Thursday, December 22, 2005

Reasons not to Eavesdrop & Shades of COINTELPRO ...

Howard Kurtz in his Washington Post Media Notes blog kindly reminds us why there are serious problems with recent revelations on NSA eavesdropping:

Keep in mind that the 1978 foreign intelligence law that some Democrats say Bush violated with the eavesdropping program was passed in reaction to the FBI improperly investigating Vietnam War protesters and civil rights activists, most famously Martin Luther King Jr.

Come on, Howard, say it. It won't hurt to repeat it ... that's right: CO-IN-TEL-PRO. Come on, now, wave your hands up in the air, and wave it like you just don't care!

Now, brothers in the back, we want you to yell "CO"
And Sisters in the front, scream "IN"
FBI cats on the roof with the listening devices, give us a "TEL"
And Republicans over there beating on the bouncers at the door, end it like "PRO"

Here we go, now ... CO
Hit it:

Nobody wants to talk about that. Moving on ...

Charles Hurt in this most recent Washington Times piece plays the "foreign intelligence" card and states a case in favor of continued eavesdropping:

Previous administrations, as well as the court that oversees national security cases, agreed with President Bush's position that a president legally may authorize searches without warrants in pursuit of foreign intelligence. "The Department of Justice believes -- and the case law supports -- that the president has inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes and that the president may, as he has done, delegate this authority to the attorney general," Clinton Deputy Attorney General Jamie S. Gorelick said in 1994 testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Republicans and conservatives are funny like that. When all else seems to fail or you can't expect to convince anyone else, bite a rhyme off Clinton. They labeled the former President everything but the anti-Christ, now they want to turn to him for advice. Hurt's piece is hurting for context. Foreign intelligence really has nothing to do with it. It's when government can (and has) used that explanation to make farcical claims about activist groups with "overseas" connections or "communist" sympathies.

In the New York Times, Eric Lichtblau gives examples of G-Men Gone Wild:

Counterterrorism agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have conducted numerous surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations that involved, at least indirectly, groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief, newly disclosed agency records show.

But the documents, coming after the Bush administration's confirmation that President Bush had authorized some spying without warrants in fighting terrorism, prompted charges from civil rights advocates that the government had improperly blurred the line between terrorism and acts of civil disobedience and lawful protest.

One F.B.I. document indicates that agents in Indianapolis planned to conduct surveillance as part of a "Vegan Community Project." Another document talks of the Catholic Workers group's "semi-communistic ideology." A third indicates the bureau's interest in determining the location of a protest over llama fur planned by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

And then, Lisa Myers, Douglas Pasternak, Rich Gardella and the whole NBC Invesitgative Crew comes strong with the headline "Is the Pentagon spying on Americans?":

A year ago, at a Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Fla., a small group of activists met to plan a protest of military recruiting at local high schools. What they didn't know was that their meeting had come to the attention of the U.S. military.

A secret 400-page Defense Department document obtained by NBC News lists the Lake Worth meeting as a “threat” and one of more than 1,500 “suspicious incidents” across the country over a recent 10-month period.

The DOD database obtained by NBC News includes nearly four dozen anti-war meetings or protests, including some that have taken place far from any military installation, post or recruitment center. One “incident” included in the database is a large anti-war protest at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles last March that included effigies of President Bush and anti-war protest banners. Another incident mentions a planned protest against military recruiters last December in Boston and a planned protest last April at McDonald’s National Salute to America’s Heroes — a military air and sea show in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Guess we're in the "database," too. It must be crowded, because it's hot and sweaty up in here like a club with no fire exits.

Undertones of Race in NY Transit Strike ...

Diane Cardwell in the New York Times touches on race in the recent New York Transit Workers strike that has put the city at a standstill:

But now, as representatives of a mostly nonwhite work force trade recriminations publicly with white leaders in government and at the transportation authority, the potentially volatile issue of race, with all its emotional consequences, is bubbling to the surface.

The examples are both blatant and subtle, some open to interpretation, some openly hostile. Regarding the latter sort, the union - representing workers who are largely minority - shut down a Web log where the public could comment on the strike after it became so clogged with messages comparing the workers to monkeys and calling them "you people." (Seventy percent of the employees of New York City Transit are black, Latino or Asian-American.)
And what may have begun inadvertently, when Mayor
Michael R. Bloomberg said on Tuesday that union leaders had "thuggishly turned their backs on New York City," took on a life of its own yesterday as minority leaders and union members attacked the mayor's conduct as objectionable, or worse. "There has been some offensive and insulting language used," said Roger Toussaint, the union leader. "This is regrettable and it is certainly unbecoming for the mayor of the city of New York to be using this type of language."

