Category Archives: Education

Power vs. Equality: Malcolm X Sought Not to Change America But to Change Black People

Today, May 19, marks what would’ve been Malcolm X’s 92ndbirthday. It also marks an appropriate time in the history of Black America to think about the ideological paradigm shift Malcolm ushered in during the 1960s that still holds some sway over a significant portion of those who are left-leaning organizers and social justice advocates. Enough sway that, even if not practiced by said leaders, it must be acknowledged as a touchstone of Black political thought.

Through his organizing, speeches and posthumously published autobiography, Malcolm almost single-handedly re-popularized the ideas of self-sufficiency, self-determination and Black nationalism. Malcolm X did not invent the concepts he espoused, those were learned from his parents as followers of Marcus Garvey, from his study in prison and, later, as the architect of the Nation of Islam’s growth under Elijah Muhammad.

Malcolm practiced the the art of creating power, not policy change. Creating institutions and organizations, cultural practices, agreements and governance in all areas of life. Financial, political, military, economic and social power was always Malcolm’s goal, even after he was forced out of the Nation. Malcolm, until his untimely death, attempted to create real community and society, ideas best suited to create the bonds of fraternity and the best path away from subjugation or exploitation from other groups, the very concepts that allowed the United States to exist and break away from its British brethren.

The exploration of such models of self-determination has always been attempted in limited ways by Black people in America, both during and post-enslavement. The ideas of maroon societies, creating Black cities, Black Wall Street and such are an outgrowth not only of fighting racial oppression but also of building Black-controlled spaces for development of Black people. The outcomes of these experiments were closely scrutinized by the dominant race and as Malcolm experienced himself, the experiments with creating power were terminated or marginalized via various methods when white people or the government institutions that protect the interest of some of those white people deemed those experiments dangerous or not in the best interest of the larger American project.

It is through this exercise of fighting all attempts of Black advancement that the dominant society, through its liberal wing and institutions, settled on accepting an ideological model that inspired hope among Black people while offering pride among liberal whites that they were better than their conservative counterparts: The equality model.

Except for the Garvey period in the early 1920s and an eight-year ascendancy of the Black Power movement from 1965 to about 1973, the dominant post-reconstruction theory of Black freedom in the United States has been based on an equality model. That model has certain pre-conditions that must be accepted by the minority group. The primary one is that the United States is innately moral and good and that any history of enslavement, genocide or militarism both here and abroad are aberrations and are not to be held up as the true character of the country. Once this “fact” is accepted, the minority group must then seek to reconcile its own existence in American society by accepting the inherent goodness of the majority population and the future hope that this goodness will pave the way for structural changes, allowing said minority to find its assimilated place within the culture and norms of the dominant group. The minority group must demonstrate through perseverance and persuasion that it deserves more rights and more access. The majority group, once assured of its own physical and financial safety from the minority group, may then allow more rights to the minority group on a trial basis. Those who qualify for the most additional societal rights are the leaders, who agree to practice the equality model to “open” this society up at a pace agreed upon.

The equality model survives as the dominant theory of change within the United States because of several factors: The use of propaganda, the threat of violence, the use of violence and, most importantly today, the sharing of some resources and access to institutional players and positions.

Propaganda is used effectively by the government and its leaders, the corporate media, civil society institutions, and arts and educational institutions to portray the United States as either infallible or just and righteous in its cause, whatever that cause may be. There is the acceptance of mistakes, but those are considered aberrations, including genocide and enslavement. The threat of violence as a system of control is constant. It is apparent in the number of people imprisoned, the institutions that surveil and the militarized nature of local law enforcement. The use of violence by the citizenry through ritualistic killings (lynching, church and home burnings, “stand your ground” killings and mass shootings) and the state criminal-justice apparatus (over-policing, extrajudicial police killings, discriminatory use of the death penalty) keep people scared of the possible consequences of government action.

Lastly, giving Black intellectuals and thought leaders access to funding, media and elite institutions persuades those leaders that, when confronted with the bright line of U.S. racism, it is in their best interest to step away from the natural conclusion that white supremacy is systemic and equality is, therefore, unachievable. Instead, these leaders suggest everything is fixable through protest and policy change. The resources given by liberal white institutions may be well intended, but they are given usually with the reassurance that the equality model will be the primary lens used to suggest change, despite any “radical” language needed to rile up the base.

The outcomes of this equality model continue to suggest that this equality, so long sought for, is no closer to being achieved than it ever was. From the continued disproportionate wealth gap to living conditions across racial lines, from educational gaps to the percentage of owners/leaders of almost every major U.S. institution, the idea that racial equality is an attainable goal is obliterated by almost any study you can find. Yet, those who struggle onward using the equality model keep plugging away. Is it that they can’t read the statistics? Are they blind to the election of a president who supports white supremacy attitudes and policies? Do they believe this is the only workable model? Or is it that, for those leaders, the access to positions and resources is too hard to resist? Some suggest that the soon-to-come demographic shifts that will reduce the population size of the white majority will give us more equality. However, the country of South Africa and every majority-Black city in the U.S. should serve as a stark reminder that mere population majorities don’t result in an equal sharing or redistribution of wealth, ownership or control.

