affinity in 1976 when he asked, lyrically, What’s the word in Johannesburg – Detroit’s like Johannesburg, New York’s like Johannesburg, where “freedom ain’t nothing but a word.”

Of course, Blacks have always been the great majority in South Africa, and a distinct minority in the United States. But there are many cities in the U.S. where Blacks are the majority, and yet rich white people still run the place. On both sides of the Atlantic, we have learned that there is no magic in numbers; that people still have to fight for power.

It is also true that long-suffering people who are hungry for recognition as human beings are often vulnerable to the seductions of symbolism. Having no memory of ever holding actual power, they take pride in beholding the trappings of power among notables of their own race – just as poor church congregations clothe their ministers in the finest garments and buy them expensive automobiles.

African Americans thought they’d won something when the corporate politician, Barack Obama, entered the White House five years ago. Vicariously, they were on top of the world, while in reality, Black America’s economic condition had become catastrophic. At the very historical moment when Blacks needed most desperately to defend themselves, they chose instead to defend Obama, the servant of Wall Street. Black America allowed itself to be utterly defeated by racial symbolism and self-delusion – at least for the time being.

Three years from now, the big hangover will begin.”

In South Africa, in 1994, the Black majority did win the right to elect a government that looked like them, although – just like in majority Black American cities – whites still ran the show, economically. The leaders and media of the rich white world declared Nelson Mandela a saint for abandoning the Freedom Charter’s blueprint for nationalization of banking and industry and redistribution of land. Mandela’s party, the African National Congress, devolved into a fat and corrupt partner of white capital, and the security forces turned their guns on Black miners at Marikana, massacring 34 of them. Yet, while Mandela lived, his symbolic aura shielded the ANC. It was not until the first Black president of South Africa was buried that the country’s biggest union, the 338,000-member National Union of Metalworkers, could bring itself to break ties with the ANC. The metalworkers say they will fight to implement the Freedom Charter and work towards creation of a new, socialist party that will represent the interests of working people.

With the death of Mandela, the spell has been broken in South Africa. Symbolism will no longer substitute for real People’s Power. In the United States, three years from now, the big hangover will begin, as Black America is forced to ponder the damage that it has allowed Obama to get away with on the basis of shared complexion. Hopefully, we will begin the historic and necessary process of casting out the Black misleaders in New York and Detroit and Atlanta and Chicago – just like in Johannesburg.

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: 20140108_gf_US_SAfrica.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:30pm EDT