Touissant, who hails from Trinidad, gets cleverly dogmatic by comparing the strike to civil rights icons:

Mr. Toussaint, for instance, continued yesterday to cast the strike as part of a broader movement for social justice and invoked the civil rights movement, as he often does in his calls to respect the dignity of his workers. "Had Rosa Parks answered the call of the law instead of the higher call of justice, many of us who are driving buses today would instead be at the back of the bus," he said.Latinos and Asian-Americans, whose members were once mostly of European descent.

It can't be as cut and dry, Black and White as that. We're not in New York, and we can't profess to know or understand the working conditions of transit employees who are the lifeblood and foundation of the nation's largest city. Agreed: Bloomberg's choice of language was poor. It may not have been intended, but it certainly came across as what not to do when you're a White Big City Mayor faced with striking Blacks and Latinos. But, of course, Toussaint had to have expected this reaction, railing against the political establishment and giving White New Yorkers the rhetorical finger with his sharp Caribbean accent.

On some level, the TWU had to take a stand to defend the rights and paychecks of unappreciated New York Transit workers - but, we still have to frown on the exact timing of the stand and, once again, the impact it most certainly has on low income New Yorkers who don't have the luxury of telecommuting options, paid leave, fully heated cars and convenient pharmacy or grocery arrangements. Toussaint unapologetically makes reference to Parks and the movement her defiance "sparked." But - correct us if we're wrong - didn't the Birmingham boycott also trigger a collective and highly organized community response that didn't just leave everybody else out in the cold? That said, the comparison is a little shallow.

Certainly, Mr. Toussaint and the workers he represents must understand the plight of those who live in the same neighborhoods and deal with similar struggles. Knowing that you have reliable transportation in a crowded urban center where living is tough certainly eases that stress a little - especially on blistering cold winter days. Sorry - we just can't get over images of single mothers walking their kids to school through wind chills when they could have been on a warm subway car; or the image of a grandmother walking for groceries or high-priced meds when they could have hopped on a heated bus. We know what deep city living is about. It's bad enough the media doesn't tell that story while engrossed in the irritated tales and glares of Manhattan yuppies. But, it's kind of cold when Toussaint and the others who follow him didn't seem to take that into consideration.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Socio-Economic Impact of the NYC Mass Transit Shutdown

Much of the talk about the massive Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) strike in NYC centers around its impact on resilient urban professionals and office workers. We here and see a lot about these cats rollerblading, biking and walking into Manhattan, which - on a positive note - is good in this obese-ridden society in desperate need of exercise.

Jack McCafferty offered his take during a recent McCafferty File segment on CNN's Situation Room, referring to "empty streets" in Manhattan on his way to work and the convenience of telecommuting offered by a "computer and a phone."

Telecommuting is definitely the environmentally-sound and cost-effective wave of the working future. We hope we get there someday. But, right now, that doesn't address people in NYC who don't have the office jobs or who regard mass transit as a critical life-line to working class, manual labor jobs and other key items such as medicine and groceries. We're not hearing anything about that: about working class folk and their children struggling to keep warm while walking through freezing temperatures in the teens. There is a disparity in transportation use and accessibility between the haves and have-nots. That story seems hidden behind the headlines. We hear about the impact this strike will have on city government pockets, but we'd like to get some insight on what it will do to the pocket of the Big Apple's dispossessed.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Presidential Approval Ratings ...

Only mean that main man's base is cooking with a little gas and not sputtering sparkles on lighter fluid as before, disenchanted with his lack of conservative chutzpah on hotbutton (but pragmatically marginal) topics. "Stay the course" is doublespeak for "energizing the base" which has been this Administration's key political focus since it's election and first term. The other entire half of the country doesn't count and is relegated to disgruntled minority electorate.

After every significant speech or timely press conference, media heads seem to gush love for the anti-intellectual, then push poll data headlines which give the impression he's doing something right on matters clearly wronged. So, we expected the poll numbers to "increase" following his insincerely scripted eye shift and arm gesture plea of a speech that fell several teleprompter paragraphs short of the Churchillian moment sought after.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Loan Discrimination?

Reading Leslie Eaton & Ron Nixon's piece in this morning's New York Times is not for the short tempered watching the post-Katrina Gulf Coast recovery go from bad to worse:

Hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast families, hoping to rebuild their homes after the hurricanes using low-interest government loans, are facing high rejection rates and widespread delays at the federal agency that administers the disaster loan program.