Following the equality model may be good for thought leaders and nonprofit institutional leaders, but can it give substantial amounts of freedom from the fear of white backlash? As Malcolm X stated, “I just don’t believe that when people are being unjustly oppressed that they should let someone else set rules for them by which they can come out from under that oppression.”

By Kamau Franklin/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The Death of the Republic

Mr. Fish / Truthdig

The deep state’s decision in ancient Rome—dominated by a bloated military and a corrupt oligarchy, much like the United States of 2017—to strangle the vain and idiotic Emperor Commodus in his bath in the year 192 did not halt the growing chaos and precipitous decline of the Roman Empire.

Commodus, like a number of other late Roman emperors, and like President Trump, was incompetent and consumed by his own vanity. He commissioned innumerable statues of himself as Hercules and had little interest in governance. He used his position as head of state to make himself the star of his own ongoing public show. He fought victoriously as a gladiator in the arena in fixed bouts. Power for Commodus, as it is for Trump, was primarily about catering to his bottomless narcissism, hedonism and lust for wealth. He sold public offices so the ancient equivalents of Betsy DeVos and Steve Mnuchin could orchestrate a vast kleptocracy.

Commodus was replaced by the reformer Pertinax, the Bernie Sanders of his day, who attempted in vain to curb the power of the Praetorian Guards, the ancient version of the military-industrial complex. This effort saw the Praetorian Guards assassinate Pertinax after he was in power only three months. The Guards then auctioned off the office of emperor to the highest bidder. The next emperor, Didius Julianus, lasted 66 days. There would be five emperors in A.D. 193, the year after the assassination of Commodus. Trump and our decaying empire have ominous historical precedents. If the deep state replaces Trump, whose ineptitude and imbecility are embarrassing to the empire, that action will not restore our democracy any more than replacing Commodus restored democracy in Rome. Our republic is dead.

Societies that once were open and had democratic traditions are easy prey for the enemies of democracy. These demagogues pay deference to the patriotic ideals, rituals, practices and forms of the old democratic political system while dismantling it. When the Roman Emperor Augustus—he referred to himself as the “first citizen”—neutered the republic, he was careful to maintain the form of the old republic. Lenin and the Bolsheviks did the same when they seized and crushed the autonomous soviets. Even the Nazis and the Stalinists insisted they ruled democratic states. Thomas Paine wrote that despotic government is a fungus that grows out of a corrupt civil society. This is what happened to these older democracies. It is what happened to us.

Our constitutional rights—due process, habeas corpus, privacy, a fair trial, freedom from exploitation, fair elections and dissent—have been taken from us by judicial fiat. These rights exist only in name. The vast disconnect between the purported values of the state and reality renders political discourse absurd.

Corporations, cannibalizing the federal budget, legally empower themselves to exploit and pillage. It is impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs or ExxonMobil. The pharmaceutical and insurance industries can hold sick children hostage while their parents bankrupt themselves trying to save their sons or daughters. Those burdened by student loans can never wipe out the debt by declaring bankruptcy. In many states, those who attempt to publicize the conditions in the vast factory farms where diseased animals are warehoused for slaughter can be charged with a criminal offense. Corporations legally carry out tax boycotts. Companies have orchestrated free trade deals that destroy small farmers and businesses and deindustrialize the country. Labor unions and government agencies designed to protect the public from contaminated air, water and food and from usurious creditors and lenders have been defanged. The Supreme Court, in an inversion of rights worthy of George Orwell, defines unlimited corporate contributions to electoral campaigns as a right to petition the government or a form of free speech. Much of the press, owned by large corporations, is an echo chamber for the elites. State and city enterprises and utilities are sold to corporations that hike rates and deny services to the poor. The educational system is being slowly privatized and turned into a species of vocational training.

Wages are stagnant or have declined. Unemployment and underemployment—masked by falsified statistics—have thrust half the country into chronic poverty. Social services are abolished in the name of austerity. Culture and the arts have been replaced by sexual commodification, banal entertainment and graphic depictions of violence. The infrastructure, neglected and underfunded, is collapsing. Bankruptcies, foreclosures, arrests, food shortages and untreated illnesses that lead to early death plague a harried underclass. The desperate flee into an underground economy dominated by drugs, crime and human trafficking. The state, rather than address the economic misery, militarizes police departments and empowers them to use lethal force against unarmed civilians. It fills the prisons with 2.3 million citizens, only a tiny percentage of whom had a trial. One million prisoners work for corporations inside prisons as modern-day slaves.

