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

NetRoots Nation Confrontation Wasn't About #BlackLivesMatter At All

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

The first thing to know about the #BlackLivesMatter confrontation with Democratic presidential candidates Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders is that it didn't happen on the street or some neutral setting, it didn't happen at some random campaign appearance. It happened at the annual NetRootsNation gathering, this year in Phoenix.

NetRoots bills itself as “the largest gathering of the progressive movement” in this country. Unless you think the Democratic party IS the progressive movement, or that all “progressives” are Democrats, this is nonsense. I know, I've been to NetRoots.

What it actually is, is the largest gathering of paid and wannabe paid Democratic party activists, Democratic candidates and Democratic campaign managers, of consultants and vendors to Democratic campaigns, and folks of all kinds who are part of the far-flung partisan and ostensibly “non-partisan” machinery that gears up every even numbered year to elect Democrats to local, state and national office. Some of them want to change the Democratic party from within, some of them want to take it as it is, but they're all committed to staying inside the Democratic tent, and to keeping you there as well.

If you're a black Democratic party activist like I was for 25 years, even if like me, you never called yourself that, you go to NetRoots to connect with other Democratic party activists, and hopefully, with the people who will be handing out grassroots money, among other things, to get out the Big Black Vote in November, without which Democrats on every level have no hope of winning.

High ranking Democrats who hand out money, whether through partisan campaigns or to ostensibly nonpartisan and/or nonprofit organizations are always on the lookout for new activist blood with catchy new hooks, for activists who'll say the things they will not say in the effort to turn out the black masses for that Big Black Vote. So if you're a black activist at NetRoots you really NEED to stand out, to get noticed by the people who can give you fellowships, grants, jobs, funding of all kinds, and a career.

Since Hillary is the all but inevitable Democratic nominee, confronting two minor white male candidates, demanding they “say her name” and come up with solutions that address white supremacy, structural racism and the runaway police state is pretty much a foolproof strategy to get noticed, and as Hillary did not attend NetRoots, they got to do it without antagonizing the Clinton camp. Hillary wisely covered her own ass by releasing a tweet that unequivocally said “black lives DO matter.”

But all in all, the NetRootsNation confrontation wasn't the stirring of black women activists “taking their rightful place at the front of the progressive movement,” as one breathless tweet called it. It didn't tell us anything we didn't know about O'Malley or Sanders, or about hypocritical Hillary.

It was about flying the #BlackLivesMatter flag to jockey for positions inside the machinery that is the Democratic party and its affiliates.

For Black Agenda Radio I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at, where you can subscribe to our free weekly email newsletter.


Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him via email at bruce.dixon(at)

Direct download: 20150723_bd-netroots-nation-confrontation.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:11pm EDT

Obama’s Takes His Prison Reform Con Game on the Road

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by executive editor Glen Ford

Don’t expect anything other than cynical theatricality and double-dealing from this president.”

President Obama last week took his criminal justice con game into the U.S. prison system, home to one out of eight incarcerated persons in the world. On any given day, about 80,000 inmates are held in solitary confinement, some of them for decades. Obama proclaimed that’s not a “smart” thing to do, and ordered his Justice Department to conduct a study of how to cut down on solitary confinement. If that means Obama’s going to pursue a “smart” criminal justice policy, in the same way that he wages “smart” wars, then not much will change in U.S. prisons.

The president waited until the second half of his second term in office – and the rise of an incipient mass protest movement – before experiencing his epiphany on mass incarceration. So-called prison reform is now a thoroughly bipartisan affair. Republicans have harbored a strain of prison reformism ever since many of Richard Nixon’s men found themselves behind bars in the aftermath of Watergate, and even the rabidly reactionary Koch brothers are funding prison reform. The legislatures of at least 15 states have either passed, or are debating, ways to limit solitary confinement. And Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, a crucial swing vote on the high court, has all but invited prison reform groups to challenge solitary confinement on Constitutional grounds. So, although Obama is the first serving president to actually set foot in a prison, he is moving in politically safe territory.

However, don’t expect anything other than cynical theatricality and double-dealing from this president. When it comes to the criminal justice system, Obama is a consummate trickster. This month, with great fanfare, he commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders. Eight of them had been convicted for crack cocaine. But, two years ago, Obama’s Justice Department successfully argued against retroactive release of prisoners convicted under the infamous 100-to-1 crack cocaine penalties. Because of Obama, 5,000 people, most of them Black, were left to languish in prison – yet he is praised for letting just eight of them out, under presidential commutation, two years later. Now, that is champion con man.

