Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A look back at 1964: Part II - Johnson's War on Poverty

                                           (Photo credit: LBJ Library photo by Cecil Stoughton)
Robert Caro’s book, The Years of Lyndon Johnson; The Passage of Power provides some insight to perhaps a fundamental flaw with Johnson’s War on Poverty. For example, the book recalls a remark made by Mr. William M. Capron, an early architect of the war on poverty program, “We started out with the notion that we were not talking about big new budget resources, and that was a constraint. That’s why…we talked about a targeted demonstration program. We used the argument that we were all terribly ignorant about poverty and programmatic ways to do something about it, that we had to learn a lot more. We were not talking about a massive program at all.”

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A look back at 1964: Part I - Johnson's War on Poverty

                                  Photo credit: LBJ Library photo by Cecil Stoughton
As President Barack Obama prepares to deliver his fifth State of the Union address, we are reminded of the recent celebration of the 50th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson’s announcement of his anti-poverty program – called the War on Poverty.

So, 50 years ago, on January 8th in 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson delivers his first State of the Union speech – barely six weeks after the Kennedy assassination. President Johnson used the moment to outline not only his desire to push for what many considered “Kennedy” initiatives such as civil rights and a tax cut – but the one issue that was not on the public’s radar – poverty. Looking ahead ten months or so to the 1964 presidential election, potentially going up against Republican Barry Goldwater, addressing poverty can help, particularly in the areas of the country where he is weakest –“liberal urban areas.” During the morning press briefing before delivering the State of the Union, President Johnson told reporters, “…so I would suspect that the poverty program itself would run in excess of one billion dollars. But there is specifically $500 million in new obligation authority in this budget.”[1] Johnson now had one billion dollars for his anti-poverty efforts that amounted to 1% of the nation’s spending to help 20% of the population. This was in contrast to the New Deal’s work relief appropriation bill was more than $4 billion, plus nearly $880 million in previously authorized funds.

Monday, January 20, 2014

A look back at 1964: a Series

The Sixties is well acknowledged as a period of transformative and fundamental change in America, especially as a time when race assumed a more pivotal role in American politics. There were three presidential campaigns during this turbulent period in American history that witnessed the contrasting forces of racial liberalism and racial conservatism collide against each other – in the backdrop of a national movement for civil rights for blacks. Although a strong argument can be made for the tumultuous year of 1968 as the single pivotal year during the sixties, a stronger argument can be made for 1964 as the pivotal year in American politics for several reasons.

For example during 1964, the 24th Amendment was passed opposing the poll tax, the foundation was laid down for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s vision for a Great Society with the Equal Opportunity Act to fight poverty, there was the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Dr. Martin Luther King being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, rebellions took place in black communities in New York, New Jersey, Chicago and Philadelphia, and three civil rights workers were killed. On the international scene, Malawi and Zambia became independent African nations while Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison – starting a nearly 27 year stretch as an imprisoned revolutionary and political prisoner.

Monday, January 13, 2014

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

End of Year review for 2013 - Part II

Part II
On the national political scene, 2013 opened up with President Obama ready to start his second term while Republicans gathered to debate their apparent demise during the November 2012 elections. But this GOP introspection didn’t last long as their long-term strategic objective – solid obstructionism – was back in play. Throughout the year, the nation was witness to both GOP obstructionism and Obama capitulation play out for all to see. There were several failed attempts to defund the Affordable Care Act, the federal government 16-day shutdown that cost upwards of $24 billion to the elimination of unemployment benefits and food stamp benefits for millions of people. Another casualty of GOP obstructionism was effective gun control legislation – after yet another school shooting, this time at Sandy Hook Elementary in December 2012 and episodes of gun violence occurring throughout the nation. The gun violence in Chicago became nationalized when young Hadiya Pendelton was shot dead less than two weeks after playing in a band at the presidential inauguration ceremonies. The president was subsequently criticized for failing to show similar emotion in reacting to Hadiya’s death compared to his shedding a tear on national television in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. African Americans across the nation began to sound the drumbeat in asking the president to do something – say something...First Lady Michelle Obama attended the funeral along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Valerie Jarrett – all three are from Chicago.

The nation stood witness to the headlines and stories dominated by the Affordable Care Act all year long, particularly when the ACA rollout faced an avalanche of problems associated with the website, The rollout was characterized by the chaos that followed revelations of number of major technical problems, insurance plans for millions of folks were dropped, and poor management decisions from the Obama administration, just to name a few. In short, the rollout was a disaster and a rather bitter pill for the president to swallow. The Affordable Care Act is his signature piece of legislation and has been under constant attack from Republicans since the president signed off on it. There were repeated efforts to undermine Obama’s key legislation through attempts at defunding and repealing ACA – every attempt unsuccessful.