The amendments of the Constitution, designed to protect the citizen from tyranny, are meaningless. The Fourth Amendment, for example, reads: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” The reality is that our telephone calls, emails, texts and financial, judicial and medical records, along with every website we visit and our physical travels, are tracked, recorded and stored in perpetuity in government computer banks.

The state tortures, not only in black sites such as those at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or at Guantanamo Bay, but also in supermax ADX [administrative maximum] facilities such as the one at Florence, Colo., where inmates suffer psychological breakdowns from prolonged solitary confinement. Prisoners, although they are citizens, endure around-the-clock electronic monitoring and 23-hour-a-day lockdowns. They undergo extreme sensory deprivation. They endure beatings. They must shower and go to the bathroom on camera. They can write only one letter a week to one relative and cannot use more than three pieces of paper. They often have no access to fresh air and take their one hour of daily recreation in a huge cage that resembles a treadmill for hamsters.

The state uses “special administrative measures,” known as SAMs, to strip prisoners of their judicial rights. SAMs restrict prisoners’ communication with the outside world. They end calls, letters and visits with anyone except attorneys and sharply limit contact with family members. Prisoners under SAMs are not permitted to see most of the evidence against them because of a legal provision called the Classified Information Procedures Act, or CIPA. CIPA, begun under the Reagan administration, allows evidence in a trial to be classified and withheld from those being prosecuted. You can be tried and convicted, like Joseph K. in Franz Kafka’s “The Trial,” without ever seeing the evidence used to find you guilty. Under SAMs, it is against the law for those who have contact with an inmate—including attorneys—to speak about his or her physical and psychological conditions.

And when prisoners are released, they have lost the right to vote and receive public assistance and are burdened with fines that, if unpaid, will put them back behind bars. They are subject to arbitrary searches and arrests. They spend the rest of their lives marginalized as members of a vast criminal caste.

The executive branch of government has empowered itself to assassinate U.S. citizens. It can call the Army into the streets to quell civil unrest under Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which ended a prohibition on the military acting as a domestic police force. The executive branch can order the military to seize U.S. citizens deemed to be terrorists or associated with terrorists. This is called “extraordinary rendition.” Those taken into custody by the military can be denied due process and habeas corpus rights and held indefinitely in military facilities. Activists and dissidents, whose rights were once protected under the First Amendment, can face indefinite incarceration.

Constitutionally protected statements, beliefs and associations are criminalized. The state assumed the power to detain and prosecute people not for what they have done, or even for what they are planning to do, but for holding religious or political beliefs that the state deems seditious. The first of those targeted have been observant Muslims, but they will not be the last.

The outward forms of democratic participation—voting, competing political parties, judicial oversight and legislation—are meaningless theater. No one who lives under constant surveillance, who is subject to detention anywhere at any time, whose conversations, messages, meetings, proclivities and habits are recorded, stored and analyzed, who is powerless in the face of corporate exploitation, can be described as free. The relationship between the state and the citizen who is watched constantly is one of master and slave. And the shackles will not be removed if Trump disappears.

By Chris Hedges/Truthdig

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation

Photo

James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing this month.CreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.

“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.

The documentation of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia. Late Tuesday, Representative Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, demanded that the F.B.I. turn over all “memoranda, notes, summaries and recordings” of discussions between Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey.

Such documents, Mr. Chaffetz wrote, would “raise questions as to whether the president attempted to influence or impede” the F.B.I.

Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. It was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.

Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of it to a Times reporter.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo.

Mr. Comey did not say anything to Mr. Trump about curtailing the investigation, replying only: “I agree he is a good guy.”

In a statement, the White House denied the version of events in the memo.

“While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” the statement said. “The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”

Mr. Chaffetz’s letter, sent to the acting F.B.I. director, Andrew G. McCabe, set a May 24 deadline for the internal documents to be delivered to the House committee. The congressman, a Republican, was criticized in recent months for showing little of the appetite he demonstrated in pursuing Hillary Clinton to pursue investigations into Mr. Trump’s associates.

GRAPHIC

The Events That Led to Comey’s Firing, and How the White House’s Story Changed

New disclosures on Tuesday allege that in February, President Trump asked James B. Comey, then the F.B.I. director, to shut down an investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.

OPEN GRAPHIC

But since announcing in April that he will not seek re-election in 2018, Mr. Chaffetz has shown more interest in the Russia investigation, and held out the potential for a subpoena on Tuesday, a notably aggressive move as most Republicans have tried to stay out of the fray.

In testimony to the Senate last week, Mr. McCabe said, “There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date.” Mr. McCabe was referring to the broad investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. The investigation into Mr. Flynn is separate.

A spokesman for the F.B.I. declined to comment.

Mr. Comey created similar memos — including some that are classified — about every phone call and meeting he had with the president, the two people said. It is unclear whether Mr. Comey told the Justice Department about the conversation or his memos.

Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey last week. Trump administration officials have provided multiple, conflicting accounts of the reasoning behind Mr. Comey’s dismissal. Mr. Trump said in a television interview that one of the reasons was because he believed “this Russia thing” was a “made-up story.”

The Feb. 14 meeting took place just a day after Mr. Flynn was forced out of his job after it was revealed he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of phone conversations he had had with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Despite the conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey, the investigation of Mr. Flynn has proceeded. In Virginia, a federal grand jury has issued subpoenas in recent weeks for records related to Mr. Flynn. Part of the Flynn investigation is centered on his financial links to Russia and Turkey.

Mr. Comey had been in the Oval Office that day with other senior national security officials for a terrorism threat briefing. When the meeting ended, Mr. Trump told those present — including Mr. Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — to leave the room except for Mr. Comey.

Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.

Mr. Trump then turned the discussion to Mr. Flynn.

After writing up a memo that outlined the meeting, Mr. Comey shared it with senior F.B.I. officials. Mr. Comey and his aides perceived Mr. Trump’s comments as an effort to influence the investigation, but they decided that they would try to keep the conversation secret — even from the F.B.I. agents working on the Russia investigation — so the details of the conversation would not affect the investigation.

Mr. Comey was known among his closest advisers to document conversations that he believed would later be called into question, according to two former confidants, who said Mr. Comey was uncomfortable at times with his relationship with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Comey’s recollection has been bolstered in the past by F.B.I. notes. In 2007, he told Congress about a now-famous showdown with senior White House officials over the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. The White House disputed Mr. Comey’s account, but the F.B.I. director at the time, Robert S. Mueller III, kept notes that backed up Mr. Comey’s story.

The White House has repeatedly crossed lines that other administrations have been reluctant to cross when discussing politically charged criminal investigations. Mr. Trump has disparaged the continuing F.B.I. investigation as a hoax and called for an inquiry into his political rivals. His representatives have taken the unusual step of declaring no need for a special prosecutor to investigate the president’s associates.

The Oval Office meeting occurred a little over two weeks after Mr. Trump summoned Mr. Comey to the White House for a lengthy, one-on-one dinner at the residence. At that dinner, on Jan. 27, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey at least two times for a pledge of loyalty — which Mr. Comey declined, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.

In a Twitter post on Friday, Mr. Trump said that “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

After the meeting, Mr. Comey’s associates did not believe there was any way to corroborate Mr. Trump’s statements. But Mr. Trump’s suggestion last week that he was keeping tapes has made them wonder whether there are tapes that back up Mr. Comey’s account.

The Jan. 27 dinner came a day after White House officials learned that Mr. Flynn had been interviewed by F.B.I. agents about his phone calls with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak. On Jan. 26, the acting attorney general, Sally Q. Yates, told the White House counsel about the interview, and said Mr. Flynn could be subject to blackmail by the Russians because they knew he had lied about the content of the calls.

Trump Creates a ‘Voter Fraud’ Commission, Taps a White Supremacist to Lead It

President Trump has signed an executive order to create a commission to address voter fraud. This is a nonexistent issue tied to Trump’s fallacious, unsubstantiated claims that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election and cost him the popular vote. The measure is part of a larger effort at voter suppression, to deny Black people and others the franchise and to deprive them of their voting rights — a cause of concern among civil rights and civil liberties groups. One of the leaders of this newly created body is a driving force behind voter suppression and anti-immigration laws across the nation and a figure with white supremacist sentiments and ties to white nationalist groups.

On May 11, Trump established a “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity,” which is charged with identifying the following:

(a) those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that enhance the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections;

(b) those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that undermine the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections; and

(c) those vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices used for Federal elections that could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting, including fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting.

The election integrity commission will have a staff to carry out its mission and will engage with federal, state and local officials and election law experts. Vice President Mike Pence is the chair of the commission, while Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is the vice chair. The selection of Kobach raises red flags and speaks to the insidious motives of the commission.

Kobach, who was once considered a contender to head the Department of Homeland Security, according to Politico, has gained a reputation for his controversial anti-immigration stance and for supporting draconian voter suppression laws that federal courts have struck down for discriminating against nonwhite voters. According to civil rights advocacy groups, Kobach is a racial extremist with white supremacist ties. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Yale-trained lawyer who also has degrees from Harvard and Oxford is a “central figure” in the nativist movement and the author of Arizona’s “papers please” law, SB 1070, which amounted to a racial profiling law for Latinos. The U.S. Supreme Court found most of the measure unconstitutional in 2012. Kobach also played a key role in enacting similar legislation in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

