A Tale of Three Apartheids and the Land Conundrums

A Tale of Three Apartheids and the Land Conundrums

“White settlers were convinced that the lands they appropriated in the ‘dark continent’ and other lands were theirs by right.”

The word apartheid achieved global notoriety during the height of White rule in South Africa. It then extended at least to one other country where blatant state-sanctioned bigotry went hand in hand with “democracy”: Israel (1, 2). The underlying creed fueling racist practices was White supremacy with its Eurocentric beginnings. Racism historically informed much of the imperial/colonial Caucasian dealings with other societies, beginning in earnest during the voyages of “discovery,” inaugurated by Christopher Columbus, where the slaughter of millions, massive human dislodgments under the umbrella of slavery, unprecedented dispossession and theft of entire far flung continents were to follow. Separate but Equal, Uncle Tom, Jim Crow, segregation, racial discrimination, civil rights violations, colonialism, assimilation, conquistadores, Bantustans and other innocuous, hollow terms intended to attenuate or mitigate the crimes were firmly sown in the minds of the rank and file of the victors.

Until recently, conquerors had a monopoly of relating and documenting history with colonial subjects looking on submissively until the explosion of the anti-colonial struggles began to alter the course of event— in Africa and Asia especially, albeit fleetingly. The term apartheid then, even if applied retroactively, is unlikely to gain currency to characterize patterns of imperial conduct of the past that had indistinguishable aims: dehumanize, denigrate, dispossess and destroy the vanquished. But apartheid in practice they most certainly were. Thus, the tripartite representatives of this practice — European settler and colonizing nations, apartheid South Africa and Israel, should be so branded for the sake of calling a spade a spade and for prioritizing substance over style. Lexical hair-splitting over events that held unbelievably cruel consequences for native, indigenous peoples would not serve any useful purpose for any meaningful analyses or historical perspectives on land reforms in South Africa.

“Conquerors had a monopoly of relating and documenting history with colonial subjects looking on submissively.”

Regardless of the lexicon used, the aftermath had inexorable parallels in all lands where European invaders established footholds: vanquishing natives and robbing them of their ancestral lands; sabotaging their reference points and ethos forever. No matter too, that many native residents had freely roamed the landscapes for millennia — save for practitioners of intensive crop and/or livestock husbandry. Even there, the concept of private ownership was alien to native societies, neutralized as it was by the overriding imperative of satisfying collective needs (family à clan à tribe à societal) over individual greed — a tacit eminent domain principle etched in the social ethos. Wars were waged, to be sure, as territorial instincts spawned hostilities, especially at the interface of group contacts. Where empires resulted from skirmishes, few if any, had reached the scale achieved by European conquest. Certainly, none are documented to have ventured beyond local frontiers to distant continents for conquest and fashioning empires spanning much of the globe.

In European colonized lands, occupiers imported their concepts of land as assets, to be traded much like any other merchandise. Largely for the colonizers’ benefit of course, with the natives excluded in the real estate transactions. Consumerism had found expression in land ownership long before it was to gain ascendancy in the fecund junk ownership rampant in modern neoliberal capitalist economies, that has now spanned the globe and whose cash flow is unidirectional: toward the imperial metropolis. Three factors encapsulate the motivation that mostly led to irreversible catastrophes: greed (gold, spices, land), god (one exclusive to the victors), glory (, exceptionalism and notions of superiority cited with my italicized emphasis 3).

“The ‘Empty Land’ myth was invoked to justify massive land robberies.”

Subsequent anti-colonial struggles made land a central issue targeted for containment and reverse the dispossessing drives aggressively pursued by colonial and invading powers. This was testament to the unwitting assimilation of Eurocentric land ownership principles by the colonized as integral to their struggles to liberate themselves from the colonial yoke. An astute idea, terra nullius (4) or the “Empty Land” myth (5) was invoked to justify massive land robberies. Few, if any of the planet’s countries can claim to be without large swathes of empty, uninhabited lands within its borders, which, according to the logic implicit in such a notion, should invite occupation and appropriation from any and all comers. But this would invite derision and ridicule if aspirants to such land ownership were natives who summoned the same logic to occupy empty expanses of land. European prevalence is a God-given right; the coveting of White acquisitions by colored folks is a God-given curse — according to the precepts of exceptionalism, long before they were to be codified into quasi-legal frameworks.

Recently, South Africa’s parliament voted to seize White-owned land without compensation (6,7). Notice the subtle absurdity here: that Afrikaners had given serious thought to compensating Black South Africans for the land they stole. The South African measure had been in the pipeline for some time although few paid much attention. Zimbabwe had taken the “foolish” step of reclaiming land from White farmers that did not belong to the latter. Zimbabweans understood that the British settlers had not imported it from Britain. Foolish because as a result Zimbabwe was to suffer sanctions that drove their economy to near total ruin. Contrast that with Zionist Israel being rewarded for their dispossessing Palestinians with billions of American taxpayer dollars. Beyond that, any moves to push for divestment against this egregious Zionist policy is being criminalized in increasing numbers of states of the Union. Zimbabweans were being punished for claiming what was rightfully theirs, while Israel is compensated for what is expropriated. The idea that Zimbabweans could demand entitlements to lush farms in the English countryside, whatever the pretext, would be met with scorn and laughter, but that humor was lost on White settlers convinced that the lands they appropriated in the “dark continent” and other lands were theirs by right, just as British settlers had appropriated rich farmlands in Kenya and named them the “White” highlands.