The Curtain’s About to Close

If Obama had launched his reviews of solitary confinement and other U.S. criminal justice atrocities during his first term in office, then, theoretically, tens of thousands of inmates might have been spared millions of collective days and nights of isolation and psychological torture. But, Obama will have less than a year left in office when his new study is completed.

Five percent of all federal prison inmates are currently in solitary confinement. Federal prisons are 35 to 40 percent overcrowded. High security federal prisons, where solitary confinement is most widely practiced, are 55 percent overcrowded. Obama last week told the NAACP that solitary confinement has “no place in any civilized country.” But he has overseen such practices for six and a half years. The NAACP roared its approval, anyway – willing participants in Obama’s criminal justice con game.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at
Direct download: 20150722_gf_ObamaPrisonCon.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:24am EDT

Why Bill Clinton's Apology and Barack Obama's Prison Drive-By, Token Clemencies Are Cynical Election Year Posturing

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

Six and a half years into his presidency, Barack Obama has discovered black mass incarceration. He's shocked, visits a federal prison and frees a token handful of prisoners. Fifteen years out of office, Bill Clinton half-apologies for his 1990s crime bills which nearly doubled the US prison population. What's got into these guys? It's election season. Hillary is running for the White House and she needs the black vote.

Why Bill Clinton's Apology and Barack Obama's Prison Drive-By, Token Clemencies Are Cynical Election Year Posturing

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

Ten whole years ago, back in July 2005 when the Black Agenda Report crew was still at Black Commentator, I wrote that

With under 5 percent of the world’s people, the US accounts for 25 percent of the planet’s prisoners.  More than half its 2.2 million prisoners come from the one eighth of its population which is black.  Today, an astounding 3 percent of all African Americans languish in prisons and jails, and nearly as many more are on probation, parole, bail, house arrest or court supervision... Right now, the shadow of prison squats at the corners of, and often at the center of nearly every black family’s life in this nation.”

Yesterday President Obama repeated some of these same figures, and they are pretty much the same. Total US prisoners are still 2.2 or 2.3 million, and a slight drop in the black incarceration rate makes us now a little less instead of a little more than half, but the overall picture is unchanged in a decade. The president then announced the release of forty-some nonviolent federal drug offenders out of a total of about 70,000, and stopped in at a federal prison Thursday. The same day, ex-president Bill Clinton offered a half-hearted “apology” for his 1990s crime bills, which he admitted “set the stage” for state and federal governments to nearly double the US prison population.

Why? Why did President Obama wait six and a half years into his presidency to say the basic damning numbers and free a token handful of drug war prisoners? And how come Bill Clinton, fifteen years out of office chose this week to publicly admit that black mass incarceration was maybe not the best public policy?

The short answer is that Hillary Clinton is running for president, and she needs that big black vote. Barack and Bill are working hard to position Hillary as the lesser evil, so that a large black vote, an essential component of what Democratic party consultants call their “base vote” can be mobilized for her.

We shouldn't forget however that despite the posturing of former presidents, that mass black incarceration has been the joint and bipartisan policy of both Republicans and Democrats.

The federal prison budget rose every year but one in the Clinton years, the Bush years, and so far the Obama years look about the same. The First Black President approved new federal supermax solitary prisons in places like Illinois, where citizen action closed the infamous Tamms penitentiary, and his Justice Department went to court to keep thousands who should have been freed when Congress relaxed the crack to powder sentence disparity from 100 to on to 17 to 1 behind the walls to this day.

Why? Why is black mass incarceration the bipartisan policy of America's rulers?

It's not about a continuation of slavery or to get free prison labor, that's silly. Nine out of ten prisoners do no work at all. And it's not because prisons are especially profitable. Apart from immigration prisons under Obama, privatization has never been big enough to drive the engine of mass incarceration at any time in the last 3 or 4 decades.

The America prison state came into fullest flower at the same time as and as the flip side of Bill and Hillary Clinton's so-called “welfare reform.” Whether Republicans or Democrats are in office black mass incarceration serves the vital purpose of morally justifying America's viciously unequal and racist economic and social order. The prison state does this by creating mostly black and brown class of permanently stigmatized and “unworthy” poor who can be portrayed as not deserving decent housing, real educations, affordable health care, dignity or jobs at living wages and whose precarious lives and devastated communities can be blamed on anything except the failure of neoliberal capitalism to provide bread, education, housing dignity or justice.

The more unjust and unequal capitalist America becomes, the more it needs prisons, and that stigmatized class defined by them. Their precarious lives are also a standing lesson to millions more with falling wages and rising debts to shut up and suck it up or this could be you.

We at Black Agenda Report have been talking about black mass incarceration for ten years now, longer than Michelle Alexander, and before anybody heard of the New Jim Crow. We're glad that presidents Bill and Barack have rediscovered it, even if only just in time to get another Democrat elected, which for them is about all that matters.

