Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Privatization Pandemic

The Privatization Pandemic

Milwaukeeans vs. 
the Privatization Pandemic

Barbarians at the Schoolhouse

In 410 A.D. Visigoth barbarians from northern Europe under their military leader Alaric brutally sacked imperial Rome, trashing its museums and public buildings, vandalizing its art treasures, and driving its population out of the city and into the countryside.

Just so, in June 2009, news arrived in my inbox from Todd Price in Wisconsin that Democratic U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, like Bush-era Republican Secretaries Rod Paige and Margaret Spellings before him an advocate of using charter schools and business management to bring about “education reform,” was gearing up, in his maiden outing as Secretary, for a sack of the city of Milwaukee, or at least its most visible community incarnation, its democratically administered public school system.

Even to an attuned but distant observer from out of state like myself it seemed significant that here was a U.S. Secretary of Education making his debut in his post by involving himself in the micromanagement of how a single city, Milwaukee, runs its schools. A newspaper headline put a spotlight on this unusual federal intervention in a city’s affairs: “U.S. education secretary pushes to improve Milwaukee Public Schools.” The format was for Duncan to meet with an invited assemblage of a dozen school, community, and elected leaders from one American city, the city of Milwaukee, along with a high-placed state official, the Governor of Wisconsin, to lay down the law on the education makeover that would have to take place in the city of Milwaukee for the state of Wisconsin to qualify for a share of the $4 billion in federal “Race To The Top” funds for education reform.

Wasn’t it just a little unprecedented that here were a United States cabinet Secretary and a state Governor going to a city to put it on notice to shape up or ship out? Couldn’t the Secretary simply have put this message in a letter? No, he felt it important to be there in person to make the following points so that those in attendance who seemed to have been invited to create an impression of representativeness of Milwaukee education and the Milwaukee community — the president of the Milwaukee chapter of the NAACP, the president of the Milwaukee Urban League, the Milwaukee schools head of Career Youth Development and the newly named staff person for the public schools’ Innovation and Improvement Advisory Council — would get his points into their heads, to wit, as this summary taken from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel puts it:

• Duncan wants a united approach, with people from throughout the community getting behind school improvement

• Duncan is not interested in small change, he wants dramatic, bold change

• Duncan is offering billions of dollars to a select number of states and it could be a big opportunity for Wisconsin to be one of them, but if they don’t get in line with the Secretary’s demands for reform, they could “blow it.”

• Duncan demands that leadership of the school makeover in Milwaukee, as the Journal-Sentinel reporter put it, “needs to start at the top, and that means the mayor.”

In an interview with the Journal-Sentinel published the day prior to the meeting, Duncan somewhat unconvincingly declined to express an opinion on the, you’d think, local issue of whether the Milwaukee mayor should be empowered to take over the city schools, while in the same breath exalting the benefits of mayoral school takeovers in uniting whole cities behind a common cause:

“Where the challenges are so large, you need all hands on deck,” he said. “You need the business community, you need the philanthropic community, you need the social service agencies, you need the not-for-profits, you need the city agencies, the police, the fire, the parks and rec . . . The best way I can think to get everyone rowing in the same direction is from leadership at the top, and that comes from the mayor.”

The Secretary in his whirlwind trip to Milwaukee did everything but slam the door on his way out. Milwaukeeans and people familiar with his previous record of replacing public with charter schools as CEO of schools in Chicago, recognized immediately that the outcome would bode ill for public education.

Sure enough, the Duncan visit was followed in September, three months later, by an announcement by Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, a Democrat, of a state- and city-endorsed plan for “reform” of education in Milwaukee through dissolution of the city’s elected Board of Education and transfer of its authority to Tom Barrett, Milwaukee’s Democratic mayor. Barrett, who acknowledges aspiring to succeed the retiring Doyle as Governor in 2010, surely must anticipate a boon for himself — by carrying out the Duncan takeover game plan in Milwaukee — with voters across the state. The pretext for the transfer would be the need to bring Wisconsin in line, as speedily as possible, for the so-called “Race To The Top” funding that Duncan is holding out as a plum to the lucky 25 states that toe the Secretary’s line on reform, his line being: elimination of bureaucratic impediments to the remaking of schools such as boards of education who sign contracts granting job security to union teachers.

While Duncan, in replying to a September letter sent to him by a Wisconsin Congresswoman, Gwendolyn Moore, protested that no such demand had been made by him in the Milwaukee meeting, his letter and subsequent developments suggest otherwise.

In reply to Moore's question as to whether at that session mayoral takeover of the city schools had been stated as a condition for the state to receive "Race to the Top" funding, the Secretary denied that there had been such a quid pro quo. However at the same time he firmly emphasized that if the state did not void "all legal, statutory, or regulatory barriers to linking data about student achievement or student growth to teachers for the purpose of teacher and principal evaluation" it would not be allowed to receive the coveted funding. In other words, a threat had been made back in June, and in his September letter, peeling away the oblique wording, he repeats the threat by making the removal of “barriers” an absolute condition for receiving funds – the implication being: get rid of your board of education or do without the funding!

But why has Mr. Duncan had this “thing” about Wisconsin and invested so much of his time, and reputation, in bringing the state into the fold of the public school flagellators (excuse me, I meant to say “reformers”)? One answer is that until legislation to change the system of teacher remuneration was passed in that state during the week of November 9th, Wisconsin had been one of just three holdout states (the others being New York and Nevada) that were stubbornly refusing to peg teacher salaries to student test scores

The other reason the Secretary may have put such a premium on Wisconsin is the opportunity to make Milwaukee, America’s 11th poorest city, a poster child for the Duncan method of improving inner city schools: by empowering mayors to close and replace them.
If getting Wisconsin to adopt the Milwaukee takeover legislation is so important to the Secretary of Education that he even made a second trip to Wisconsin (that is, a charter school in Madison) with President Obama on November 4th, then we had better be alert for the importance it may have for the rest of us as well — as a sign of the future for urban communities like Milwaukee that many of us happen to live in, for the boards and officials that we elect to run them, and for school districts outside the inner city who may someday wake up to discover that they themselves are on the receiving end of this juggernaut of “school reform.”

Todd Price, whose account of this, let's face it, Washington-engineered attempted takeover of Milwaukee schools follows in Part II, was the 2009 Green Party candidate for Wisconsin Superintendent of Instruction. With credentials as a teacher of education as well as eyewitness and rally speaker in the Milwaukee confrontation, he opens a rare peephole into privatization-in-action: first, the would-be sack of a major American city’s schools by federal and corporate “barbarians” and then, the bristling backlash against it by Milwaukeeans rallying to defend the independence of their city.

Reacting to his reports and YouTube videos of ferment in Milwaukee that have been coming to me in Ohio, where I have been monitoring and writing about school privatization since the lead-up years to the birth of vouchers in this state with the Cleveland pilot program of 1995, I’ve been brought to attention (and I wouldn't be surprised if Sec. Duncan has been as well) by these Milwaukeeans - teachers, principals, administrators, elected officials, religious leaders, parents, and young students - who’ve been turning out in such numbers to defend their elected school board, and by their resistance to federal and state intrusion.