“Zionist Israel was rewarded for their dispossessing Palestinians with billions of American taxpayer dollars.”

Western sanctions against Zimbabwe, contrary to claims of injustice, were driven by kinship sentiments. They were not borne out of White empathy for the woes of ordinary Zimbabweans who were hurt most by the sanctions. Bleeding Western hearts could have encouraged a more disciplined approach to the conundrum by sharing expertise in agriculture and farm management to help Zimbabwean farmers oversee smoother transition in farmland ownership and compensate their kinsfolk for appropriating land without consent of their owners, as the British had done in Kenya. Still, and despite the initial setbacks admitted by former President Mugabe, ten years on, there are signs of recovery with corn production now higher than at any time of White ownership of Zimbabwe’s farmlands, as is the production of other crops.

All said, there is a convergence of histories of Western settler, colonial and imperial expansion: massive land thefts and the social and economic isolation of natives. These actions would reflect in fact apartheid-like scenarios, but this term has been dropped and restricted to South Africa and Israel. Between 1776 and the present, in the US alone, an astounding 1.5 billion acres were seized from native inhabitants. This represents a land mass about 25 times the size of the United Kingdom. Not counting figures in Canada, South America, Australia and New Zealand. The combined land area of the Americas alone makes up 8% of the total surface area of the planet and over 28% of the planet’s land area. Australia accounts for a cool 5% of the earth’s land area. The Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia was emptied of its inhabitants to make way for an American military base; that is chicken feed by comparison.

Africa represented a different set of challenges. Much of its terrain possessed natural barriers to European settler appropriation: malaria and sleeping sickness. But lands that supported intensive farming practices in as far flung places as Kenya, Algeria, Zimbabwe, and South Africa were stolen with the ensuing anti-colonial struggles — particularly vicious in Algeria (2 million dead) and Kenya (estimates range between 11,000 to 90,000 casualties) — subsequently halting and reversing such thefts.

“Between 1776 and the present, in the US alone, an astounding 1.5 billion acres were seized from native inhabitants.”

Since the land redistribution announcement from Pretoria, White kinship passions seem to be gathering momentum: an online petition (8) calls on Trump to “take the steps necessary to initiate an emergency immigration plan allowing white Boers to come to the United States.” Boers may reside in a shithole continent, but their skin color still entitles them to privileges denied others devastated by American wars of aggression. Elsewhere, a member of the European Parliament (Janice Atkinson) recently wrote to British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson‚ urging the him to “mediate” with South African officials following the National Assembly’s passing of a motion to investigate land expropriation without compensation (9). She said she was a regular visitor to South Africa‚ and had followed the country’s “troubled history for years.” To this racist, South Africa’s “troubled history” began with the long overdue land reforms, not with decades-long racism and dispossession. Besides, Zionist Israel’s ongoing theft of Palestinian lands would scarcely justify such lofty mediation efforts. A seemingly progressive site as the UNZ Review had an uncommonly reactionary piece on this issue (10) whose concluding remarks speak mountains about kinship concerns trumping historical injustices and measures to redress them. “Most damningly, the country’s constitution has a clause devoted to ‘Limitation of Rights.’ Apparently, the constitutional ‘scholars’ who compiled the document saw no need to protect the rights of minorities ‘that [had] not been victims of past discrimination.’” Whatever happened to redressing balances for the overwhelming majority in place of continuing the untenable status quo initiated by an uninvited usurper?

Black kinship sentiments were not about to be upended on the issue of land reform. “…participants of the Summit of the Non-Alignment Movement held in Tanzania in 2003 gave unqualified political support to the Mugabe regime at virtually the same time that Australia, Britain and the United States (where is Canada, Israel and New Zealand when you need them? Italics supplied) were successfully pushing for the renewal and extension of ‘smart sanctions’ against Mugabe and his cronies. According to such an approach racial solidarity would be the driving force behind policy stances of African leaders, including Thabo Mbeki, towards the Zimbabwe crisis (12).” But racial solidarity initiated by Black Africans would be an aberration. Racial narratives and the refashioning of realities have been proceeding unchallenged from Europeans for so long that the idea that Africans and others can possess similar narratives has been total lost on them.