The Small Business Administration, which runs the federal government's main disaster recovery program for both businesses and homeowners, has processed only a third of the 276,000 home loan applications it has received.

And it has rejected 82 percent of those it has reviewed, a higher percentage than in most previous disasters, saying that many would-be borrowers did not have incomes high enough, or credit ratings good enough, to qualify. The rejections came even though the Federal Emergency Management Agency has referred more than two million people, many of them with low incomes, to the S.B.A. to get the loans.

FEMA's lack of compassion and inability to distribute critical and accurate information to victimized families is expected, as the Bush Administration seems generally removed from the realities of our overall foreign policy and domestic situation. Let's not even go into how absolutely cruel it is for the President and federal government officials to make empty and misleading promises; suits are sure to follow. But, the SBA's conduct shouldn't surprise those who are familiar with it's political crony in charge, SBA Administrator Hector Barretto, as The New Republic reported in this disturbing article titled "Welcome to the Hackocracy" on 10.6.05:

His Los Angeles firm, Barreto Insurance & Financial Services Company, had only ten employees. Alas, now that he is in charge of a bigger operation--the Small Business Administration (SBA) has over 3,000 employees, a budget of about $600 million, and a portfolio of loans totaling $45 billion--Barreto is struggling. Last year, the SBA failed to notify Congress that it needed additional funding for its largest and most popular loan program and was forced to temporarily shutter it because, as Barreto's spokesperson explained, it was "out of money." Meanwhile, the SBA was doing such a poor job managing the $5 billion in loans the government set aside to help small businesses recover from September 11 that, according to an Associated Press investigation, the vast majority of the money went to businesses not affected by the terrorist attacks--including a South Dakota country radio station, a Utah dog boutique, and more than 100 Dunkin' Donuts and Subway sandwich shops.

In September of 2005, the Senate Small Business Committee, prompted by complaints from Gulf Coast small-business owners, held hearings on the SBA's response to Hurricane Katrina. Barreto pledged that his agency would approve Katrina-related loans in days, not months, but a SBA deputy conceded in late September that, out of 12,000 loan applications from small businesses affected by the hurricane, the SBA had so far approved only 76.

Of course, the overwhelming majority of those rejected are African American, easily leading many to view the entire situation in the Gulf Coast as both depressing and suspect. And there are reports that many residents, particularly those from low-income, working class and Black neighborhoods in New Orleans, are being priced out and victimized by rental property price gouging. A 2 bedroom apartment that once was $500 - $800 is now $1000 - $1600. Hence, both city and state legislators are considering rent control policies.

The fact that high-income, stable and wealthy and predominantly White neighborhoods in New Orleans are qualifying for loans over poor, low-income and working class Black neighborhoods
reflects a larger, national problem of racial profiling in loan disbursements, credit analysis and urban gentrification. Clearly, the face of New Orleans is changing. Housing trends will push such change to the extreme as Black residents - the traditional majority in the Big Easy - will be effectively priced out.

But, this situation also presents an opportunity to address the larger issue of asset building and ownership in "minority" communities, not only in the stricken Gulf Region but nationally. Ultimately, neither FEMA or the SBA is responsible for an individual's lack of credit and solid financial literacy. We agree the federal government's performance in this situation is woefully falling short and accountability is warranted. But, we also urge a greater focus and aggressive campaigns on educating our community about personal finances and how money works.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Environmental Racism in the News ...

David Pace of the Associated Press writes:

An Associated Press analysis of a little-known government research project shows that black Americans are 79 percent more likely than whites to live in neighborhoods where industrial pollution is suspected of posing the greatest health danger.

Residents in neighborhoods with the highest pollution scores also tend to be poorer, less educated and more often unemployed than those elsewhere in the country, AP found.

"Poor communities, frequently communities of color but not exclusively, suffer disproportionately," said Carol Browner, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration when the scoring system was developed. "If you look at where our industrialized facilities tend to be located, they're not in the upper middle class neighborhoods."

This really isn't news, but should receive greater play and focus now that AP has paid enough attention to produce an analysis. Definitely, it's a topic worth much weight in further exploration, and government response to it has been non-existent. A broader response from environmental groups and advocates is always scattered and we see little breathed about it throughout the African American political establishment or the Black press. We've noted before in this blog of our concern that lack of collective concern for major environmental issues from leading organizations and others within the Black political community is particularly dangerous. One can argue that lack of such focus was a factor leading to the disastrous effects of Hurricane Katrina - some of which were preventable if officials and politicians at all levels of government had given more consideration to environmental variables. But, if largely African American communities in locations like New Orleans had been effectively organized and informed about those variables long before Katrina, perhaps we would have seen a more positive or less destructive outcome.