Could this be a crack in the picture window of acceptance of the privatization pandemic that has been raging unimpeded in this country since even before breaking into the open in the Reagan and Bush years in the 1980s? Considering that, nationally, even unions representing teachers from districts outside of urban areas like Milwaukee have climbed aboard the Duncan “school reform” bandwagon hoping for a seat at the table in the seemingly unstoppable post-public era that awaits, appreciation of what a striking rebuff to this consensus Milwaukeeans have lodged requires a sense of just how ingrained in our system the privatization process has become.
My purpose in what follows is to put Todd Price's narrative of the Wisconsin events in the context of that larger process.

Let me start this preface by highlighting dates in the modern history of privatization that, I believe, offer needed perspective on the Milwaukee story.
Federally grandfathered mayoral takeovers of city school systems like Milwaukee's did not happen out of the blue.

The seemingly overnight transformation by mayoral appointment of local businessmen and retired military into "educators" deemed somehow more qualified to run a city's schools than its elected school board is part of a wave of "let business do it" privatization of government that started as far back as Lyndon Johnson's professedly liberal presidency in the 1960s and has merely come to its crest in the 21st century administrations of the younger George Bush and Barack Obama.

For a fuller visualization of how, all but hidden in the shadows of the 23rd largest city in the United States, it comes to pass that a Democratic president’s Secretary of Education is found plotting to disable public school administrations and orchestrating the demise of the tradition of administrative home rule that goes back more than a hundred years to the founding of the modern American school board in 1901, we need a wide angle gaze.

We need to see this attempted educational annexation of Milwaukee as part of a panorama of selloff and outsourcing of publicly owned lands, services, and capital that has become a uniter of both political parties in a common cause: turning the keys to the American superstructure over to corporate domain.

Escorted by an honor guard of the two parties back to the seat of power it once held in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (and has sought to have restored ever since), a corporate camarilla bent on stripping the nation of its public capital and its public treasury has dragged us back to 1921 and the days of President Warren Harding when cabinet members colluded with oil industry moguls in the privatization of federally owned lands in California and Wyoming’s Teapot Dome, and the watchword of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it all: “more business in government, less government in business.”

Meanwhile the gospel of full-scale public ownership, services, and regulation has languished for want of a party voice.

Already in 1966 under our "big government" President Lyndon Johnson, noted in the history books as the last of the New Dealers, seeds of the selloff of government functions and services were being planted when the Office of Management and Budget issued Circular A-76, a directive for government to maximize the process of outsourcing:

"The competitive enterprise system, characterized by individual freedom and initiative, is the primary source of national economic strength . . . the Government should not compete with its citizens."
Privatization picked up steam under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, whose presidential "Privatization Initiative" in his last year in office made the transfer of government services and capital to private ownership the official and declared policy of the United States:

George H.W. Bush: Title 3
Executive order 12803 of April 30, 1992 57 FR 19063 / May 4, 1992 Privatization initiative: To the extent permitted by law, the head of each executive department and agency shall undertake the following actions: (a) Review those procedures affecting the management and disposition of federally financed infrastructure assets owned by State and local governments and modify those procedures to encourage appropriate privatization of such assets consistent: with this order (b) Assist State and Local governments in their efforts to advance the objectives of this order; and (c) Approve State and local governments' requests to privatize infrastructure assets.

While the Bush directive laid out the game plan for massive asset sales, it was left to the Clinton Administration for implementation. According to Sheldon Wolin in Democracy Incorporated the biggest private expansion into intelligence and other areas of government occurred under Bill Clinton.

Wolin reminds us that during his first term, Clinton outsourced more than 100,000 Pentagon jobs, thousands of then in intelligence, to private companies. By the end of his second term, he had cut 360,000 federal jobs, and the government was spending 44 percent more on private contractors than it had when Clinton took office in 1993.

The Heritage Foundation typified the enthusiasm of the right for the Democratic Clinton’s seeming partnership in privatization with then-House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich, calling his 1996 budget the “boldest privatization agenda put forth by any president to date.”

Nowhere is the hold of private corporations over our national wealth more obvious than in the for-profit manufacture of arms, warplanes, ships and military hardware.

The Congressional Research Service in the U.S. reported that American weapons sales abroad reached $37.8 billion, or 68.4 percent of all global arms transactions. The next largest weapons supplier was Italy at $3.7 billion, less than one-tenth the U.S. amount.

According to the Project on Governmental Oversight (POGO) database on Federal Contractor Misconduct, misbehavior by unaccountable and uncontrollable suppliers of arms and hired contract personnel, the top 100 defense contractors have cost the U.S. taxpayer billions in improper, illegal, and unaccounted expenditures.

The Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC) released a "Special Report on Contractor Business Systems" exposing failures of Defense Department oversight of contractor business systems to prevent egregious "waste, fraud, and abuse" on a scale tantamount to "hemorrhaging."

Right now, taxpayers are vulnerable: the government can't effectively audit those systems and detect contractor errors, omissions, misstatements, and unsupported, unallowable, or unreasonable costs. As stated in the report, the CWC found in an August hearing that "unreliable data from business systems produced billions of dollars in contingency-contract costs that government auditors often could not verify."

Here are some of the more outrageous financial losses to the public treasury attributed to unmonitored corporations receiving government military contracts (since 1995). From a list of the top 100 contractors (instances of misconduct and dollars misappropriated or unaccounted for):

Lockheed Martin: (50 instances of misconduct), $577.2 million. Boeing (31 instances of misconduct), $1561.4 million. Northrop Grumman (27 instances of misconduct), $790.4 million McKesson (8 instances of misconduct), $1356.7 million Merck & Co. (10 instances of misconduct), $5834.7 million.
GlaxoSmithKline (16 instances of misconduct), $4280.7 million. In all there were 678 instances of misconduct run up by the 100 top contractors for a total wasted dollars in the amount of more than $26 billion (26126.8 million).

And then there is the military itself in its newer privatized guise. In Afghanistan and Iraq an estimated 180,000 private contractors employed by private for-profit corporations such as Blackwater/Xe are increasingly taking the place of members of our nation's own armed forces.

According to the Congressional Research Service, as of March of this year, contractors made up 57 percent of the Pentagon's force in Afghanistan and total 65 percent if the past two years are averaged in. Congress appropriated $106 billion for contractors, earning salaries that are often triple or quadruple those of an American soldier or Marine, in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003 to through the first half of 2008.

While as of March 31 there were still more uniformed military personnel - 282,000 - than contractors - 242,657 - it is not hard to imagine if the trend continues a future in which an American force will be sent into battle without swearing an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution and subordinate to the authority, not of an elected U.S. commander-in-chief, but to the dictates of their respective private corporations' CEOs.

One of the jewels in the crown of the new "let business do it" system of outsourcing public functions to private corporations is prison management. Private for-profit companies are increasingly running America’s prisons.

The Corrections Corporation of America, far and away the leading private corporation in the fast-growing incarceration industry known as "The Prison-Industrial Complex," operates a total of 65 facilities including 41 that it owns, and a total of 78,000 beds in 19 states and Washington D.C.