As 2013 came to a close, the Obama administration reported that slightly more than two million people have signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Although, they may be severely challenged in meeting the seven million target – it does appears that the worse is behind Obama’s team. However, that has not stopped opponents of ACA who are encouraged by declining poll numbers for both Obama and ACA. For example, results from a December 2013 Gallup poll disclosed that ACA is both President Obama’s greatest achievement (22%) as well as his biggest failure (36%). Republican opponents of ACA continue their efforts to undermine the nearly four year old law with online petitions to repeal and defund ACA.

But the reality is that ACA has clearly forced a paradigm shift in America where for the first time, there is a national effort to provide health insurance coverage to the nearly fifty million Americans without health insurance. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act is such a HUGE step forward not only in providing coverage for the uninsured but the protections as well as preventive care that will now be provided. For example, pre-existing conditions are now covered; preventive care is free; coverage is extended for young adults until they reach twenty-six years old; and lifetime and yearly limits are eliminated. See a complete listing here for all protections provided The free screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, Type-2 diabetes, HIV – and particular for women – screening for breast cancer, cervical cancer, mammograms, Hepatitis for pregnant women are just a scant few examples. See a complete listing here for a listing of all available screening for women. President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama spoke with several mothers about ACA and the president said, “I think this conversation really drove home in a very personal way why this is important,” President Obama said. “Sometimes here in Washington, this is a very abstract conversation or an entirely political conversation. But when you boil it down to stories and people hear what it means to have the security of solid health insurance at an affordable price when you need it, it reminds me at least of why we've been fighting so hard to get this done.”

2013 ended with Hillary Clinton declared the frontrunner for the 2016 presidential race – although she hasn’t officially announced her candidacy. While end of the year Gallup polls underline her popularity – is this a legitimate consideration for the highest office in the country – before consideration of her politics and policy proposals? The voter must critically think for themselves and disregard Clinton popularity over policy; become more interested in policy proposals and ideas while ignoring celebrity and elitist endorsements. For example, while we know of Hillary’s advocacy for women issues - what do we know of her positions on the economy, unemployment, education, voting rights and affirmative action? What about her views on Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East? Where does she stand on the use of drones – both domestically and internationally, and the NSA surveillance on American citizens? Taking into consideration the fallout between Blacks and Clinton during the 2008 campaign – what will be Black America’s political reaction if Hillary disagrees and then criticizes President Obama policies? Hillary Clinton served as the First lady for two terms, went on to become a US Senator and then the Secretary of state – but voters, progressive voters must ask these and other necessary questions before a decision to support her candidacy is made.

NSA and government surveillance
There was also the jaw dropping revelations published by The Guardian about the National Security Agency commonly known as the NSA, who were actively collecting and storing phone record data on millions of Americans. While these revelations may not rise to the shrug your shoulder level – but should we really be surprised about this? After the September 11 attacks, there were several disclosures about the Bush presidency and government surveillance, not to mention the long sordid history of being watched or listened to by the government. We’ll get to this momentarily but getting back to the Bush presidency – there were similar revelations. For example, when he secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants required for domestic spying. Or in 2006 when we found out that the NSA was secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth to analyze calling patterns to detect terrorism.

But what should be quite disturbing was the revelation of a Pew survey measuring the public's view around combating terrorism vs. privacy - the results are interesting. The survey showed 56 percent of people believe the NSA tracking of telephone calls is an acceptable way to fight terrorism. That includes 53 percent of whites, 62 percent of blacks and 63 percent of nonwhites in general. In fact, the survey noted the following, "...finds no indications that last week’s revelations of the government’s collection of phone records and internet data have altered fundamental public views about the tradeoff between investigating possible terrorism and protecting personal privacy."

The question here is why is there so much acceptance of government surveillance, considering the sad history of government spying on US citizens and related abuses? Is there any awareness of the dangers of surveillance? For example, didn’t COINTELPRO demonstrate for all to see the connection between surveillance and political imprisonment – do you think this is the next natural step after accusations are made and charges levied? COINTELPRO was a domestic covert operation used by the FBI under the notorious J. Edgar Hoover. The covert operation was designed to repress political expression outside the mainstream. For example, victims of COINTELPRO were activists in the American Indian Movement, the Black Liberation Movement, Civil Rights Movement, Puerto Rican Independence Movement, Socialist Workers Party, Students for Democratic Society, and the Communist Party USA, to name a few. The FBI infiltrated these groups, used the legal system and the local police department to levy false criminal charges and carry out sting operations and murderous raids. Maybe – just maybe is it possible the acceptance of government surveillance, as indicated from the results from the Pew survey cited earlier – is based on fear? Do you think this begins to explain why there hasn’t been a strong national movement in this country, such as the social movements outlined earlier, since the sixties

RIP Amiri Baraka (1934-2014)

As you know by now, the great poet Amiri Baraka has joined the ancestors. In A Nation within a Nation, author Komozi Woodard eloquently wrote in the preface, "Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) - author of over twenty plays, three jazz operas, seven books of nonfiction, a novel, and thirteen volumes of poetry - is best known as a major cultural leader, one of the African American writers who galvanized a second Black Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, making an indelible contribution to modern African American culture and consciousness."