By Kweli Nzito/BlackAgendaReport

Posted by The NON-Conformist


Proof the American Dream Has Been Indefinitely Deferred An alarming new study finds that homeownership in the U.S. is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

For generations, homeownership and the equity that comes with it have symbolized the American Dream. But a recent study from the apartment search website RentCafe.com finds that in the aftermath of the Great Recession, homeowners now constitute a minority in 22 of the United States’ most populous cities. More and more, the U.S. is becoming a nation of renters, especially in its larger urban areas.

In January, RentCafe took an in-depth look at U.S. Census Bureau data from 2006-2016. During that 10-year period, the percentage of renters increased in 97 of the country’s 100 biggest cities. In San Diego, for example, the number of renters jumped from 47.9 percent of the population to 53.4 percent. Renters accounted for 47.3 percent of Chicago residents in 2006; in 2016, that number was 51.3 percent. Meanwhile, Memphis has seen its population of renters climb from 44.6 to 56.6 percent.

Other cities where renters have become more numerous than homeowners over the same 10-year period include Honolulu (56.1 percent in 2016 vs. 44.6 percent in 2006), Sacramento (50.3 percent in 2016 vs. 45.3 percent in 2006), Minneapolis (50.7 percent in 2016 vs. 44.5 percent in 2006), Reno (52.4 percent in 2016 vs. 47.8 percent in 2006), Baltimore (52.5 percent in 2016 vs. 45.5 percent in 2006), Austin, Texas (51.3 percent in 2016 vs. 48.4 percent in 2006), and Toledo, Ohio (50.3 percent in 2016 vs. 38.3 percent in 2006). RentCafe also notes that a number of cities, including New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Miami, already contained a majority of renters prior to 2006, and each saw their numbers grow.

The Great Recession, which officially began in December 2007 and accelerated with the crash of September 2008, has proven one of the largest impediments to homeownership, triggering the largest foreclosure crisis in nearly a century. After hundreds of thousands of Americans lost their homes in the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed the Homeowners Refinancing Act of 1933, which established the Homeowners Loan Corporation. Roosevelt saw homeownership as vital to maintaining a strong middle class, and his administration incentivized aspiring buyers with a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.

Prior to the New Deal, there was no such thing. Banks typically expected down payments of 50 percent and gave their clients five years to pay off the remaining half. As a result, a vast majority of Americans were renters when FDR first took office. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, national homeownership rates in the U.S. were only 45.6 percent in 1920 and 47.8 percent in 1930. But renters would become a minority nationally after World War II, as U.S. ownership rates climbed to 55 percent in 1950, 61.9 percent in 1960, 62.9 percent in 1970, 64.4 percent in 1980 and 64.2 percent in 1990.

Few renters in the U.S. are presently doing so out of personal preference. A 2016 Pew survey found that 72 percent hoped to become homeowners someday if they could afford it, while a Trulia survey from 2017 revealed that a majority of renters regretted not owning a home.

Skyrocketing rents and home prices, property tax hikes, student loan debt, stagnant wages and tougher requirements for mortgages have all made homeownership more difficult for millennials than previous generations. It’s a vicious cycle: Because no one can afford to buy, the demand for rental units increases, resulting in higher prices that make saving toward a down payment all but impossible. Exacerbating matters, the Trump administration has scrapped an Obama-era policy of lowering fees for mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration. The National Association of Realtors estimates that in 2017, this decision likely kept as many as 40,000 potential home buyers out of the market.

The U.S. Census Bureau announced that in the fourth quarter of 2017, the national homeownership rate was 64.2 percent, just two percent lower than it was in 2000. But a closer look at individual cities, even those considered relatively affordable compared to New York City or San Francisco, reveals that homeownership has been steadily declining. In Philadelphia, for instance, homeownership has decreased while rents, home prices and property taxes have all gone up. (Mayor Jim Kenney has recently proposed a 6 percent property tax hike, the latest in a series of increases.)

In Philly’s Graduate Hospital area, median prices for single-family homes rose from $86,000 in 1997 to $275,000 in 2007, while in Fishtown (another gentrified area), rowhouses that sold for $30,000 in the early 1990s now cost $250,000 and up. Philly’s homeownership rate decreased from 59.3 percent in 2000 to 52.2 percent in 2012, good for a 7.1 percent drop. Over that same period, Phoenix, Milwaukee and El Paso saw declines of 7.8, 4 and 3.1 percent respectively.
Wages simply haven’t kept pace with climbing home prices. MSN.com reports that since 2012, median prices increased by 73 percent in the U.S., while average weekly wages have risen just 13 percent.
Obtaining a mortgage can be especially difficult in the gig economy, which comprised 16 percent of U.S. workers in 2017. In December, Fannie Mae reported that most gig economy workers who are still renting would like to purchase a home in the future but acknowledge it would be “difficult to get a mortgage, and cite down payment and credit as the biggest obstacles to getting one.”
U.S. banks typically prefer a 20 percent down payment for the self-employed. If a house costs $250,000, that’s $50,000 plus closing—no small task for a freelancer coping with high rents, self-employment taxes and the exorbitant costs of health insurance.
Like FDR before him, Lyndon Johnson firmly believed in increasing the amount of homeownership in the U.S., creating the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1965. HUD has proven invaluable for both renters and first-time homeowners, but President Trump’s contempt for the department is obvious. His administration’s initial budget for the 2019 fiscal year included an $8.8 billion cut to the agency, a slap in the face to millions of lower-income earners.