For 2007, CCA reported total revenues of $1 billion-478 million and profits of $266.3 million, an 18.4% increase over 2006. The net profit for that time period was $133.4 million, a 26.7% increase over 2006.

When the dynamic of profit is allowed to enter into the field of incarceration, incentive is created to maximize the number of arrests and length of sentencing, a Pandora's Box opening the way to corruption of the justice system, what George Monbiot calls "the revolting trade in human lives." He was commenting on reports in the Wall Street Journal of guaranteed payments of public funds to private jails for a set number of inmates regardless of the number of cells that are full or empty, and of inducements to judges to counter declining crime rates by handing down disproportionate sentences just to keep jail cells full (and prison management companies’ books in the black).

So it is that vital functions of government such as arms manufacture, prisons, and the waging of war are increasingly being handed over to private corporations to be run for-profit.

So what is wrong with that? What is wrong with outsourcing government functions if private corporations can do a job more efficiently and cost-effectively than government itself?

What's wrong is that when corporations that operate for the purpose of maximizing profits perform functions on behalf of or as "partners" of elected government, policy is put at the service of profit and contracts between political entities and partnering corporations are necessarily filled regardless of changed circumstances such as diminished need or budgets.

When the dynamic that drives the system is privatization, gratuitous wars are waged at wantonly padded expense, prisoner remediation vanishes and jails are stuffed to the gills by judges handing down inordinately extended sentences, medical insurers nickel and dime over coverage, and children are marched off to low-budget and non-union charter schools in desolate and abandoned shopping plazas and vacant industrial facilities for the sole purpose of making profit on investment and of maximizing profit yield for corporate investor

Public School Districts Under Siege

The next frontier for privatization is education

As with military manufacture, military contracting, and prison management, the federal government's education agenda under the leadership of Sec. of Education Arne Duncan is dead set on a policy of transferring the administration of public schools to private businesses. The Secretary has given evidence that his chosen means for accomplishing this handover is through putting mayors at the helm of entire (mainly urban) school systems, allowing them to replace elected school boards with appointed councils of businessmen and retired military that then go on to bring in for-profit corporations to manage the schools, drawing on budgeted money previously intended for public systems.

Duncan’s Race To The Top, a strategy of having states compete in a horse race for funds for education reform, makes clear that only states making concrete efforts toward privatization will get the coveted funds. These efforts would have to include “fostering the growth of charter schools” plus taking steps to replace teacher tenure with procedures to make employment conditional on student test results, i.e. making both teacher retainment and the continued existence of the schools they teach in as public rather than private entities conditional on performance measurement as in the world of business.

In these initiatives Duncan has set for himself the roles of midwife, epigone, and chief factotum for the privatization doctrines first laid out by the “father of modern school reform,” fellow-Chicago luminary Milton Friedman in a 1955 essay that he later incorporated into his landmark book Capitalism and Freedom in 1962. Friedman called for a wholesale “denationalization” of public education: instead of public funds going to school systems parents would receive vouchers on these funds to pay for “educational services” for their children at for-profit and not-for-profit schools that would be operated by entrepreneurs and managers who’d be free to set teacher compensations as low as a dog-eat-dog market for teaching jobs would bear. Government’s role would be reduced to “insuring that . . . schools met certain minimum standards, such as the inclusion of a minimum common content in their programs, much as it now inspects restaurants to insure that they maintain minimum sanitary standards.”

In true survival-of-the-fittest purism, Friedman believed that parents should, if they decide to have children, be prepared to pay for their education.

In a prescient prophesy of the state of education today, Friedman depicted that the downfall of public schooling would be smoothly accomplished by being brought in in a piecemeal fashion, with the mushrooming privatized sector coexisting with the shrinking and declining public sector for a transitionary period of time. “Since governmental units . . . would continue to administer schools, the transition would be gradual and easy.” An educational regime change would be accomplished before people realized it had happened.

Though at present only 20 states have established vouchers-type subsidies for private schools, Friedman smelled victory for his idea of free-market education reform in an interview conducted for Reason Magazine in 2005 on the 50th anniversary of his 1955 vouchers essay, and two years prior to his death, stressing as proof that the tide has turned in privatization’s favor the capitulation of the teachers unions. Their “dam is buckling,” he waxed proudly, “and will shortly break . . . The basis of the National Education Association's and the American Federation of Teachers' power is crumbling.

At present, the privatization process, with its union-disabling subtext, is being promoted to the public as a rescue effort to “turn around” schools in impoverished and struggling urban neighborhoods, ASAP. States are being pressed, as in Wisconsin, to give mayors of major urban centers powers to effect the same transformation Duncan presided over in Chicago, where mayoral control under Richard Daley Jr. has existed since 1995 and where Duncan made a name for himself by closing 75 schools and replacing them with smaller, business-run schools shorn of union contracts and community governance.

Regardless of whether the Chicago experience actually produced the improved academic performance that was claimed, regardless of the toll on communities and the enormous number of families who found themselves without local schools for their children to attend, Chicago and mayoral takeover are being sold to the legislators of states like Wisconsin whose suburban and rural constituents can be counted on to back quick and drastic solutions to the schools of those “Warsaw Ghettoes” that their larger cities have become in their eyes and that many of them will never see or so much as drive through.

In this way, state adoption of mayoral control for just the main urban school districts is used as a wedge and foot in the door for what American business and the foundations that speak for them hope will be the privatization of all of American education. For when mayors need management for the schools that have been put under their direction, they make appointments from the business community and/or turn to ready-made education management corporations that are there waiting for their call. 

Why should what works for the urban schools not work for suburban, small-city, and rural schools? The precedent has been established for America to be left, in education as in healthcare without a “public option.”

In other words, education privatization is not just about mayors “turning around” underperforming urban districts. It’s about opening, ultimately, the whole education sector to for-profit management. However, first the public has to be sold on the need for “turn around.” First the public has to be whipped into a frenzy over a crisis in the schools, that is, the urban schools, a crisis requiring urgent “reform.” And then in the name of reform, the way is paved for business to be brought in on a white horse as reformers.

In the guise of reformers, celebrity tycoons from the world of business, opportunistic social advocacy personalities, and ambitious officials seeking to make a name for themselves as advocates for corporate interests have been the leading players in the new world of investment and career opportunity in privatized education.

Regardless of having no professional training as pedagogues or published works or other credentials as education theorists, researchers, or analysts, barons of finance for no discernible reason other than their Brobignagian wealth have been elevated to the status of venerated education mavens and saviors of our children's futures.

Prominent in this category are entrepreneurs like Microsoft's Bill Gates who, notwithstanding his record of epic business success, happens to have dropped out of college (Harvard) in his sophomore year rather than go to the top of the educational stepladder that is held out as model and paradigm for America’s schoolchildren. Secretary Duncan, an administrator whose advancement came from endearing himself to Chicago’s corporate community by his policy of shutting down public schools and opening charter schools, has no hands-on experience as an educator other than a period of time spent working in his mother’s tutoring school. Charter school minority advocate Al Sharpton, whose "action organization" has been the beneficiary of generous residuals he has received for his public appearances at the White House and around the country in support of opening charter schools that would supposedly put minority children on a college prep track, himself dropped out of Brooklyn College in his sophomore year.