Since 2004, Kobach has served as counsel to the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). FAIR, according to SPLC, has “historical ties to white supremacists and eugenicists” and has received $1.2 million from the Pioneer Fund, an organization founded by Nazi sympathizers. Kobach was a supporter of birtherism during his run for Kansas secretary of state, and called for President Obama to release his “long-form” birth certificate to answer questions about his birthplace. SPLC reported that in 2014, Kobach also led an effort to purge voter rolls known as Interstate Crosscheck. The program compiled a master list of the names of one-seventh of all Black voters in 27 states, people who officials alleged were suspected of voting twice in the same election, as Al Jazeera America reported. In 2015, Kobach also gave himself the power to prosecute voter fraud, making Kansas the only state allowing its secretary of state with such authority. Kobach has urged states to require not only photo identification as a requirement to vote, but proof of citizenship, including a birth certificate or passport. This draconian measure had its impact in Kansas in 2015, where 37,000 people who attempted to register to vote were placed on a “suspense list” barring them from voting unless they provided documentation, as The Washington Post reported.  That year, Kobach was a featured speaker at The Social Contract Press, a white nationalist writers’ workshop created by FAIR.

Kobach’s ties to the organization led to his defeat in a 2004 race for Congress.  In a statement opposing Kobach and calling him unfit to serve and his appointment “nothing less than an outrage,” SPLC said Kobach “is a longtime lawyer for far-right extremist groups with ties to white nationalists” and “a leader in the movement to suppress the votes of minorities.” The statement added that voter suppression is the real threat to democracy.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump claimed the election was rigged, and that if he lost, his defeat would be attributed to rampant, nonexistent voter fraud and so-called illegal immigrants voting. After he won the Electoral College in November, he then said the margin of his deficit in the popular vote was due to voter fraud. Without providing a shred of proof of his allegation, Trump tweeted on November 27 that “in addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” As FiveThirtyEight reported, Trump misused research from an Old Dominion University study to falsely claim that 14 percent of noncitizens were registered to vote.

I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and….

even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time). Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!

Last week, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Vice President’s office demanding evidence to back up Trump’s claims of voter fraud in the 2016 election. Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said the commission is a “boondoggle” and part of Trump’s plan to “spread his own fake news about election integrity” as The Hill reported.

“The president … has alleged that ‘millions of votes’ were ‘illegally’ cast ‘for the other side.’ No concrete evidence has been provided thus far to support the president’s serious indictment against American democracy. Yet the president’s allegations are the basis of an executive order … to establish a ‘Commission on Election Integrity,’” the FOIA request from the ACLU read. “This FOIA demands that the government release the factual basis and evidence supporting the president’s allegations.”

In its FOIA request, the ACLU noted that Trump has suggested he will enact new voting restrictions based on a Department of Justice investigation. The civil liberties group stated that for 150 years since the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870 to today, “politicians have consistently perpetuated unsupported claims of widespread voter fraud to justify discriminatory restrictions on the right to vote.” The request added that if federal and state governments plan to rely on the Department of Justice investigation to justify voting discrimination, “then the health of our democracy urgently demands that the public know the bases for such potential discrimination immediately.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, has noted that the issue has been studied and widespread voter fraud does not exist in the U.S. “But there is no evidence that millions, thousands or even hundreds of instances of in-person voter fraud occur in the United States,” she wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in February. “One of the most reliable studies found only 31 instances of fraud in more than 1 billion votes cast over nearly 15 years. A person is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud.”

Trump’s executive order comes as the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will not reinstate North Carolina’s draconian voter ID law, which was regarded as one of the most restrictive in the nation and designed to discriminate against African-Americans.

By David Love/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Black People and Obama’s Legacy

Barack Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency was a curse on black America’s political heritage.
— Margaret Kimberley, Black Agenda Report

It is no secret that the folks over at Black Agenda Report have never cottoned much to ex-President Obama.  It was, after all, BAR’s executive editor Glen Ford who, long before Obama’s 2008 election, and in reference to the great bulk of black elected officials throughout this nation-state, including most especially, the Congressional Black Caucus, coined the term “black misleadership class.”  Once Obama actually took the oath of office in ’08, Ford promptly placed him at the head of that class. And, throughout the ensuing eight straight years, BAR’s senior columnist Margaret Kimberley has wielded an especially sharp pen against this country’s “First Black President” (a sobriquet Ford, Kimberley and Company derisively employ as a way of reminding us exactly who and what Obama  is not).  BAR’s postmortems of Obama’s late presidency have been equally rough – and directly on point.

“Obama Gets Paid”

In her May 2nd column entitled “Obama Gets Paid,” Kimberley, as she routinely does, excoriates Obama apologists as they feverishly defend his recent acceptance of a $400,000 check for speaking to those Wall Street hedge fund managers and investment bankers – the selfsame ones who helped crash the US (and damn near world) economy in ’08.  Again, for eight solid years, Obama, President Obama, steadfastly refused to prosecute nary a one of them.  The principal defense deployed by Obama die-hards is, basically, that “everybody does it,” especially everybody, that is, who’s ever been president.  They point to the 1990 tour of Japan by then former President Ronald  Reagan.  St. Reagan (one of Obama’s two most favorite presidents) collected a cool $2 million for delivering a few stock speeches in the land of the rising sun over eight days.