When Newt Gingrich addressed a Heritage Foundation gathering in December 2016, the former speaker of the House of Representatives predicted the Trump administration would eradicate what’s left of the New Deal and the Great Society. The country’s plummeting homeownership numbers suggest his dark prophecy is slowly coming true.

By Alex Henderson / AlterNet

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Needs go unmet 6 months after Maria hit Puerto Rico

Generators are still humming. Candles are still flickering. Homes are still being repaired.

Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria exactly six months ago, and the U.S. territory is still struggling to recover from the strongest storm to hit the island in nearly a century.

“There are a lot of people with needs,” said Levid Ortiz, operating director of PR4PR, a local nonprofit that helps impoverished communities across the island. “It shouldn’t be like this. We should already be back on our feet.”

Some 250 Puerto Ricans formed a line around him on a recent weekday, standing for more than two hours to receive bottles of water and a box of food at a public basketball court in the mountain town of Corozal. Many of those waiting were still without power, including 23-year-old Keishla Quiles, a single mother with a 4-year-old son who still buys ice every day to fill a cooler to keep milk and other goods cold amid rising temperatures.

“Since we’re a family of few resources, we have not been able to afford a generator,” she said. “It’s been hard living like this.”

Crews already have restored water to 99 percent of clients and power to 93 percent of customers, but more than 100,000 of them still remain in the dark and there are frequent power outages. Justo Gonzalez, interim director for Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority, said he expects the entire island to have power by May, eight months after the Category 4 storm destroyed two-thirds of the island’s power distribution system — and just as the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season is about to start.

More from the Washington Post via Google News 

Posted by Libergirl

Venezuela town issues own currency amid cash shortages

Local officials said that the currency would make it easier for residents and visitors to trade during the town’s festivities, which start on Monday.

They said rampant hyperinflation and a scarcity of bolivares, the national currency, had affected trade in Elorza.

The new currency can be bought at the mayor’s office via bank transfer.

The paper bills feature the face of independence hero José Andrés Elorza and, like the town, are named after him.

“People don’t have bolivares to spend, that’s why we have created bills of two denominations… and we’ve already sold 2bn bolivares worth,” mayor Solfreddy Solórzano, from the governing PSUV party, said.

Local businessman Canuto García explained that the town came up with the idea after it noticed that at local festivities in nearby cities “money did not flow”

More from BBC News

Posted by Libergirl

The War on the Post Office

U.S. Postal Service truck. (Alexander Marks / Wikimedia)

The U.S. banking establishment has been at war with the post office since at least 1910, when the Postal Savings Bank Act established a public savings alternative to a private banking system that had crashed the economy in the Bank Panic of 1907. The American Bankers Association was quick to respond, forming a Special Committee on Postal Savings Legislation to block any extension of the new service. According to a September 2017 article in The Journal of Social History titled “ ‘Banks of the People’: The Life and Death of the U.S. Postal Savings System,” the banking fraternity would maintain its enmity toward the government savings bank for the next 50 years.

As far back as the late 19th century, support for postal savings had united a nationwide coalition of workers and farmers who believed that government policy should prioritize their welfare over private business interests. Advocates noted that most of the civilized nations of the world maintained postal savings banks, providing depositors with a safe haven against repeated financial panics and bank failures. Today, postal banks that are wholly or majority owned by government are still run successfully, not just in developing countries, but in France, Switzerland, Israel, Korea, India, New Zealand, Japan, China and other industrialized nations.

The U.S. Postal Savings System came into its own during the banking crisis of the early 1930s, when it became the national alternative to a private banking system that people could not trust. Demands increased to expand its services to include affordable loans. Alarmed bankers called it the “Postal Savings Menace” and warned that it could result in the destruction of the entire private banking system.

Rather than expanding the Postal Savings System, the response of President Franklin Roosevelt was to buttress the private banking system with public guarantees, including FDIC deposit insurance. That put private banks in the enviable position of being able to keep their profits while their losses were covered by the government. Deposit insurance, along with a statutory cap on the interest paid on postal savings, caused postal banking to lose its edge. In 1957, under President Eisenhower, the head of the government bureau responsible for the Postal Savings System called for its abolition, arguing that “it is desirable that the government withdraw from competitive private business at every point.” Legislation to liquidate the Postal Savings System was passed in 1966. One influential right-wing commentator, celebrating an ideological victory, said: “It is even conceivable that we might transfer post offices to private hands altogether.”