Two illustrious business names who have been ceded a national megaphone on the subject of education in spite of having zero credentials in education are former financier Michael Milken and real estate-nursing home entrepreneur Eli Broad.

As is now all but forgiven and forgotten, Milken parlayed a career of reaping high returns from low-yield junk bonds, and from buyouts that created almost a one-man recession by throwing whole workforces of “bought” companies out on the streets, into a fortune that has made him, today, the 458th richest man in the world. Still his only experience as an educator came in three years of community service teaching math to minorities in Los Angeles in fulfillment of a ten year sentence for securities and financial reporting felonies of which he served 22 months in federal prison.

By 1999, only three years following his release from prison, Milken had amassed an empire of companies catering to every possible facet of the education industry that looked as though it might someday rival his former scale of operations as a financier. Today he heads a foundation purporting to set the standard for the training of quality K-12 teachers, all armed with math skills and fluent in the use of computer technology, and dispensing money incentives for recruitment of teacher talent. Yet other than the conferences his foundation sponsors for the purpose of affirming the superiority of private to public education, there is no evidence either in public utterance or on the printed page that this towering Colossus of the age of education profit seeking that is upon us has a holistic educational philosophy of how one actually inspires a young person to want to read, study, and achieve.

Eli Broad, who rose from the status of 19 year old prodigy in the field of accounting (“the youngest in Michigan history”) to founder one of the nation’s biggest networks of assisted care facilities, has devoted a significant portion of the $5.8 billion net worth that has made him number 42 on the list of 400 richest Americans to the cause of totally privatizing American education.

To this end Broad has contributed $10.5 million in startup funds to the Green Dot charter schools network in Los Angeles and in 1999 he and his wife Edythe joined the ranks of family foundation scions Bill & Melinda Gates and Michael and Lowell Milken with their founding of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. A flagship program of the foundation is the Broad Superintendents Academy that identifies and trains, executives with experience of leading large organizations for service as administrators, and even places them, in urban school districts. But is there any evidence either in public utterance or on the printed page that beyond his credo that American education needs to be run more “like a business” this indisputably wealthy and successful individual has a conceptual clue about how to cultivate and motivate the mind of a child?

These may be what used to be called Captains of Industry (and Finance), they may be builders of unparalleled monopolies in the fields of software, finance, real estate, insurance, etc. — world straddling economic players in the mold of the (for a time) successful businessman that Theodore Dreiser portrayed in The Financier and The Titan — but they do not fit the profile of “educators.” As far as education is concerned, they are “barbarians at the gates,” untrained and uncouth in the arts of shaping the lives and intellects of children. Yet here they are, the nation's prime movers in the raging battle to replace public education with a system in which the schools are outsourced to for-profit businesses, businesses that are not accountable to government financial oversight and free from union contracting that protects the job security of teachers.

Do American parents want schools to be run like businesses and their children to be treated as employees? Will they accept the idea of delivering their children into the hands of specialists in financial deal-making and cutthroat competition, who may or may not have completed college themselves and who view students strictly as “human capital” to be schooled in skills narrowly tailored to niches in today’s ever-so-transient corporate job market?

Do they want education to be made over in the model of privatized industries like military manufacture, military contracting, and prison management, industries that have taken advantage of the less-government, anti-oversight policies of federal administrations of the past three decades to pile up a record of fraud and financial abuse unmatched by any era in American history?

Or are parents, in step with the growing opposition to privatization and outsourcing that is being seen all over the internet, getting a little tired and put off by the endless blizzard of promotion for “education reform” as the panacea for all that ails our economy, job market, and society, and, as Todd Price will show is happening in Milwaukee, starting to line up behind their public schools once again?

Click here to read Todd Alan Price's essay "Milwaukee League Comes To The Defense of Public Schools."


Geoff Berne writes from Hamilton, Ohio, where the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law in 2002. He was co-producer with Todd Price and Karen Chin of the 2004 video "Public Education in the Crosshairs" and in the 1990s was a member of the Ohio coalition Citizens Against Vouchers.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Fred Hampton Remembered...

Hampton portrait
Here are a few comments about Fred Hampton- that great 21 year-old Chicago Black Panther who was riddled with cop bullets while drugged by a COINTEL negro snitch and in bed with his pregnant wife....
Thanks, Don  -- and Sam -- for circulating this timely reminder (to those who were around at the time) and history lesson (to those too young to have known about this, and would probably never learn otherwise).

FROM Brotha Dinizulu:

So much needs to be done to set the record straight and provide some real truth about the Black Panther Party, which was, among many other things, an incubator for brilliant minds and leaders like Fred Hampton, and Bunchy Carter and John Huggins, who were also assassinated (although not directly by the police).  The  truth also needs to be known about COINTELPRO and the era of naked brutal represssion that included other shoot-ins of Panther facilities, such as the one in Los Angeles, by the Police, and raids such as the one staged by Rizzo in Philadelphia.  These actions both encouraged and were encouraged by a mentality, under Nixon, that said it was OK to suspend the Constitution, and even spread to Canada, where pre-dawn raids without warrants on the homes of Quebec Independence activists were praised by Nixon, as was then-NY-Governor Rockefeller's brutal response to the rebellion at Attica prison, which was motivated by very reasonable and humane demands.  (It did not fully escape notice that the 30th anniversary of that event would very likely have been the front-page news in New York, had other events not intervened on that date, September 11, 2001.  That date, it might also be noted, is etched in the memory of the Rasta community, as the anniversary of the murder of Peter Tosh and others in a home invasion, and has been widely remembered throughout Latin America as the anniversary of the overthrow and assassination of Salvador Allende in Chile.) 

As valuable as this article in remembrance of Fred Hampton is, it does seem, to me, to give undue emphasis to the alleged Marxist-Leninist and Socialist stance of the BPP.  To be sure, the Party was more aware of, and committed to, the need for trans-cultural and multi-ethnic class struggle, as opposed to, say, the "nationalist" positions of such groups as Karenga's US Organization (whose members carried out the hit on Carter and Huggins on the UCLA campus).  And the Party simply carried out such "Socialist" programs as the Children's breakfasts (notably "with real orange juice, not 'orange drink,' " as a sign of being serious and caring) and the People's Free Health Clinics, which I still believe was the real catalyst for the establishment of Community Health Centers that still operate today.  (I am on the board of one.)  The point here is that the Party seemed to me to be much more about action than labels. 

It began in earnest, as we all know, with young Black men "picking up the gun" and patrolling the police, posing the same threat of deadly force to them that they posed to the community on a daily basis. This was not an action motivated by Marxist-Leninist ideology, but by necessity, although it is also true that the BPP members did diligently study "dialectical materialism" and Marxist philosophy, in much the same way as a lot of people at that time, in a quest to cut through lies and mindless pro-capitalist propaganda that certainly did not meet the intellectual requirements of a younger generation which had faced down Jim Crow segregation and was confronting the costly and painful reality of an immoral war. 