Upon reading this blog, some readers may dispute our use of the term "environmental racism," since this AP report is not directly asserting that term. It's simply presenting the data collected and reporting on different perspectives. But, environmental racism also suggests indifference and inaction. The Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund definition reads: "any government, institutional, or industry action, or failure to act, that has a negative environmental impact which disproportionately harms - whether intentionally or unintentionally - individuals, groups, or communities based on race or colour." One might correctly assume the "failure to act" in assessing the following quote from Deputy EPA Administrator Marcus Peacock:

"We're going to get at those folks to make sure that they are going to be breathing clean air, and that's regardless of their race, creed or color," said Peacock. Peacock said industrial air pollution has declined significantly in the past 30 years as regulations and technology have improved.

Since 1990, according to EPA, total annual emissions of 188 regulated toxins have declined by 36 percent.

Still, Peacock acknowledged, "there are risks, and I would assume some unacceptable risks, posed by industrial air pollution in some parts of the country."

Peacock's statement is telling in that it basically admits the EPA will do little about it. Contrary to Peacock's unnecessary and irrelevant conservative party line talking point on race relations, we don't think the purpose of the findings is to further emphasize (or inflame) the contemporary racial divide. It simply introduces findings that portray a disturbing correlation between where people live and where high concentrations of pollution flourish. It just so happens that a disproportionate amount of those affected are African American. A ranking EPA official's dismissal of that finding is alarming considering the prevalence is so high.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

So, what about Cory Maye?

There was - up until Cato Institute Policy Analyst Radley Balko recently uncovered it - a little known death penalty case in Mississippi concerning a Black man by the name of Cory Maye. But, the NAACP, ACLU, Rev. Jackson, Danny Glover, Jamie Foxx, assorted Black Congressional Members and other high profile bling heads of the Black gliterrati wouldn't know or tell you about Maye as they sweat Stanley Tookie Williams in a bid to pimp camera coverage. Why do we sound so hardcore and brutal about this? Because, as we hint in our recent editorial ("The Death of One"), it seems like one must somehow qualify or fit certain criteria to deserve serious media attention to their cause. In this case, Cory Maye would probably need to establish a notorious underground criminal organization that caused much pain and suffering for countless Black folks, then - in a turn of "redemption" spurred by that epiphany known as "death row" - write kids books and put a Mumia spin on his disposition.

But, the poor, unemployed, father of an 18 month old daughter he was simply defending in a moment of violent confusion prompted by an invading local SWAT team is just that: poor, unemployed and unknown.

Kim Pearson, Associate Professor at the College of New Jersey, made us aware of this story with her blog summary of Balko's lengthy expose' on this:

Late on the night of December 26, 2001, Cory Maye, 21, laid asleep in his Prentiss, Mississippi duplex apartment, with his 1-year-old daughter in a crib nearby. A armed man entered his bedroom. Maye shot the man, who turned out to Ronald Jones, 29, part of a police SWAT team searching for drugs. Jones, the son of the local police chief, died from his wound. No drugs were found in Maye's apartment, although a search of the grounds and the adjoining property produced evidence leading to the arrest Maye's neighbor, Jamie Smith, for drug possession and trafficking. Despite Maye's contention that the shooting was in self-defense, a jury convicted him of murder in January, 2004, and he was sentenced to die by lethal injection.

When going further and deeper into Balko's copious note taking in his blog The Agitator and painstaking research on Maye, one is bound to see how seriously egregious this case really is. But, it takes a firebrand, young White libertarian from the Cato Institute to make us all aware of this unfortunate young Black man's story in Mississippi where it is looking like a serious miscarriage of justice is about to take place - and it seems no one is marching 25 miles or pitching calls for clemency.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Supreme Court to examine Texas redistricting ...

The topic of redistricting is an extremely tough, complex nut to crack when breaking it down for the public. Which is sad commentary considering its critical importance, particularly to the African American electorate and it's rapidly growing political class. We agree that hearings are needed, if only to simply educate the public.

It's a very involved and deliberative science that involves the cunning re-shifting, re-drawing and re-building of political districts in any given state, based - of course - on the whims of the reigning political party in that state. It's a commonplace legislative procedure, a frequent chess game between opposing partisans, but the degree of controversy surrounding redistricting typically depends on the size, electoral significance and cultural make-up of the state. Such is the case with Texas, as reports:

Justices will likely hear the cases in April to consider whether redrawing the districts reduced minority voting strength.