Targeted for Takedown

The push for privatization of the U.S. Postal Service has continued to the present. The USPS is the nation’s second-largest civilian employer after Walmart and has been successfully self-funded without taxpayer support throughout its long history, but it is currently struggling to stay afloat. This is not, as sometimes asserted, because it has been made obsolete by the internet. In fact, the post office has gotten more business from internet orders than it has lost to electronic email.

What has pushed the USPS into insolvency is an oppressive congressional mandate that was included almost as a footnote in the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA), which requires the USPS to prefund health care for its workers 75 years into the future. No other entity, public or private, has the burden of funding multiple generations of employees yet unborn. The prefunding mandate is so blatantly unreasonable as to raise suspicions that the nation’s largest publicly owned industry has been intentionally targeted for takedown.

What has saved the post office for the time being is the large increase in its package deliveries for Amazon and other internet sellers. But as The Nation notes in a February 2018 article by Jake Bittle titled “Postal-Service Workers Are Shouldering the Burden for Amazon,” this onslaught of new business is a mixed blessing. Postal workers welcome the work, but packages are much

harder to deliver than letters, and management has not stepped up its hiring to relieve the increased stress on carriers or upgraded their antiquated trucks. The USPS simply does not have the funds.

Bittle observes that for decades, Republicans have painted the USPS as a prime example of government inefficiency. But there is no reason for it to be struggling since it has successfully sustained itself with postal revenue for two centuries. What has fueled conservative arguments that it should be privatized is the manufactured crisis created by the PAEA. Unless that regulation can be repealed, the USPS may not survive without another source of funding, since Amazon is now expanding its own delivery service rather than continuing to rely on the post office. Postal banking could fill the gap, but the USPS has been hamstrung by the PAEA, which allows it to perform only postal services such as delivery of letters and packages and “other functions ancillary thereto,” including money orders, international transfers and gift cards.

Renewing the Postal Banking Push

Meanwhile, the need for postal banking is present and growing. According to the Campaign for Postal Banking, nearly 28 percent of U.S. households are underserved by traditional banks. Over 4 million workers without a bank account receive pay on a payroll card and spend $40-$50 per month on ATM fees just to access their pay. The average underserved household spends $2,412 annually—nearly 10 percent of gross income—in fees and interest for non-bank financial services. More than 30,000 post offices peppered across the country could service these needs.

The push to revive postal banking picked up after January 2014, when the USPS inspector general released a white paper making the case for postal banks and arguing that many financial services could be introduced without new congressional action. The cause was also taken up by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and polling showed that it had popular support.

In a January 2018 article in Slate, “Bank of America Just Reminded Us of Why We Need Postal Banking,” Jordan Weissman observes that Bank of America has now ended the free checking service on which lower-income depositors have long relied. He cites a Change.org petition protesting the move, which notes that Bank of America was one of the sole remaining brick-and-mortar banks offering free checking accounts to its customers. “Bank of America was known to care for both their high income and low-income customers,” said the petition. “That is what made Bank of America different.” But Weissman is more skeptical, writing:

What this news mostly shows is that we shouldn’t rely on for-profit financial institutions to provide basic, essential services to the needy. We should rely on the post office.

In spite of what some of its customers may have thought, Bank of America never cared very much about its poorer depositors. That’s because banks don’t care about people. They care about profits. And lower-middle class households who have trouble maintaining a minimum balance in a checking account are, by and large, not very profitable customers, unless they’re paying out the nose in overdraft fees.

Those modest accounts won’t be hugely profitable for the Postal Service either, but postal banking can be profitable through economies of scale and the elimination of profit-taking middlemen, as postal banks globally have demonstrated. The USPS could also act immediately to expand and enhance certain banking products and services within its existing mandate, without additional legislation. According to the Campaign for Postal Banking, these services include international and domestic money transfers, bill pay, general-purpose reloadable postal cards, check-cashing, ATMs, savings services and partnerships with government agencies to provide payments of government benefits and other services.

A more lucrative source of postal revenue was also suggested by the inspector general: The USPS could expand into retail lending for underserved sectors of the economy, replacing the usurious payday loans that can wipe out the paychecks of the underbanked. To critics who say that government cannot be trusted to run a lending business efficiently, advocates need only point to China. According to Peter Pham in a March 2018 article for Forbes titled “Who’s Winning the War for China’s Banking Sector?”:

One of the largest retail banks is the Postal Savings Bank of China. In 2016 retail banking accounted for 70 percent of this bank’s service package. Counting about 40,000 branches and servicing more than 500 million separate clients, the Postal Savings Bank’s asset quality is among the best. Moreover, it has significantly more growth potential than other Chinese retail banks.

Neither foreign banks nor private domestic retail banks can compete with this very successful Chinese banking giant, which is majority owned by the government. And that may be the real reason for the suppression of postal banking in the United States. Bankers continue to fear that postal banks could replace them with a public option—one that is safer, more efficient, more stable and more trusted than the private financial institutions that have repeatedly triggered panics and bank failures, with more predicted on the horizon.