Or, Obamaphiles remind us of ex-prez Bill Clinton’s apparently innate ability to still garner whopping speaker’s fees and honoraria from any venue anywhere even to this day –  if and only if, of course, the price is right.  According to CNN, since 2001, that proclivity has yielded both Bill and wife, ex-Secretary of State Hillary, a jaw-dropping $153 million and counting.

Yes, it is now common practice among certain ex-presidents:  Bush (I & II), even Nixon, eagerly embraced what St. Reagan referred to as the “mashed potato” circuit.  Yet, somehow Obama’s most ardent supporters conveniently skip over or ignore altogether former President Jimmy Carter.  That may be because Carter has consistently refused to partake of either the mashed potatoes and/or rubber chickens. Instead, to this day, despite brain cancer and his 90-plus years of life, ex-prez Carter devotes his entire presidency to a wide array of ways and means of delivering real goods and real services to real people.

Of Presidential Libraries and Largess

Obama was in town the other day, fully refreshed from his three-month Hawaiian vacation, a $65 million book deal, and, as noted, his $400,000 oration.  Obama was here to hobnob with Chicago’s One Percent and to finalize plans for his presidential library, to be set in a 200,000 square foot space age building just south of his old employer’s (University of Chicago) campus.

Obama also actually stopped in at the University itself where he mingled with a few star-struck students.  And then he and Michelle dropped an unsolicited $2 million on Chicago’s summer jobs program.  Why so generous?  The purpose of this money, so sayeth Obama, is to “train the next generation of leadership…the Michelle Obamas of today and the Barack Obamas of today.”

That money is certainly needed and much appreciated, especially given the fact that Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s first presidential chief of staff, seems to miraculously find funds for any and everything except Chicago’s South and West Sides – where the bulk of Chicago’s one million black citizens just happen to reside.

President of All the People

The obvious question, which has many black Chicagoans (and black people nationwide) scratching their heads, is this:  Where was all of this heartfelt concern, and more importantly, money and resources, for black folk when Obama for eight whole years reigned as this nation-state’s “First Black President”?

He and his blinkered supporters still argue that:

  • The Big Bad Racists Republicans would not let Obama do anything to specifically help black people.
  • That he is “president of all the people of America, not just black people. (But aren’t we Americans, too?)
  • That, as St. Reagan taught us, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Thus, programs and policies which specifically and purposely benefit Hispanics, gays, white women, the “working class” and the poor naturally, automatically “trickle down” to black people.
  • That targeting black people would alienate those oh so sensitive and always aggrieved “white middle class” folk who see the world as a zero-sum proposition: If blacks win (at anything), they lose (everything).

Black resistance, black revolt and black struggle against white supremacy and white racism began when those very first Portuguese, Spanish, English, French and Dutch slave ships appeared off Africa’s West Coast as far back as 1444.  That freedom struggle continued unabated right up until 2008 when black people basically decided that having a putatively “black” man in the White House was more important than the freedom struggle itself. Prior to Obama’s ascendancy, the standard that all presidents and presidential candidates had to meet as far as black people were concerned was this: What will he do for us as a people? At least, that is the standard I was taught as a child by my parents, who, until John Kennedy came along in 1960, voted for both Democratic and Republican candidates at all levels of government based on this simple question.

After 2008, at family gatherings I was often persona non gratis because I dared to continue to ask this question.  One of my elderly aunts actually stood  up at the Thanksgiving table in 2014, pointed an accusatory finger at me, and said, “Blasphemy!” For her and millions like her, Obama’s blackness was enough.  He didn’t really have to do anything for black people because just seeing him and his black family in the White House wiped away the 400-year-old still festering wounds that had been, and continue to be, inflicted upon black people as a whole. That is all Obama did for black people – get elected.

And now?  Now that Obama is safely out of office and in no position to help anybody except (as detailed above) on a very occasional, very personal and very individual level, well….that is what his recent foray into Chicago means. Margaret Kimberley is absolutely right: Because of Obama, black people are in the worst shape they have been in since Dr. King was so brutally murdered forty-nine years ago.

Because of Obama, we must now contend with a straight up and open white supremacist/white racist in the once again lily white White House.

But on a more optimistic note, we will survive Donald Trump.  It’s what we do best.

By Herbert Dyer, Jr./DissidentVoice

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Mandatory minimum sentences are cruel and ineffective. Sessions wants them back.

As a federal prosecutor and judge, we saw that these policies do not work.