The cases also involve the question of whether courts can remedy excessive gerrymandering and if states can redraw congressional maps twice in the same decade when a valid plan exists.

The four consolidated appeals stem from Texas legislative action in 2003 that led to the defeat of five Democratic incumbents in Congress the next year and sparked a bitter partisan battle.
The U.S. Constitution requires states to reapportion their congressional districts every 10 years based on population changes in the most recent census.

After the 2000 census, a state court redrew the state map with help from state lawmakers.
After Republicans gained control of the state Legislature in 2002, however, U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay promoted a second redistricting.

Delay's name is what really adds spice to this case, as there is a sudden spotlight on redistricting issues. However, beyond that, it places Black Congressional Democrats in a tough spot:

Republicans counter the plan was a legitimate exercise in legislative authority and that the changes led to the 2004 election of another African-American, Rep. Al Green. Two other black female Texans already served in Congress.

Dan Egen in the Washington Post reports on 12.10.05:

The Justice Department has barred staff attorneys from offering recommendations in major Voting Rights Act cases, marking a significant change in the procedures meant to insulate such decisions from politics, congressional aides and current and former employees familiar with the issue said.

Disclosure of the change comes amid growing public criticism of Justice Department decisions to approve Republican-engineered plans in Texas and Georgia that were found to hurt minority voters by career staff attorneys who analyzed the plans. Political appointees overruled staff findings in both cases.

As far as Texas is concerned, that's a hard case to argue if the Delay Plan was somehow responsible for adding another Black Congressional member to the Texas delegation.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Bush Meeting Privately w/ African American Leadership ...

Compelling piece by Dan Froomkin in his Washington Post White House Briefing that we couldn't resist posting:

After five years of frosty relations between the White House and the NAACP, the civil rights organization's new president, Bruce S. Gordon, has met with President Bush twice in the past three months -- and at the second meeting, just this week, he brought eight other black leaders with him.

The continued, widespread anger in the African American community about Bush's lackluster response to Hurricane Katrina is certainly one factor in the White House's new outreach effort.

But another factor is Gordon himself, a former Verizon senior executive, who is apparently willing to indulge Bush in his passion for secrecy.

Gordon and his colleagues have spoken in only the most general terms about what transpired during their closed-door meetings with the president.

Here's the ASCENT Blog take on this (which we expect to, by next week, blossom into a editorial).

First, Froomkin's quick draw tip on Gordon's professional past as a Verizon exec is no mere reference point. Gordon is a former senior exec to a ... please - the leading telecommunications company on the continent and the NAACP has always been embattled with money woes. Bringing Gordon in was strategic as the NAACP has to mature beyond the short-term and think of ways to grow outside of its civil rights box - bringing in a corporate head with fiscal sense makes more money than being saddled with an activist that has none. These private meetings aren't just about Katrina (although, we're fairly certain these sit downs may have influenced the American Red Cross' recent move towards multi-cultural inclusiveness). Some backscratching took place ...

The Congressional Black Caucus' reluctance to endorse Mfume could also be linked to this (note Cummings presence in this meeting). Theory: Bush people could leverage their weight with campaign contributors who are current or potential NAACP donors if Black political leadership holds back on an Mfume endorsement in Maryland (so Steele has a better chance of winning). Bush team also says: "you guys tone that rhetoric down a little and we'll see if we can interest our other friends in some philanthropy." Or - Bush donors who give funding to the NAACP are being sweated by the Bush Hardline because the perception is that they "consort" with or "give aid" to the opposition - so, Gordon has to find a way to appease the donors. NAACP can't operate on dues alone.

We could be wrong, but recent events have been looking might suspicious. And, in politics, there is no such thing as strange bedfellows - only common interests.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Bush gives another generic "stay-the-course" speech on non-strategy in Iraq before the Council on Foreign Relations. Congressman Murtha - bigging up his prospects as a needed, credible and intellectual leader on defense issues for a Democratic party perceived as weak on such topics - follows quick with a press conference reacting to the Bush speech. Good cop, bad cop ...

Agreed: withdrawal is the most viable option available. That is certain to happen - the question is how immediate and on who's political timetable. It all depends on the outcome of the '06 mid-terms, the debate on the war as a rhetoricized campaigning veil measuring voter disposition.