By Ellen Brown/truthdig

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The Racist Origin of the Second Amendment and the Rise of Black Gun Ownership

Two members of the Black Panther Party are met on the steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento, May 2, 1967, by Police Lt. Ernest Holloway, who informs them they will be allowed to keep their weapons as long as they cause no trouble and do not disturb the peace. Earlier several members had entered the Assembly chambers and had their guns taken away.Two members of the Black Panther Party are met on the steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento, May 2, 1967, by Police Lt. Ernest Holloway, who informs them they will be allowed to keep their weapons as long as they cause no trouble and do not disturb the peace. Earlier several members had entered the Assembly chambers and had their guns taken away.

Siwatu-Salama Ra, 26, will likely spend the next two years in a Michigan prison. In early February, a Wayne County jury found the six-months pregnant Black mother of a toddler guilty of felonious assault and felony firearm possession. She was sentenced last week.

Outside her mother’s Detroit home last summer, she pulled a gun on a neighbor, who Ra says used her vehicle to hit her car with Ra’s 2-year-old daughter inside, and then tried to “run over” her and her mother. The firearm was not discharged, in fact, Ra alleged the gun was not even loaded. Her attorneys argued that her actions were in self-defense. An appeal is underway.

Ra is a Concealed Pistol License holder. Her case — which centers on self-defense with a firearm in a Stand Your Ground state — is happening during a national debate over gun laws and the Second Amendment, which states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The debate over an individual’s right to bear arms was reignited since last month’s mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, where 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz took 17 lives, has been framed as yet another partisan conflict that has divided the country. Those on the right support the Second Amendment, and those on the left are calling for either its repeal, or tighter gun control. But the reality is more nuanced: some on the right support gun law reform, and some on the left support the Second Amendment.

In particular, many people of color say they have good reason to be protective of their right to bear arms.

In Dallas, Texas, Yafeuh Balogun describes himself as being “on the left side of things” even though in 2008 he co-founded Guerrilla Mainframe, a political organization that supports the Second Amendment and the basic right to defend yourself. Guerrilla Mainframe is also a community organization that provides programs for food, clothing and shelter, health and wellness, and self-defense, which includes firearms safety and training. It is part of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, a coalition of several organizations with a common goal of educating and arming African American communities to “defend themselves against police brutality and fratricide.”

“I think a lot of people, especially African Americans, are really starting to wake up to the idea of self-defense, especially when we have a megalomanic like Donald Trump in office.”

Balogun seems to be correct. Gun sales, and gun club memberships among African Americans have gone up since the election of Trump, whose campaign was backed by the National Rifle Association. However, gun sales in the overall population have gone down since the election.

After the Parkland shooting, corporations such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kroger, and Walmart raised the minimum age for firearm sales from 18 to 21. The Florida Legislature also raised the state age for gun purchases to 21. But reform advocates don’t think that goes far enough. They’re calling for a ban of assault rifles, such as the AR-15, which has been a weapon of choice for mass shooters. Some are even calling for a repeal of the Second Amendment.

Balogun doesn’t think banning assault weapons will stop the violence — mass shootings, or otherwise. “It is the culture, the political climate, [racism, capitalism, imperialism, sexism/genderism, and anti-immigrant policies] in America that creates the violence. America has always been a very violent place from its inception. So, banning assault weapons does not cure it.”

And he may be right, according to historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.

Dunbar-Ortiz writes in her new book, Loaded: A Disarming of the Second Amendment, “While gun-rights proponents are hard-pressed to offer a legitimate reason for civilians to own assault weapons, they are used in a very small proportion of gun crimes. Most crimes involve ordinary handguns.”

The type of gun, Dunbar-Ortiz asserts, is not the problem. The problem is that people want to interpret the Second Amendment as being about more than individual rights.

Total gun deaths in the United States average around 37,000 a year, she writes, “with two-thirds of those deaths being suicide, leaving 12,000 homicides, a thousand of those at the hands of police.” Mass shootings, although horrible enough, account for only 2 percent of gun killings annually.

In an interview, Dunbar-Ortiz explained that the right to have a gun comes from the Bill of Rights. “And the Bill of Rights is about individual rights,” which at the time it was written meant the rights of White men who needed guns to dominate slaves and Native Americans.

There’s a misconception that the Second Amendment is about state’s rights and arming a military. It’s not, she says. The establishment of a standing army is in the Constitution. The establishment of formal militias, which became the modern-day National Guard, is in the body of the Constitution — it’s constitutional law, she adds. Collective rights are already in the Constitution.

“So the Bill of Rights is the right for each individual to practice whatever religion they want, freedom of speech, and so forth. And to arm themselves.” There was a period in time, she said, when it was against the law for the new settlers not to carry a weapon.

“But it doesn’t work for freedom movements,” said Dunbar-Ortiz. “It was created for domination of people of color — for slave patrols, and militias to kill Indians. So, it still has that element”: Now it is used to criminalize people of color, she said.