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed the nation’s 2,300 federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges in all but exceptional cases. Rescinding a 2013 policy that sought to avoid mandatory minimums for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, Sessions wrote it was the “moral and just” thing to do.

Sessions couldn’t be more wrong. We served as a federal prosecutor and a federal judge respectively. In our experience, mandatory minimums have swelled the federal prison population and led to scandalous racial disparities. They have caused untold misery at great expense. And they have not made us safer.

Mandatory federal drug sentencing is unforgiving. A person with one prior drug felony who is charged with possession of 10 grams of LSD, 50 grams of methamphetamine, or 280 grams of crack cocaine with intent to distribute faces 20 years to life. With two priors — no matter how long ago they occurred — the penalty is life without parole.  As one federal judge has written, these are sentences that “no one — not even the prosecutors themselves — thinks are appropriate.”

They waste human potential. They harm the 5 million children who have or have had a parent in prison — including one in nine black children.  And they wreak economic devastation on poor communities. Studies have found, for example, that formerly incarcerated employees make 10 to 40 percent less money than similar workers with no history of incarceration and that the probability of a family being in poverty increases by almost 40 percent when a father is imprisoned.

Still, in 2003 then-Attorney General John Ashcroft pushed line prosecutors to charge mandatory minimums whenever possible. His policy helped grow the federal prison population from 172,000 to nearly 220,000 over the next 10 years.  This was part of a wider national trend that grew the country’s incarcerated population to 2.2 million, almost 60 percent of them black and Latino.

In 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder recognized that this system of mass incarceration was at odds with the Justice Department’s values. He told attorneys to reserve the most severe penalties for the most serious offenses. That meant charging cases in a way that would not trigger mandatory minimums for a specific group of defendants: nonviolent, low-level drug offenders, with no ties to gangs or cartels, no involvement in trafficking to minors, and no significant criminal history.

Holder’s policy was part of an emerging criminal justice reform movement. Since 2009, more than half the states have passed legislation to relax mandatory minimums and restore judicial discretion — including deep-red GeorgiaLouisianaMississippi, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. A new crop of prosecutors is openly questioning the use of long prison terms for minor drug crimes. And a bill to ease federal sentencing has bipartisan support in Congress.

Sessions is bent on reversing this progress.

It would be one thing if Holder’s reform efforts had failed — but they did not. The federal prison population fell for the first time after 40 years of exponential growth.  It is down 14 percent over the past 3½ years. While we need a wider conversation about how we sentence all offenders, including violent offenders, state and federal, this was a start. The 2013 policy sent a message about the need to be smart, not just tough, on crime, and the role of prosecutors in that effort.

Sessions’s assault on the past few years of progress might also make sense if mandatory minimums for minor drug offenses were necessary to combat crime — but they are not. A 2014 study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found that defendants released early (based on sentencing changes not related to mandatory minimums) were not more likely to reoffend than prisoners who served their whole sentences. That is, for drug charges, shorter sentences don’t compromise public safety. Indeed, research shows it is the certainty of punishment — not the severity — that deters crime.

Sessions’s fixation on mandatory minimums might also be more palatable if they were cost-effective — but they are not. Federal prison costs have ballooned to $7 billion, more than a quarter of DOJ’s budget, driven by a population that is nearly half drug offenders.  And yet as detailed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council last year, most experts believe that expending public resources to incarcerate these offenders is profoundly inefficient.

Sessions’s defenders will say his policy only requires prosecutors to charge the defendant’s true conduct and apply the statutes Congress enacted. But floor statements from legislators show that Congress intended these mandatory minimums to be used against “kingpins” and “middle-level dealers,” not the minor offenders to whom they have been applied.

One of us served as a federal prosecutor under Holder and had mandatory minimum charges at his disposal. The message from the top down was that prosecutors were to pursue justice. Winning did not mean getting the longest sentence possible. It meant getting the right sentence, one that fit the crime and that respected the interests of victims, defendants, and the public.

The other of us served as a federal judge for 17 years, including during the heyday of the Ashcroft regime. She believes that roughly 80 percent of the sentences she was obliged to impose were unjust, unfair and disproportionate. Mandatory penalties meant that she couldn’t individualize punishment for the first-time drug offender, or the addict, or the woman whose boyfriend coerced her into the drug trade.

Under Sessions, prosecutors will be required almost always to charge mandatory minimums, however unjust. They will bind judges’ hands even when the facts cry out for more measured punishment. The result will be great suffering. And there is no good reason for it.

By Nancy Gertner and Chiraag Bains/WashingtonPost

Posted by The NON-Conformist

White Working-Class Millennials Are Less Christian, More Republican Than Their Elders Nearly half of young working-class whites do not identify with any religious affiliation.

A large new report from PRRI and The Atlantic examines white, working-class Americans in an effort to explain what motivated them “to support Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a margin of roughly two to one” in the 2016 presidential election. The findings tend toward conventional wisdom—except when it comes to white working-class millennials. It turns out this group breaks from their older counterparts in some unexpected ways.