We see Murtha's point that a "very small portion of those involved in insurgency are terrorists", although the many levels of violence taking place in Iraq on a daily basis seriously blur any definition of exactly who is fighting and for what. But, we differ on the assertion that US troops are caught in the middle of a "civil war." Calling it a "civil war" somehow minimizes the scope of the multi-front conflict we've allowed ourselves to get drawn into: World War IV. Iraq just happens to be one of those many fronts - a bottomless pit of a front at that. Let's not stray from that point and undervalue the global proportion of this. Let's not front as though there is something "seperate" between the Iraq "insurgency" and the larger "war on terrorism" - all of this is an interconnected mess.

Perusing the pages of The Hill today:

When Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) went to the White House in September 2002, as the president was shoring up congressional support for a resolution authorizing military force in Iraq, he brought a notepad.
“‘Does not want to put troops in harm’s way. Has WMD. Trained terrorists on WMD. … If military force is used it will be fierce, swift and tough.’” Ross recited the notes for The Hill recently, then looked up incredulously. “Swift? This is the end of 2005!”

Ross is among 81 mostly centrist House Democrats who sided with the administration on the war in October 2002 and supported sending troops to Iraq. Since then, many — 56 are still in Congress and still Democrats — have changed their minds, disillusioned with the administration’s handling of the war and the quality of prewar intelligence. Many say they wouldn’t vote the same way again.

“No, not knowing what I know now,” Ross said. “I think I was either lied to or we got some really bad intelligence. And I’m not sure I’ll ever know which it was.”

It starts looking more and more like a good cop, bad cop scenario, with the American public seated under a scorching lamp. But it doesn't matter since the whole Congress will have some trouble washing the blood from its hands.

Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL) in the Miami Herald:

The smartest thing Democrats could do is shut up, let the Republicans implode, and let John Murtha carry the ball, because his credibility is impeccable,'' said Hastings, a House Intelligence Committee member who does not support the call for immediate withdrawal.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Politics of Charity ...

Washington Post reports today:

The American Red Cross has launched an aggressive effort to reach out to racial and ethnic minorities and add more of them to the charity's vast network of volunteers, in response to criticism that it treated them callously during the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.
More than two months after Katrina and Hurricane Rita ripped through the Gulf Coast and caused tens of thousands of people to flee their homes for Red Cross shelters, the organization is dealing with complaints that it failed to provide enough translators and overlooked cultural sensitivities. The concerns have been raised by members of Congress and groups representing blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans.

This might have seemed like common sense when Katrina struck. That it's happening several months after the fact is of concern.

There has been much conversation about FEMA's response, but little into the dealings of the Red Cross. Bringing in $1.2 billion in donations, and spending about $2 billion overall for Katrina relief, the Red Cross has been accused of hoarding cash from other charity organizations willing or in a much better position to help (particularly local organizations in the ravaged Gulf Coast area). This latest move by Red Cross leadership is more than just outreach, but a response to that criticism - similar to the response during 9/11 when they raised $1.1 billion and earmarked $200 million for future crises. Critics have long advised ARC to exercise much more flexibility and sharing of its funds. Supporters contend it's "envy" of ARC's "fundraising prowess." But, it also seems like common sense to not monopolize charity funds (for fear that such "hoarding" will come back to haunt you) and, rather, engage in aggressive and responsible sub-contracting to more localized groups in that region that have experience servicing disadvantaged groups. We emphasize "responsible" to encourage strict oversight in the event that occurs. The last thing Katrina victims need are scams perpetrating as well-intentioned charities.

We're not seeing this sort of outreach from the embattled and ridiculously misled FEMA for obvious reasons. Is it fair to ask if FEMA is using the Red Cross as a political buffer since ARC is the largest non-profit recipient of federal disaster funding ("Better they than us.")? Just a question to throw out there. ARC is first on the list to receive FEMA funding for disasters. Pat Robertson's "Operation Blessing" is third on that list.

This recent development may have more to do with the fuming political battles that raged since Katrina as African American organizations desperately sought attention, voice and funding for affected locations that are disproportionately Black. There had been a larger conversation looming behind the scenes where Black churches and organizations eager to assist Katrina victims - many African American - faced off with the seemingly untouchable ARC for being kept out of the donation loop and dismissed by the ARC hierarchy. A conversation regarding ARC's funding management seemed sacrosanct.

We hope that the collective of Black churches, organizations, non-profits and activists focued on Katrina recovery will now enter the next and most important phase of that discussion: asset-building for impoverished families as Katrina victims slowly recover. We've been encouraged by talk from co-Chairs and members of the newly formed Congressional Savings & Ownership Caucus (CSOC), which " ... is dedicated to exploring, debating, and advancing policies to build savings and assets for all Americans – low-income Americans in particular" and the partnering New America Foundation . The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's "With Ownership Wealth" (WOW) program was initiated pre-9/11 and we hope it can be revived, expanded or somehow linked into the CSOC, although Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. (D-TN) co-chairs it.