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

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and serves on the state committee of the GA Green Party. Reach him at bruce.dixon(at)

Direct download: 20150715_bd_bill_n_barack_on_mass_incarceration.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:37am EDT

Where Obama's "Race To The Top" Leads: Chicago, Miami, Philly Privatize Teacher Hiring

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

Piecemeal and wholesale privatization of public schools has been the bipartisan agenda of Republicans and Democrats. Now top school districts are outsourcing teacher hiring to be sure they get the Wal-Mart style disposable temps to man the positions once held by experienced teachers connected with their students and communities.

Where Obama's Race To The Top Leads: Chicago, Philly, Miami Public Schools Privatize Teacher Hiring

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

Are you credentialed? Degreed? Qualified? Are you applying for a public school teaching job in Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia or a number of other cities? If you are you probably know already that for many public school systems nowadays the teacher personnel office is NOT in the city where your schools are. In keeping with President Obama's Race To The Top program which makes piecemeal and wholesale run-the-school-like-a-business, unaccountable charter schools and other privatization schemes requirements for federal education dollars, Chicago and Philly, and perhaps MiamiDade are among the first to outsource and privatize teacher hiring.

They've handed the function, and a big chunk of public money with it, to a shadowy firm called TeacherMatch.Org, headed by a former Chicago Public Schools (and Chicago Police Department) chief and private equity speculator Ron Huberman.

Like charter schools that take public money but offer no public accountability, TeacherMatch's web site contains no information about who its financial backers are, no mention of who its clients are, except for Miami. But the site is full of the usual corporate reform jargon about “innovation” and such.

Privatization is just about always grand theft. It's perfectly legal under US law to bribe a politician or a gaggle of them to hand you a public asset you can profitably squeeze.

Whether it's maintaining vehicle fleets, delivering water, payroll, the post office or teacher hiring, privatization offers rock-solid profit gurantees for the privatizer with less accountability than when the asset was in public hands. Fleet maintenance companies, for example have successfully kept the public from knowing how often, with whose parts and at what expense they fix vehicles because the information might be used by competitors.

You can be certain that TeacherMatch will never willingly share its teacher hiring criteria that it will not share with the public. But you can also be certain that in keeping with the drive to corporate school reform under begun with No Child Left Behind, intensified by Obama's Race to the Top, and nailed into permanent place with NCLB's successor bill now in the senate, TeacherMatch is being used to replace experienced, competent, well-paid teachers with Wal-Mart style temps, and Teach For America scabs with 5 weeks of training. Back in the 1980s the media year for teacher experience was 8. Now that median year is less than two.

The public, especially the black community has never supported the privatization of public education. But since the day Barack Obama appointed Arne Duncan secretary of education, and they jointly announced the administration's initial goal of closing 5,000 public schools, ten or twenty percent of the nation's total, the Obama administration and Democrats down to the black and Latino mayors of big and small cities, have been all about privatization.

They just dare not call it by its real name. But make no mistake, the savage decimation of public schools, handed over to charter chains and other private operators like TeacherMatch, and the firing of tens of thousands of qualified black educators will be one of the lasting legacies of Barack Obama's presidency.

We'll be living with it for some time to come.

For Black Agenda Radio I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at, and be sure to subscribe to our free weekly email newsletter at That's

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black AGenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the GA Green Party, which unequivocally opposes school privatization.  Reach him at bruce.dixon(at)


Direct download: 20150715_bd_privatizing-teacher-hiring.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:21pm EDT

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

The consequences of the Great Recession “and the Obama administration’s response to it” have fallen most heavily on Black children, who have been plunged into poverty at the highest levels ever recorded. Poverty rates have gone down for all children except Blacks – an example of actual American “exceptionalism.”

Obama’s Legacy: Black Child Poverty at Record High

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

The raw numbers of poor Black kids now exceeds whites in absolute terms.”

A new study by the Pew Research Center shows that Black children have been reduced to record levels of poverty over the last several years. Black kids are four times as likely to be poor as white children, with Black child poverty now cresting at 38.3 percent. Only 10.7 percent of white children live in poverty. Asian children are the least poor of all, at only 10.1 percent. Hispanic kids are about three times more likely than whites to live in poverty-stricken households, at 30.4 percent.

The trend is even more disturbing. Overall, child poverty fell by 20 percent between the years 2010 and 2013, according to U.S. Census data. The decline was registered for every major racial group – except Black kids, whose poverty level remained stuck at record highs.