Less than half of young, white, working-class adults identify as Christian.

For the report, “white working class” is defined as non-Hispanic white Americans without a four-year college degree who hold non-salaried jobs. Overall, 71 percent of white working-class Americans identify as Christian, according to the PRRI/Atlantic report. And among “seniors”—defined as those 65 and older—the percentage calling themselves Christians jumps to more than 80 percent.

But among white working-class young adults—defined here as those in the 18- to 29-year-old age range—just 48 percent identify as Christian, with 16 percent describing themselves as evangelical Protestants, 16 percent as mainline Protestants, 10 percent as Catholic, and 6 percent as another Christian religion. This is about equal to the percentage that said they have no religious affiliation.

At 47 percent, religious unaffiliation for white working-class young adults was significantly higher than religious unaffiliation among 18- to 29-year-old Americans overall (36 percent).

White working-class millennials are more Republican than their elders… but less conservative

In general, young Americans tend to skew toward Democratic Party affiliation. But for the youth of the white working class, the Republican Party is way more popular than the Democratic, according to the PRRI/Atlantic report. More than half of young white working-class voters—57 percent—identify as Republican or at least lean toward the GOP, while just 29 percent identify as or lean toward Democrats

It’s no surprise that white working-class young folk might lean more Republican than their richer, non-white, or college-educated counterparts. But here’s a departure from conventional wisdom: The youngest adults of the white working class are more likely to lean Republican than the oldest members. In fact, 18- to 29-year-olds here lean more Republican than any other white working-class cohort studied.

For both seniors and those in the 50- to 64-year-old cohort, 51 percent identified as or leaned Republican and 36 percent identified as or leaned Democrat.

The older-millennial/younger-Gen X group—which included white working-class Americans ages 30 to 49—contained slightly fewer Republican Party voters than did the older generations (47 percent) and slightly fewer Democratic Party voters (34 percent). This group was the most likely to identify as politically independent, with 16 percent identifying as such. Just 10 percent of the younger group, 8 percent of those ages 50-64, and 9 percent of seniors in the report identify as political independents.

But while the youngest adults of the white working-class are more likely than their elders to describe themselves as Republican, they are less likely to consider themselves conservative. “White working-class young adults are less than half as likely as white working-class seniors to identify as conservative,” according to the report.

Less than a quarter—23 percent—of white working-class young people call themselves conservative, while 26 percent identify as liberal and 40 percent identify as moderate.

White working-class millennials don’t think Donald Trump gets it—but their parents love him.

Just 34 percent of the 18- to 29-year-old cohort in question agree that President Trump understands the problems facing their communities. Older members of the white working class are much more likely to endorse this statement, with 47 percent of the 30- to 49-year-old crowd and 46 percent of the majority-boomer group on board. Seniors, however, are more like young adults with regard to Trump here; just 38 percent say he understands their problems.

White working-class millennials lean less authoritarian than their older counterparts.

Nearly three-quarters of white working-class seniors score high for authoritarian orientation, compared to just 43 percent of 18- to 29-year-old working-class whites. This finding probably has something to do with the lower levels of religious affiliation found among younger working-class whites, as pollsters found “profound differences in the degree to which white working-class Americans prefer authoritarian traits by religious identity.” For instance, 82 percent of white working-class Protestants and 70 percent of white working-class Catholics were identified as having an authoritarian orientation, compared to just 39 percent of those with no religious affiliation.

Young working-class whites struggle more with alcohol and drug dependency.

Young working-class whites are much more likely than their senior counterparts to struggle with drug- or alcohol-dependency. Some 16 percent of the 18- to 29-year-olds say they personally struggle with alcoholism or excessive drinking, versus four percent of seniors. And 13 percent of the younger group says they struggle with drug abuse, versus 3 percent of seniors. The younger group was also more likely to say that someone in their household has struggled with depression (45 percent versus 22 percent).

Young working-class whites think things are getting better.

Asked whether America has changed for better or worse since the 1950s, most working class whites say worse (65 percent). But “there is a notable generational divide among white working-class Americans about the direction of the country since the mid-century mark,” the report notes. Just a little more than half (54 percent) of the younger group says America has changed for the worse, while 44 percent say it has gotten better. Only about one-third of working-class whites overall believe that things have gotten better.

Asked whether “things have changed so much” that they “often feel like a stranger” within the U.S., more than half of working class whites age 50 and above agreed but only 42 percent of those under 50 did.

Report methodology note from PRRI/The Atlantic: “The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.1 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. The survey included a subsample of 1,956 likely voters. The margin of error for the subsample of likely voters is +/- 2.6 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence.”

By Elizabeth Nolan Brown/Reason

Posted by The NON-Conformist