I recall that this was a point that also came to light the year that Rigoberta Menchu won the Nobel Peace Prize, as it came to light that a more truthful understanding of these armed struggles in Latin America was very much needed.  What might be routinely labeled in the news media as "Marxist" rebels in this or that country, or portrayed as some kind of uprising against established government was often something much simpler, like villagers determining that, regardless of the consequences, they were not going to tolerate soldiers entering their town and raping one more girl while they stand by powerlessly.  The inevitable ensuing conflict and combat might be portrayed in the press as "anti-government forces" with some kind of "Socialist" agenda, which may be true in a de-facto way, but it is a misrepresentation which only serves the purpose of the propagandists.  In reality, it is nothing more (or less) than a real revolution, in the literal sense, wherein people stand up to oppression, seize power over their destiny, and, by necessity, have to remain committed to that stance, defending it against all future attempts to re-enslave them.

Reading this article on Fred Hampton, I get that same feeling that the portrayal of the BPP as an organization committed to anti-capitalist and socialist agendas, as opposed to being committed to simple social justice, regardless of label, does some disservice to his memory.  Don, your introductory comment, portraying the young man as a genuinely serious  activist, willing to learn, probably provides a better picture of who he was than what I am reading as an overemphasis on established, Eurocentric (be it noted) ideologies.  (At its worst, this kind of portrayal of Black social reality buys right into those racist myths that we somehow can't think for ourselves but need to be motivated by other people's ideas, much like J. Edgar Hoover's insistence that Dr. M.L. King was either an outright "Communist" or was being "duped" by Communists, as if it took some whitefolks in Moscow to tell him that he and the rest of the African American population was being oppressed.  Otherwise, we would never either think or know any such thing.)

Although I am focusing most of my comments on this aspect of the article, it is a relatively small criticism in comparison to the great value of reminding us all of one of our brightest and best, who was cut down too soon (along with his wife, not to be forgotten), by the same old forces of fear, greed, ignorance and hate.  (They, too, can try to hide behind an ideological label to pretend to be legitimate, but the truth is the truth.)  Actually, one of the most moving pieces I ever read about Fred Hampton's assassination was by Rosemari Mealy, in The Crisis magazine.  That too would make a very valuable contribution to our remembrance of Fred Hampton and what he meant to the world, literally, not just African America.

Thanks again Brothas, for sharing this.  I will spread it as well.

Best all ways,


On Fri, Dec 4, 2009 at 3:34 PM, <> wrote:

In 1967 I gave the keynote address for the State of Ilinois NAACP annual convention at Peoria. Upon conclusion, a young man came up and introduced himself as the head of the youth division of the NAACP. He asked me if I thought Malcolm X was more important to our struggle than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

My answer to Fred Hampton was that both were equally important.
Donald H. Smith


Fred Hampton Remembered
Friday, December 4, 2009
By: Carlito Rovira

Despite a life cut short, young Black Panther left behind a rich legacy of struggle

The wave of repression unleashed on the Black liberation movement in the 1960s and 1970s by the FBI’s “Operation COINTELPRO” reached its height with a series of murderous attacks on the Black Panther Party. One of the most horrendous episodes of this onslaught took place 40 years ago. On Dec. 4, 1969, Black Panther Party leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were assassinated by police.

In a coordinated effort between the Illinois State Attorney’s Office, Cook County Police Department, the Chicago Police Department and the FBI, a heavily armed assault was launched in the early morning hours on Fred Hampton’s residence. With a vicious sense of racist hatred and no regard for human life, the police fired their weapons at will at the wall separating the hallway from the apartment. The two revolutionaries were killed
In the days that followed, law enforcement officials were quick to reinvent the facts. They claimed that the occupants of the apartment fired guns at police. Their story never held water. Evidence gathered from the forensic investigation and other inquiries pointed exclusively to police savagery in the attack.

The shaping of a leader

Hampton’s life was brief, but was rich in struggle.

Hampton was born in Chicago on Aug. 30, 1948. His parents originated from Hayneville, La., where sharecropping and racial injustice were common. His great-grandparents had worked on a plantation in that region under the horrors of slavery.

Like millions of African Americans, Hampton’s parents left the South during the Great Migration of the 1930s to look for a better life and flee the constant threat of racist terror. They settled in Maywood, Ill., a suburb of Chicago where they worked at the Argo Starch Company.

An event that likely affected the young Fred Hampton, much as it affected most of Chicago’s Black community, was the 1955 gruesome lynching of Emmett Till. The 14-year-old Till was visiting family in Mississippi when he was abducted and killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Till was the son of family friends and neighbors of the Hamptons.

Hampton was attracted to books, and took it upon himself to read the speeches and writings of Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Dubois, Joan Elbert, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and others. He gained a reputation for his knowledge of Black history and began to sense the need for struggle.

As a student at Proviso East High School, he noticed that most of the students who failed were Black. Hampton began to speak out against the school administration for not providing tutoring and remedial programs for students. He was also critical of the fact that the faculty and administration were all white when one-fourth of the student body was Black.

Hampton challenged the school’s exclusive racist practice of nominating only white girls to compete for “Miss Homecoming Queen.” He organized a protest, walk-out and school boycott. As a result, the following year Black female students were included in this contest.

Fred Hampton was respected by white and Black students alike. The year after he graduated from Proviso East, a school administrator requested his help to calm racial tensions among students.

At Triton Junior College, he studied law as a defense against police brutality aimed at the Black community. He joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and became the leader of its youth council at the West Suburban branch, galvanizing a membership of 500.

While Hampton was in the NAACP, the Black Panther Party was opening chapters across the country and becoming a prominent force in the Black liberation struggle. Hampton began to absorb and understand the revolutionary content of the Panthers’ political perspective, and joined. He soon demonstrated his leadership abilities and became deputy chairman of the party’s Illinois chapter.

His disposition and skills as a speaker earned Hampton a moral authority. His political achievements included brokering peace with the supposed “street gangs” of Chicago, amongst them the Puerto Rican group the Young Lords. Hampton was instrumental in transforming the Young Lords into a revolutionary political organization.

Hampton valued the need for a multinational revolutionary struggle, and organized the original Rainbow Coalition comprised of the I Wor Kuen of the Asian community, the Brown Berets of the Mexican community, the poor white workers of the Young Patriots, the Young Lords and the Black Panthers. The Black Panther Party set standards for waging struggle. Their enthusiastic projection of socialism allowed many to envision its relevance to African Americans and other oppressed nationalities.

The white, racist U.S. ruling class was appalled. How dare the descendents of African slaves call themselves socialists and aim to achieve Black people’s right to reparations! Even more daring was the Black Panther Party’s call for the overthrow of capitalism—a demand the ruling class could never tolerate. Their ability to forge unity in struggle was a threat in itself.

All this was happening while resentment for the war in Vietnam was on the rise. The men of privilege and wealth, with a stake in preserving the imperialist system, grew apprehensive the more it became apparent that a mass revolutionary movement was arising.