This is something the ARC cannot or is unwilling to do. Outreach, translators and multi-cultural volunteers are fine steps in the right direction - but, seriously, that should have been a part of ARC's normal operations a long time ago. The fact that it took a scuffle with disgruntled "minority" interest groups seeking charity dollars to finally make that a reality confounds us and shatters the realm of the common sense.

Hence, shelters and food lines go but so far. There should be greater focus and more pressing discussion on the long term goal of asset-building.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Michael Kinsley on Corruption

This is a piece worth marking, found in the Washington Post:

It used to be said that the moral arc of a Washington career could be divided into four parts: idealism, pragmatism, ambition and corruption. You arrive with a passion for a cause, determined to challenge the system. Then you learn to work for your cause within the system. Then rising in the system becomes your cause. Then, finally, you exploit the system -- your connections in it, and your understanding of it -- for personal profit.

And it remains true, sort of, but faster. Even the appalling Jack Abramoff had ideals at one point. But he took a shortcut straight to corruption. On the other hand, you can now trace the traditional moral arc in the life of conservative-dominated Washington itself, which began with Ronald Reagan's inauguration and marks its 25th anniversary in January. Reagan and Co. arrived to tear down the government and make Washington irrelevant. Now the airport and a giant warehouse of bureaucrats are named after him.

The funny thing is what is being coined as " ... a string of Republican scandals" really unfolds into a universal indictment of business as usual in Washington. The larger issue doesn't cut according to party lines since the ilk of scandal doesn't discriminate. However, it's more relevant to the GOP leadership simply based on the power formula - since they run things, this is how it is (and should be). Republicans, of course, banter about the various shenaningans of Democrats involved in corruption for political gain, making the point like a whining, defiant bully who pokes at the other kids while being pulled away from the school yard by the once clueless teacher who never before lifted a finger.

The point being that Democrats are, at this time, somewhat limited in how much damage they can inflict on the system. Yes, corruption is corruption - but, in politics, the next step is the math on the consequences of that corruption: is it symbolic in that it only caused personal destruction and had us all engage in a ritual questioning of the institutions integrity? Or, is it truly substantive in that it caused real national destruction and breakdown of the rule of law? Republicans seem involved in a nefarious string of systemic heists all woven into the mess of war, fear, cut budgets, rising deficits and demented foreign policy they created - since they've made it clear that they do, indeed, run things. We asserted last week that the denunciation of Rep. Cunningham (R-CA) by his peers and the GOP hierarchy stunk of foul hypocrisy and bad taste (since, at least, he seemed to be the only cat in Congress who fessed up to something), and give big ups to Kinsley for taking this further:

When Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham pleaded guilty this week to accepting a comic cornucopia of baubles, plus some cash, from defense contractors, the vast right-wing conspiracy acted with impressive speed and forcefulness to expel one of its most doggedly loyal loudmouths and pack him off to a long jail term. Even Bush, whose affable capacity for understanding and forgiveness on the personal level is one of his admirable qualities, seized an unnecessary opportunity to wish the blackguard ill. There was no talk of "sadness" -- the usual formula for expressing sympathy without excusing guilt.

This astringent response would be more impressive if the basic facts about Cunningham's corruption hadn't been widely known for months. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported in June that a company seeking business from the Pentagon had bought Cunningham's Southern California house from him, held it unoccupied briefly and sold it -- in the hottest real estate market in human history -- for a $700,000 loss. You didn't need to know that Duke's haul included two antique commodes to smell the stench. Yet all the Republican voices now saying that Cunningham deserves his punishment were silent until he clearly and unavoidably was going to get it.

The extent of this damage is still, in our eyes, less known since it involved a party expert on national security issues and one who chaired the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Human Intelligence Analysis and Counterintelligence - beyond Cunningham, that alone should lead many to question how deep that "War on Terror" hole goes. Perhaps that truth is what scares the GOP rather than what they say angers them.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Mutterings of a Black Senator from the Garden State ...

Interesting developments in New Jersey, AP reports:

Two days after being elected New Jersey's governor, Democrat Jon Corzine speculated out loud that he might appoint a woman to fill his unexpired Senate term. Then he singled out state Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex, calling the black politician an "extraordinarily capable woman."Gill did not shy away from the hint."I have the qualifications," she told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "If I am chosen by Jon, I am more than qualified to rise to the occasion."If chosen by Corzine, Gill would become only the sixth black person and second black woman to serve in the Senate. New Jersey has never had a female or minority U.S. senator.