And, it gets worse. For the first time since the federal government began gathering statistics on poverty, the raw numbers of poor Black kids now exceeds whites in absolute terms. Remember back when Jesse Jackson used to point out that there were more poor white Americans than poor Blacks. Today, when it comes to children, that is no longer the case. And yet, the federal poverty program that serves poor families with children is stingier than it has ever been.

Whose fault?

The analysts at the Pew Research Center offered no rationale for why Black kids are faring so badly in the current economy. But, several factors are obvious. During the Great Recession, Black household wealth fell to one-twentieth that of median white households. After debts were subtracted from assets, the median white household was worth a little over $113,000, while Black households could lay claim to only $5,600 in assets. Half of Black households were worse off than that, and about half of those had virtually no family worth at all. That means the children of such households began life economically naked to the world.

The closely related culprit is Black unemployment, which has been stuck at roughly twice that of whites for more than two generations, then hit record levels during the Great Recession, and stayed there for longer than any other group.

The consequences of the economic crash and the Obama administration’s response to it, are now borne by Black children, who start off life in an historically worse condition than any other major group, and more vulnerable than the Black kids of previous generations. This is President Obama’s legacy, as the chief executive who began his first term with a blanket refusal to target federal programs to Black people, who had suffered the worst from the deliberate policies of his friends on Wall Street. Obama has since claimed to have lifted every boat – except those of the children of the people he claims as his own.

Now, let the choir sing “Amazing Grace.”

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at



Direct download: 20150715_gf_BlackChildPoverty.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:19am EDT

Cynical Democratic Party Leaders Will Say Anything You Wanna Hear For Your Votes Or Your Cash

Cynical Democratic Party Leaders Will Say Anything You Wanna Hear For Your Votes Or Your Cash

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

Last month, Talking Points Memo noted that the Democratic National Committee or DNC, the recipients of tens of millions of dollars in legal bribes (campaign contributions, they're called under US law) from Big Oil, Big Ag, Big Pharma, Wall Street, the military contractors and more every year, the DNC was featuring Bernie Sanders on the mass fundraising mailings it sent to thousands of likely Democrat donors.

At first glance this does seem quite strange. While Bernie Sanders does talk and vote like many other pro-war liberal Democrats, while official Democrats across the country think he's Democrat enough to run in Democratic primaries and caucuses, and while Bernie's even pledged to support the eventual Democratic party nominee, pointing out to George Stephanopoulos that he does that every election anyhow, Bernie Sanders describes himself as a socialist, and talks about what he calls “a political revolution.”

So what's happening here? There's no question that the Democratic National Committee is the subservient tool of its ruling class donors, and of their candidate Hillary Clinton. TPM's Josh Marshall explains that although Hillary remains the official candidate of the DNC and its donors, they need an official opposition to make the year-long run up to the Democratic nominating convention a year from now look less like a coronation.

Bernie's presence, and his half-hearted pro-war brand of socialism, as Paul Street also explained in Black Agenda Report a few weeks ago doesn't further any “political revolution” at all. What it does is make Hillary's absolutely certain Democratic party nomination look almost legit, as though she emerged from some kind of process where the Democrats' base voters actually get to have their say. It makes sense, if only a profoundly dishonest kind of sense.

But the cynicism of corporate Democrats runs much deeper than this. Immediately after President Obama muscled fast track legislation needed to pass his so-called trade bills though Congress without the bother of legislators being able to amend them, or even see what's in them, the California Democratic party was emailing thousands of likely small and medium sized donors with the promise that it would “continue the fight” against “unfair trade agreements” like the TPP.

The California Democratic Party being effectively the local branch of the DNC chose not to remind prospective donors that their Democratic president forced TPP's fast-track provision through Congress, that their Democratic president is hounding, harassing convening secret grand juries and jailing on espionage and terrorism charges Wikileaks and other persons for revealing parts of the so-called trade agreements, which are really corporate power grabs.

The California Democratic Party isn't about to fight the Democrat in the White House over TPP, the privatization of schools, cutting the military budget, rolling back the prison state or anything else. Their feeble and hypocritical pretense of opposing TPP is aimed at the most deluded and gullible among their donor base, in the same spirit that the DNC uses Bernie Sanders to supplement fundraising. It's a measure of how uninformed and stupid Democratic party leaders on the state and national level imagine Democratic donors and voters to be, another marker of the boundless contempt that Democratic party leaders have for ordinary Democrats, and ordinary people.

For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at, and be sure to sign up for our free weekly email newsletter at

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report. He lives and works near Marietta GA, where he is a partner in a technology firm and serves on the state committee of the GA Green Party. Contact him at bruce.dixon(at)

Direct download: 20150708_bd_cynical_dems.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:28am EDT