These circumstances compelled the government to destroy the Black Panther Party.

'The greatest threat to national security'

Operation COINTELPRO, an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program, was established in the mid-1950s to deter the development of any movement deemed a threat to the existing social, economic and political order. It remained secret until 1971, when anti-repression activists broke into an FBI field office in Media, Penn., and confiscated files revealing the hidden operation.

As the Civil Rights movement advanced—galvanizing strength from all sectors of the population, breaking the despicable Jim Crow laws and compelling the U.S. Congress to pass other progressive legislation—the FBI increasingly turned its attention to the Black liberation struggle.

The Black Panther Party openly advocated for socialist revolution, and openly supported the Chinese and Cuban revolutions. The Panthers’ breakfast program for children, among other social programs, underlined their commitment to meet the needs of communities that received nothing but oppression and neglect from the government.

The staunch anti-capitalist stance of these young revolutionaries who declared themselves Marxist-Leninists made them the target of the most ruthless, racist elements in power. On numerous occasions, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover expressed a special disdain for the Black struggle, particularly towards Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Many were not surprised when Hoover declared the Black Panther Party “the greatest threat to national security.”

The slanderous editorials against the Panthers in the capitalist-owned mass media, combined with Hoover’s frequent verbal attacks, reflected the wishes of the ruling class who sought the complete destruction of the Black Panther Party and the ideals it embodied. Internal FBI memos show that the government had a special interest in Hampton’s political activities and his associations; Chicago police were encouraged by the FBI to find a way to lock up Hampton.

Prior to Hampton’s death, police raided the Panthers’ Chicago office on three separate occasions. William O’Neal, Fred Hampton’s bodyguard, was a police informant who was instructed to draw up a floor plan of the targeted apartment weeks earlier. Law enforcement used the information gathered by O’Neal to murder Hampton.

Hampton’s murder was part of a pattern of police raids, false imprisonment and executions of Black Panthers. COINTELPRO documents proved that assassination of Black leaders was among its aims. Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party had to be eliminated simply because they had touched upon capitalism’s greatest weakness—the decisiveness and strength that a multi-national movement has in a battle against this system.

The Black Panther Party arose from the struggles of the African American people, historically the most oppressed and exploited group in the United States. They symbolized hope and received the greatest affection. They attributed Black oppression to the capitalist system, and dared to pick up arms against the state. The militancy and defiance of these young revolutionaries deeply impacted the Civil Rights and socialist movements.

Hampton and the Black Panthers believed all would benefit if the banner of the struggle against racism and national oppression was taken up by the white masses as their own. Hampton knew that it was possible to smash the racial barriers created by capitalism to divide and conquer the working class. His confidence was based on the strong belief that this system provides a motive for all to unite and engage in revolutionary struggle.

Long live the memory of Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Harlem Target Store Sells Watermelon Soda
with 21st Century Pickanniny on Can

Is this Blackfolk being paranoid... or is racism live and well?

Notice the contradiction of the Sista with the "Sex & the City" T-shirt commenting on the racist nature of the soda. She's advertising a show that's not only sexist but racist also (Black and Latinos are invisible in this NYC-based show/movie!)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Erasing Katrina Four Years On,
media mostly neglect
an ongoing disaster

NOTE: My good friend/comrade, Dinizulu Tinnie comments on the PostKatrina essay found below...

Muchas gracias for this, Sam,
Excellent coverage of the non-coverage, which, truth to be told, was actually a problem right from the outset, as many of us painfully remember, but not nearly as painfully as those who actually underwent the disaster, and its secondary and tertiary disasters (the story is still not fully told of the failure of the levees being a separate development from the damage by the hurricane itself, and the barely-hinted-at stories of white vigilante groups, thankfully alluded to in this piece, has yet to fully come to light).

Not to be forgotten, which is what makes this piece so good, is that the story of the news coverage, or lack thereof, was, and is, a story in itself. In that context, there is also the story -- not alluded to here -- of the absolute worst of the "coverage," which was that multi-million-dollar Hollywood-style production featuring G.W. Bush standing before the stagelit St. Louis Cathedral, acting as if he cared, and having this treated as though it were actual news. (And then there was, as if enough cannot be said about the Bush family's response to the disaster, Laura Bush's later reference to "hurricane Corina." twice, do disconnected was she from the whole matter.)
What was also a story at the time, and still now, was the coverage of the prelude -- the conditions that existed in New Orleans and the surrounding area before Katrina, much of which took on a kind of blame-the-victim character. This fed, and was fed by, the kind of racist/hateful attitude that is cited in this article, with the doctor who was deciding, essentially, whom to euthanize. (Beyond scary.) We started hearing supposedly serious comments and questions as to whether New Orleans needed to be rebuilt at all, and that horrid comment by one of the senators, I believe, who dared to state that "God did for us what we couldn't do ourselves" by "cleaning up" New Orleans, or words to that effect. That is as much of a story as the story of the lack of stories since then.

Among the preconditions there was one especially profound story which glared by its absence of coverage, but only to those who knew it existed at all. I ended up learning about it all in one day, on a visit to NOLA in 1995, when the National Conference of Artists held its Annual Meeting there. On a connecting flight from Houston back to NO, I was seated next to a white-shirted Coloured gentleman (Black man would not be an accurate description, but he's still my brother), who didn't have much to say beyond a barely grunted reply to my greeting. He sat silent by the window until, as we neared our destination, he suddenly jumped with excitement, and practically shouted, to whomever might be listening, or to no one but himself, "Oh my God! Those are our plants! I can't believe it! Wow! Those are actually our plants!" The "plants" he was referring to were a string of white-smoke-spewing installations along a swath of the Mississippi River bank. I didn't know who the "we" were who could claim the plants as "ours," and I didn't ask.
Landing in NO and reaching the hotel, the very first individual I encounterd was iconic NCA member and Washington-based photographer Roy Lewis, one of those perpetual-motion machines who talks fast and gets things done. In the course of our warm reunion, I learned of a project he was involved with, which made him glad to be in NO, because he was documenting the little known fact that along a 50-mile stretch of the Mississippi River, coming into NO, was a series of chemical plants. These were built in an area where the population was predominantly Black, and that population was experiencing a cancer rate five times the national average. His goal was to bring this story to light, since no one else -- certainly not the corporate news media -- seemed to be inclined to do so. Roy had subsequent family issues, etc., so I don't know how far he ever progressed with it.

One would think that the fate of these chemical plants, considering the possible threat that damage to them could pose to the city downstream from them, might have been the focus of some media coverage, which, in turn, would have naturally raised the Environmental Justice issues surrounding their presence there. I actually heard about a nanosecond of a mention, both of the plants and the consequences for the population living near them, and that was it.
The point that this raises is that only by the dumb luck of two chance encounters with two individuals did I become aware of what should have been a major investigative-journalism story even without Katrina, and a full decade before Katrina, so, how many more hidden stories like that are there, in and around NO and elsewhere? (A lot more than we think, I imagine. At a recent one-day EJ Conference in fort Lauderdale, I just learned of a section of that city, a predominantly Black neighborhood, with a similar disparity in cancer rates. The woman who was the primary activist in bringing this out (with only limited success in the broad mainstream) has passed away herself, and the struggle is continuing to be led by her daughter.)