We're encouraged by signs that it is, indeed, fashionable to be Black and make a serious run for the Senate. And, since Obama's spot is blowing up, everybody is jumping into that fray. Let's hope a run for national office didn't just stop with the exposure campaigns of Jackson, Sharpton and Fulani. Now, we hope this translates into a substantial expansion of the Congressional Black Caucus (for what it's worth). Jersey and Maryland are looking fairly hot; we have to wait and see on Tennessee.

The Fall of the Ohio Black Governor's Race ...

We were so immersed in the Maryland Senate race and the likelihood of an All Black Battle, that we only briefly talked about the potential of an All Black Gubernatorial race in Ohio. There, popular two term Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, a Black Democrat, was looking much like a presumptive nominee. Ohio's Secretary of State, Kenneth Blackwell, a Black Republican, is considered a front-runner in the GOP primary.

However, Coleman dropped out a few days ago citing "family troubles" according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. The Plain-Dealer's take on this is telling:

Although Coleman later won praise within his party for publicly taking on the powerful gun lobby and for proposing a new state ethics czar, demands of the campaign collided with his duties as a mayor and as a husband. Coleman shunned some campaign duties, preferring to focus on the city's budget, labor troubles at the Central Ohio Transit Authority and other more mundane municipal concerns. Last month, suburban Columbus police arrested his wife, Frankie, for drunken driving. Her case is pending.

That's unfortunate. Still, as far as Black political activity and what will happen in 2006 and 2008, Ohio is a state to look at.

The Cruel Denunciation of "Duke" Cunningham ...

Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) by all appearances and impressions seemed to be a decent guy in a sea of shallowness. He was affable and approachable, less dripped in the hard core ideological ilk of partisans. Definitely an unapologetic conservative, but at times willing to reason and consider the other side. A prostate cancer survivor, Cunningham at one time expressed deep interest in addressing the disproportionate impact of this disease on African American men, who have a 50 percent greater chance of getting it as opposed to White men and are twice as likely to die from it. You don't hear aging White Republican men often interested in what's happening with Black men ...

We can't nor will we even try to defend the indefensible, particularly as our governing institutions presently leave notions and expectations of democracy completely shattered. And, certainly, there are a lot of brothers and sisters out there (overpopulating our Apartheid-era like prison system at this very moment) being accused or incarcerated for crimes they never committed or petty misdemeanors they had scant resources to fight. Cunningham's crimes were not mere "ethical" violations or lapses in judgement. These were calculated, audacious crimes. But, as we focus for now on Congress, we have to reflect on the fact that, at least this guy finally admitted to doing something wrong. At least he accepted responsibility and avoided the ritual blame-gaming, feet shuffling and legal acrobatics that most politicians perform. Instead, he simply and bluntly admitted to accepting bribes, going so far to say during an emotional press conference that he now knew "... shame." Maybe that was staged, maybe it was intended to impress the prosecutors after his arm got twisted. But, we can't deny it left an impression and led us to thinking about it some more.

We respect that. We think his punishment should fit the crime and send a message to others, but we respect the fact that before sentencing took place, before he even stepped foot in a jail, he owned up to what he did. To say the least, the personal responsibility ethic is quite absent from modern society, so it's refreshing when an elected official cuts through the stench of denials and chooses the high road.

Which is why we can't help but find it awfully wrong and somewhat disingenuous when Republican leaders vehemently denounce Cunningham in an all out public relations assualt on the multi-decorated Vietnam War ace fighter pilot war hero (who, incidentally, inspired the film Top Gun). We just didn't think the GOP was in the habit of skinning war heroes, as hawkish as many in their rank are about dragging the rest of us into foreign forays for "freedom." We feel a Murtha Moment coming on: "Yeah - we like guys who get a string of draft deferments, avoid the front lines and now want to ostracize guys who put their lives on the line." Compared to the Delays, the Frists, Roves and Libbys clouding the Republican-run government, Cunningham opted the route of full disclosure. Certainly, we acknoweldge that - despite the indictments of two mentioned above - much of this is still allegations and charges heaped on top of fairly convincing speculation. The next big step is proving it. Still, there is a whiff of the blind leading the blind, and we think the GOP should leave Cunningham to his own misery. But, there must be some lesson in Cunningham's big brush with shame that can impart key lessons.