Throughout history, gun control laws have been used against people of color as a tool to invite brutal state responses. Consider the Black Panthers who armed themselves, the Native Americans who fought in the Battle of Wounded Knee, Black Lives Matter protesters, the Standing Rock uprising.

We’ve witnessed it more recently for individuals like Philando Castile, who was killed by a fearful police officer in 2016 for legally having a firearm during a traffic stop.

In 2012, a Black Florida woman, Marissa Alexander, was sentenced to 20 years for firing a gun at her estranged husband who she said was attacking her. She had a permit for the gun. Since her release last year after serving five years, she has sided with Florida Republicans and become an advocate for gun ownership and stand-your-ground defenses.

In fact, many Black people are against tighter gun laws because those laws, even more so than drug laws, continue to be used disproportionately to put them into the criminal system.

According to the 2009 report Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the US Criminal Justice System, Black people are arrested for weapons crimes at a rate 4.4 times higher than White people. FBI data for 2016 shows weapons violations at the city, state, and federal level were used to arrest Black people 42 percent of the time, and White people 56 percent. Black people make up 13 percent of the population.

Chanel Tillman of the Black Gun Owners Association in Jacksonville, Florida, said she could only imagine the horrors for people of color if gun laws were reformed.

“If they can remove firearms like that from the masses, that basically…takes them away from us,” Tillman said. “And honestly, I think that’s the biggest part of it [for us]. You can guarantee that there will be some kind of loophole that will affect Black and Brown people more than anybody else.”

Our motto is “Stay armed. Live free.” If you take our guns from us, she said, we are no longer free. “Then they are free to do whatever they want to us, and we have no way to protect ourselves.”

Tillman co-founded the Jacksonville chapter last September, and it now has 32 members.

She said she’s aware the origin of the Second Amendment was to arm White people against people of color and also understands Dunbar-Ortiz’s position that we’re not really “free” if we have to carry guns to protect us.

But, she said, “why worry, if you know you have the ability to protect yourself? You don’t have to worry about it. You just have to be proactive and ready when the time comes.”

And this is the message the national Black Gun Owners Association shares with its membership of 10,000 legal gun owners. Its one-year anniversary is in April.

“Safety and protection of family, that’s the biggest thing. And making sure we’re aware of our rights.” Firearm safety and tactical training are part of what members receive, too, she said, and someone to look out for them.

The association is not a political organization, she said, but exists for their community “to get an understanding of firearm safety and obtain proper training with people who look like them and share the same concerns as them for our people.”

Gun ownership among Black people is about the same things as for White People, she says. “Protection of self, family and property. Gun ownership has always been taught as a pseudoscience for Blacks because of slavery and Jim Crow. We aren’t here to hurt anyone, but protecting our own will come first.”

“We just want people like us to know there are gun advocate groups that are here for them,” she said. “The NRA comes out when things happen to White people, but when things happen to Black people you don’t hear from the NRA,” she said. “So, we’re hoping to bridge that gap. Somebody to stand for us when there’s a gun crime against one of us.”

Meanwhile, Detroit attorney Desiree Ferguson, who is advising on the appeal for Siwatu-Salama Ra’s Second Amendment defense, expects an uphill battle.

Appeals take a long time, and there’s a good probability that Ra could have served the two years by the time there’s a resolution. The hope, Ferguson said, lies with the governor’s office and a possible pardon or commutation. She is also hoping to get Ra released on bond pending the appeal “so that she can be with her family when she gives birth. And not have to be immediately severed from her newborn baby.”

What is certain is that gun control and Second Amendment debates do not clearly line up as left-right issues, and many people of color are faced with uneasy support for a civil right that began as a way to oppress them.

Author Dunbar-Ortiz says, if more people on the left understood the history of the Second Amendment and how it’s been used against people of color, she doubts they would support it.

“They don’t need the Second Amendment to justify self-defense. That’s an international human right. That’s a basic human right.”

By Zenobia Jeffries, YES! Magazine

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Republicans Got Greedy With Gerrymandering. Now It’s Coming Back To Haunt Them. “It just was so nakedly partisan.”

When Thomas Hofeller travelled across the country at the beginning of the decade to talk to lawmakers about the redistricting process, he brought a warning: “Don’t get cute.”

Republicans were fresh off a remarkably successful effort to take control of state legislatures so they could control the redistricting process ― a significant victory, because redistricting is only done every 10 years. Hofeller, a veteran Republican redistricting consultant and mapmaker, cautioned lawmakers against drawing “stupid irregularities” in boundaries obviously contorted to include voters likely to support them, The Atlantic reported.

But in 2011, Republicans were focused on maximizing every possible advantage they could squeeze out of the redistricting project, and saw an opportunity to entrench their control of at least 20 seats in the U.S. House. They took it.