The lack of coverage of the human dimensions of the story since Katrina is egregious enough, but, as this article also suggests, the lack of focus on the natural/environmental aspects is equally shameful. Among the preconditions before Katrina was the fact that parts of the city were literally sinking: driveways falling two inches below the garage apron, for example. This was attributed to the work of the good old U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (they who brought us the Everglades drainage canal system with consequences that will take decades to repair), whose canals rerouted water flows and thus prevented the usual moisture content of the alluvial soil upon which the city was originally engineered to "sit lightly" from being maintained. The media has failed to inform us of the progress (if any, or if what is being called progress deserves the name) being made on restoring and improving the levee system, but also on whether there is any real effort to improve the overall environmental management so that the healthy condition of the city's foundation is restored.

One gets the impression that in the eyes of America's prevailing Puritanical popular culture, New Orleans was just to Black, too poor, too corrupt too fun-loving, and too frank and honest about its character -- all according to stereotypes -- to deserve to live. Katrina provided the God-sent opportunity, as the senator suggested, to erase this microcosmic indicting blot from America's wannabe image of pure white innocence, so the gradual erasure of Katrina by the corporate media becomes a way of erasing New Orleans itself -- at least the one we knew and loved in its own way -- through the journalistic equivalent of "demolition by neglect." The "New New Orleans" that these fantasizers imagine will quietly replace the old, without journalistic fanfare or scrutiny, will be a gentrified and "whiter" city, where any and all overdue improvements will be for the benefit of "developers" (an artist friend sagely calls that a "one-word oxymoron") and, supposedly, "the right kind of people." The silence of the corporate media is therefore not a passive non-action, but actually a pro-active strategy (consciously or not) in this drama.
By now it should be obvious -- but obviously is not, especially to the most favored segments of the population -- that the mindless pursuit of a life of ease, comfort and privilege for the few at the expense of the many is not a sustainable proposition. What I heard on my visits to New Orleans from the regular folks consistently was that the city's greatest single problem was the great disparity in wealth, which kept the place from ever fulfilling its full potential, and allowed its worst problems to fester and grow worse. Decision-making that is informed only by the narrow and corrupted interests of the privileged few is what led (and leads) to the poor engineering decisions that have brought so much natural destruction to the city, and engendered the fear factor that fosters the founding of white vigilante groups.

It said something profound and terrible about our human species when the reflex reaction of so many to a natural disaster of the magnitude of Katrina was not to help as many people as possible to survive, but to arm oneself in fear of "looters" or of Blacks who one thinks are more concerned about revenge upon whites for past wrongs than the survival of their families and communities in a present life-and-death circumstance. (Unfortunately, sadly, shamefully, this was nothing new, but rather a logical extension of past history: This was almost mild in comparison to the response to the devastating Greenwood, Mississippi, flood of 1927, when Blacks were deliberately not rescued and left to die, if that were to be, for fear that if they were rescued they might never return to work for slave wages.)

The fantasies of the "New New Orleans" can only be pursued by the same kind of discredited decision making. The trendy saying of our time defines mental illness as "persisting in the same behavior with the expectation of different outcomes." Not only does a more intelligent -- and inclusive -- vision for the future of New Orleans need to be pursued, but there is, beyond the obvious tasks of repair and restoration, a great task of healing, which cannot be ignored. The social costs that come with unhealed wounds and emotional scars are beyond measure, and certainly beyond measure in dollars. Social health only comes with the entire population being healthy. Healing does not just mean treating or "managing" the pain, but also attacking the causes and implementing prevention. A public policy that recognizes the "right of return" of evacuees, first and foremost, can go a very long way toward the healing that is needed.

On Thu, Sep 10, 2009 at 6:09 AM, S. E. Anderson <> wrote:
Erasing Katrina Four years on, media mostly neglect an ongoing disaster

<<...amazingly, according to a search of the Nexis news media database, neither the Washington Post nor the L.A. Times ran a single piece on Katrina in the past week. ABC and Fox News didn't mention the hurricane or its aftermath once.>>

August 29 marked the fourth anniversary of the day Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The devastation wrought by both the hurricane itself and the government's inept response prompted remarkably critical corporate media coverage that promised to fight for Katrina survivors and change the way we talk about poverty and race (FAIR Media Advisory, 9/9/05).

As NBC's Brian Williams told the St. Petersburg Times (3/1/06), "If this does not spark a national discussion on class, race, the environment, oil, Iraq, infrastructure and urban planning, I think we've failed." But four years later, corporate media outlets seem to have largely forgotten about Katrina and its survivors, let alone the conversations about race and poverty that were supposed to accompany it.

The Institute for Southern Studies issued a report (8-9/09) in which more than 50 Gulf Coast community leaders graded officials on their response to the ongoing disaster; the Obama administration received a D+, while Congress received a D. (George W. Bush received a D- in an earlier survey.) One million people are still displaced, rebuilding continues at a glacial pace, and the levees being rebuilt have been judged insufficient to protect New Orleans from another Katrina-level flood.

But amazingly, according to a search of the Nexis news media database, neither the Washington Post nor the L.A. Times ran a single piece on Katrina in the past week. ABC and Fox News didn't mention the hurricane or its aftermath once.

CBS ran two segments (8/28/09, 8/31/09), as well as a brief headline (8/29/09) on Barack Obama's weekly radio address that discussed post-Katrina reconstruction. The one mention on MSNBC came on the Ed Show (8/27/09), when host Ed Schultz singled out right-wing talk radio host Neal Boortz for his hateful remarks about displaced Katrina survivors, such as his recent commentary: "Obama wants to rebuild New Orleans? Why? 'Build it and they will come'? 'They'? The debris that Katrina chased out?"

NBC ran four segments, all of which put a remarkably upbeat spin on the situation. In one piece (8/30/09), reporter Ron Mott declared that while a third of the homes in New Orleans are still vacant or abandoned, "positive news abounds. The population is steadily climbing as are test scores in the overhauled public school system." Another segment (8/30/09) reported that "the city and its most famous cultural treasure are now well on the mend," while a day earlier (8/29/09), Saturday Today anchor Lester Holt introduced a short piece on "encouraging new signs for the city," in which reporter Mott announced that "much has improved and a lot of people are working."

The New York Times published a few pieces on Katrina, including an op-ed chart (8/28/09) and a report (8/30/09) on Obama's speech. The cover story of its weekend magazine (8/30/09) was a long piece by Sheri Fink, of the nonprofit journalism outfit ProPublica, on the "deadly choices" at a New Orleans hospital following the hurricane--one of the few anniversary pieces to touch even obliquely on issues of racism, quoting one doctor who helped euthanize patients as saying he was worried about "the animals" outside--that "these crazy black people who think they've been oppressed for all these years by white people" might start "raping...or, you know, dismembering" people.