Republicans have since enjoyed considerable advantage from those maps. According to an estimate by the Brennan Center for Justice, Republican gerrymandering accounts for 16 or 17 GOP seats in the current Congress that the party may not otherwise control.

But now, that gerrymandering greed of Republicans is coming back to haunt them.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in January struck down the congressional map state Republicans drew, saying it was so partisan that it violated the state constitution. That same month, a panel of three federal judges struck down North Carolina’s congressional map. In October, the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument in a Wisconsin case may set a standard for defining unconstitutional gerrymandering on partisan grounds. (The court also will consider a case challenging a Democratic gerrymander in Maryland at the end of March.)

As these legal contests settle out, it’s worth looking back on how the GOP got here.

The reckoning Republicans are seeing now is one that could have been avoided, lawyers and redistricting experts say, had the GOP not been so ruthless.

Both Democrats and Republicans have gerrymandered in the past to their advantage, but Republicans took it to a new level in 2011. In an amicus brief to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, political science professors Keith Gaddie and Bernard Grofman wrote that there was as much as three times more partisan bias in congressional maps this decade than in ones drawn in 2000. Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a law professor at the University of Chicago helping challenge a Wisconsin map, said a “dramatic number” of the worst gerrymanders of the last half-century have occurred since 2010.

Until the courts began stepping in, Republican gerrymandering paid off. From 2012 to 2016, the GOP won 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional seats, even though the party’s candidates only got around half of the vote. In Ohio, the party consistently won 12 of 16 congressional seats, but 50 percent of the statewide vote. In Wisconsin, they won at least 60 of 99 state assembly seats, with about half of the popular vote.

As a lawyer, Stephanopoulos said the clear egregiousness of the Republican redistricting made it easier to show something was amiss. It would have been harder to make a case, he said, if Republicans had only been winning slim majorities.

“In Wisconsin, if Republicans had been winning a narrow majority of the statehouse with roughly a tied election, Democrats would have been upset by that, but it probably wouldn’t have risen to a major constitutional challenge,” Stephanopoulos said.

Republican mapmakers in 2011 may have been emboldened by a 2004 U.S. Supreme Court case in which justices declined to strike down Pennsylvania’s congressional plan on partisan grounds.

Republicans could have been cautious. They could have drawn maps that benefitted their party, but at the same time were fairer, compact and contiguous, said Jeffrey Wice, a Washington lawyer who has worked with Democrats on redistricting issues. The Constitution gives state lawmakers the broad responsibility of drawing electoral districts, and the GOP maps would have stood up better against judicial scrutiny had lawmakers offered public justification in their legislatures for the boundaries, Wice added.

“You can draw a plan to benefit a party, but do so in a fair way through a more transparent, objective process that follows criteria,” Wice said. “If politicians weren’t as greedy and secretive, then we wouldn’t be seeing as many challenges to plans for the egregious overreaching in the last round.”

In many cases, Republicans didn’t offer a defensible justification. In North Carolina, a Republican said his party’s lawmakers drew a map that gave Republicans a 10-3 advantage because he didn’t see a way to draw one that was 11-2. In Wisconsin, GOP lawmakers sought to avoid scrutiny by hiring a law firm to draw the maps, hoping the work would be hidden by attorney-client privilege.

Without a public explanation for the redrawn boundaries, it’s easier for those challenging the maps to claim Republicans intended to dilute Democratic votes.

Michael Li, redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center, pointed to the GOP-drawn congressional map in Pennsylvania as a good example of a brazen Republican attempt to maximize control. The districts were clearly contorted into odd-looking shapes, and there was no attempt to explain why ― other than partisan advantage.

“The 2011 map in Pennsylvania resulted in such contorted districts, it was hard to explain away as product of neutral decisions, such as about keeping towns or counties together. It just was so nakedly partisan,” Li said in an email. ”That’s not to say a map that was less contorted couldn’t have been challenged if it also produced durable bias in favor of a party. But at least there would be a colorable defense that a court would have to take seriously.”

Such strong evidence also could make it more palatable for courts to wade into political redistricting ― a topic the judiciary had long avoided.

“The courts are going to police outlier cases, rather than trying to wade into each and every one,” said Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “The same principle’s true in any kind of discrimination: The more blatant, the easier it is to establish, and the more likely the courts are to call it out.”

Even if the Supreme Court does decide Republicans went too far with gerrymandering, its anticipated ruling in the spring would likely come too late to affect this year’s congressional elections, and wouldn’t have an impact on maps until at least 2020. Even if Republicans lose the ability to gerrymander in the future, their ruthlessness will have helped them for nearly an entire decade.

Ed Gillespie, the former Republican National Committee chair who oversaw the party’s effort to target state legislatures, envisioned that kind of success. In 2011 talking points, obtained by journalist David Daley, Gillespie thanked donors who had given to the party’s effort to make gains in state legislatures. He said Republicans hadn’t waste a “drop” of their money on state races, and had made “maximum impact.”

By Sam Levine/HuffPost

Posted by The NON-Conformist