The Times also ran an article (8/31/09) that talked about how the goal in New Orleans isn't to "revert to the city that existed here before the flood," but instead focusing on "revitalization." (See Extra!, 7-8/07.) Further down it mentioned that "fundamental problems" still exist, like high unemployment, and some neighborhoods that "seem barely touched" since four years ago. Race, though, wasn't mentioned a single time.

The day before the Katrina anniversary, the Times did manage to run a front-page piece on the abysmal state of flood recovery--in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (8/28/09): "Flooded Iowa City Rebuilding and Feeling Just a Bit Ignored." As reporter Susan Saulny put it, "The outpouring of attention toward New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, ratcheting up again now as the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, has not been seen here. In fact, the people of Cedar Rapids are feeling neglected."

As Saulny quickly made clear, her premise itself is flawed: "To be sure, Hurricane Katrina's huge reach and a botched emergency response devastated a far greater swath of the country than did the flooding in the Midwest, and no one here is trying to make tit-for-tat disaster comparisons. No lives were lost in the flooding in Cedar Rapids, and the government's initial response to the crisis was generally considered a success." And yet, the New York Times saw fit to run a front-page piece on Cedar Rapids and not Katrina. That "outpouring of attention" for Katrina victims Saulny described as attending the fourth anniversary certainly wasn't to be found in the Times.

CNN, whose relatively heavy Katrina coverage helped boost host Anderson Cooper's profile at the network (Extra!, 7-8/06), dedicated much more time than any other major outlet to the anniversary, with a few dozen segments over the days before and after August 29. But while some of the coverage dug deeper than other outlets, it betrayed CNN's lack of consistent interest in the issue. In one report, for example, correspondent Gary Tuchman "tracked down" a story on vigilante justice in which a white militia formed in a largely white neighborhood and shot black passersby in the chaotic days following the hurricane. It's a critical story--so why did CNN only come to it nearly nine months after ProPublica journalist A.C. Thompson (interviewed briefly in CNN's piece) broke the news in a lengthy investigative report published in the Nation (1/05/09)? It would seem the Katrina anniversaries are the only time such stories are considered newsworthy.

The media's neglect of the Gulf Coast is not a new thing; Extra! was writing about it as far back as July/August 2006. According to the Tyndall Report, which monitors TV news, there were 367 minutes on Katrina's aftermath that year (TVNewser, 1/3/07). In 2007 it was down to 116 minutes, while in 2008 it was not among the top 20 stories of the year. In the first seven months of 2009, Tyndall finds, there were just six Katrina-related stories (

There are plenty of ongoing stories to be told today. The Institute for Southern Studies report also highlighted some startling statistics: In addition to the estimated 1 million people still displaced by Katrina, rents in the New Orleans area have increased by 40 percent since the hurricane, and an estimated 11,000 people are currently homeless there. The report also reveals striking racial disparities in the impacts: Less than 49 percent of households in the largely African-American and working class Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans are actively receiving mail today (compared to 76 percent city-wide), for example, and black children's enrollment in public and private schools dropped from 49 percent of all students to 43 percent.

Independent journalists and outlets, such as Jordan Flaherty (CounterPunch, 8/26/09) and Democracy Now! (8/31/09), as well as local journalists like the New Orleans Times-Picayune's Jarvis DeBerry (e.g., 8/21/09), have been documenting such ongoing disparities and unfulfilled promises. It's work the major outlets can and should be doing--and it doesn't even have to wait until the next anniversary.

Monday, September 07, 2009

A New Oliver Stone Film
on the
New Progressive South America

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Joseph Littles-NGUZO SABA Charter School Walkathon!

A 1000Mile Walkathon for African-Centered Education
We will keep you up-to-date on this historic and vital 1000 mile walk. It will not be on TV. But, we can push our local southern news stations to cover the cover. I have only included the last 20+ minutes of the press confab. You can look at the first half of the press confab on youtube.

Wednesday July 15 at 9AM the 1000mile journey will begin in West Palm Beach and wind its way up to Jacksonville, FL via Route 1.

Thursday 13 August will be when we all can join the trekkers from West Palm Beach at a celebration whose time and location will be announced later.

For all those interested in joining the Walkathon for African Centered Education, please go to: for details. Of course, financial contributions are greatly appreciated! And, I'm sure they will take in-kind services like, copying, computer/camera/software donations, bottled water, walking shoes, sweat bands, first aid needs...


Baba Amefika D. GeukaFlorida’s only African-centered public school today announced that its co-founder and current Board Chairman, Amefika D. Geuka will walk from the school to Washington, DC to dramatize the urgent need for African-centered education for children of African descent. Geuka and his colleagues have dubbed this venture a “Trek for African-Centered Education,” to be conducted from July 15th through August 12, 2009. In addition to gaining credibility for African-centered education, the walk is expected to raise money to close the funding gap for Geuka’s Joseph Littles-NGUZO SABA Charter School which completed ten years of continuous operation on January 20th of this year. Overall coordination and planning for the walkathon has been contracted to iZania, LLC based in Columbus, Ohio.

Geuka’s walk will cover 1,011 miles, with pledges being sought for every mile walked by him and dozens of expected collaborators along the route. Geuka and surrogate walkers plan to average 33 to 35 miles per day, requiring 10 to 12 hours. Walkers will depart from the school at 5829 Corporate Way in West Palm Beach at 9:00 AM on Wednesday, July 15th, and culminate on or about August 12th with ceremonial stops at the U.S. Department of Education and White House where prepared statements in support of African-centered education will be read.

African-centered schools in the nation’s capital will be asked to host a victory rally after the statements have been read. Both President Barack Obama and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have spoken strongly in favor of public charter schools, which are designed to explore creative and innovative approaches to educating students who do not fare well in traditional public schools. Geuka and other advocates and practitioners of African-centered education argue that theirs is the most effective way to encourage children of African descent to aspire to be successful in education and personal development.

The African-centered approach to providing a strong cultural foundation for children of African descent is being adopted across the country by school districts, public schools, private schools, and charter schools. This pedagogical approach is gaining acceptance as an important and necessary component in the development of Black children. They draw parallels between the ‘ACE’ approach and the generally accepted contention by Jews and Catholics that their respective students learn best when their formal education is rooted in study and appreciation of their own heritage history, and culture.




Monday, June 22, 2009

Capitalism's Crises Analysed

Video: Anwar Shaikh on Marx and the Global Economic Crisis

Submitted by Erin on June 9, 2009

Anwar Shaikh, Professor at the New School for Social Research, gives a Marxist account of historic fluctuations in the capitalist economy and how the current crisis fits in the overall picture. From the Marx and the Global Economic Crisis panel at Left Forum 2009, New York.

Shaikh's homepage, which includes an extensive selection of his articles on economics, can be found here:


Video: David McNally on Marx and the Global Economic Crisis

Submitted by Erin on June 9, 2009 - 2:59pm.

David McNally, Professor at York University and leading member of the New Socialist Group (Solidarity's sister organization in Canada,, talks about the roots of the the financial crisis and its precise role in the worldwide economic downturn--as well as the depth of its social costs. From the Marx and the Global Economic Crisis panel at the 2009 Left Forum in New York.