I met Mr. Baraka at a reparations rally in Washington DC in 2002, I believe. Then I interviewed him for a story for the New York Amsterdam News a couple months later. The backstory is that I was given the assigned the story on October 7th - on his birthday. My editor managed to track him down at a birthday luncheon taking place at a New Jersey restaurant, I believe. So I call him and he had to remove himself from his birthday celebration to talk to me on the phone - and it was not a cell phone - on a pay phone about the controversy swirling around his poem, "Somebody blew up America". Despite being his birthday, he was very gracious and eager to talk to me about the poem and the controversy that started when the poem was criticized by a Jewish group, who then described Mr. Baraka as an anti-semite.

See the article below as it was published in the New York Amsterdam News and available here online

Poetic injustice
By Charles A. Brooks, Amsterdam News, 9 October 2002.

Social activist and prolific poet/writer Amiri Baraka recently became the center of controversy since New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey asked Baraka to resign his position as poet laureate of New Jersey because of Baraka’s poem “Somebody Blew Up America.”

The flare-up began after Baraka read the poem at the 2002 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival at Waterloo Village in Stanhope on Sept. 19.

The controversial portion reads: “Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed/Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers/To stay home that day/Why did Sharon stay away?”

After speaking at a press conference yesterday at the Newark Library in New Jersey, Baraka spoke with the Amsterdam News. “They singled out a few lines, and for them to say that it’s anti-Semitic is incorrect. First-of-all, coming from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), it’s slander. It’s a cover. They use the religion to cover their political ideology. Anytime you have an opinion that is independent of the ADL, you’re cast as an anti-Semite. It’s absurd,” Baraka said.

The governor’s spokesman, Kevin Davitt, said that the language used in Baraka’s poem could be interpreted as stating that Israelis were forewarned of the September 11th terrorist attacks. “Mr. Baraka should clarify the intent of his language, apologize for any potential misinterpretation of his language and resign,” Davitt said.

The Anti-Defamation League immediately characterized Baraka’s “criticism” of Israel as anti-Semitic. ADL also maintains that Baraka’s poem suggests that Israel knew of the pending terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and warned 4,000 Israeli World Trade Center workers not to come to work that day, implying that Israel was somehow involved in the September 11th terrorist plot.

The ADL characterized Baraka’s poem as a “big lie.”

“It’s a great hypocrisy, and people know this, especially those in high places, because they don’t want to be hounded in the same way that I’m hounded now,” Baraka said.

In a letter written by William Davidson, ADL-New Jersey state chairman, and Charles Goldstein, ADL’s regional director, to the governor, they said how pleased they were that the governor “condemned” Baraka’s remarks and “urged” him to resign.

“While typically ADL does not take the issue with the content of poetry or other forms of expression, no matter how repugnant, the fact that Mr. Baraka is the poet laureate of New Jersey and was introduced as such at a major New Jersey poetry festival attracting a large audience, brings his performance to a higher level of concern and spurs us to write you.” The letter goes on to say: “It may be that as a poet, Mr. Baraka may say what he chooses, no matter how ugly, irresponsible or deceptive. However, we don’t believe that the residents of New Jersey, nor their representatives, should have such venom spewed in their name. Therefore, we are pleased that as governor of the state of New Jersey you condemn Amiri Baraka’s remarks and will urge him to consider resigning from his post as poet laureate of the state of New Jersey.”

However, the poem—in its entirety—seems to suggest something different altogether. For example, throughout the poem, Baraka appears to contradict the American ideal by exposing several episodes, such as slavery, Jim Crow, assassinations, manifest destiny, racism, global oppression and genocide, through cynical yet engaging poetic verses. Baraka highlights these events by asking questions throughout the poem that begin with the word “who.” Baraka explained: “The message of the poem was to show how Blacks were affected by terrorism. I mean, Blacks have been under terrorism since we’ve been here.” Baraka continued, “I also wanted to show the people who also suffered from terrorism all over the world.”

Kalamu ya Salaam, who is a poet, dramatist and music critic, told the AmNews he doesn’t agree with the implication that Baraka’s poem is anti-Semitic. “First of all, I don’t accept the general catchphrase of anti-Semitism as a criticism of Israel. You can criticize Israel but not be anti-Semitic. Secondly, the poem is just that—a poem. It’s not a statement by a head of government. The poem only asks a questions. And if we’re afraid of questions, then we’re really in trouble,” Salaam explained.

A committee convened by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities and the State Council on the Arts selected Baraka as poet laureate last month. He was given a proclamation and a two-year, $10,000 appointment to promote and encourage poetry. But Baraka’s title of poet laureate and the grant money cannot be withdrawn, and he cannot be removed from the position unless he decides to resign, which he steadfastly refuses to do. The governor does not have the power to remove Baraka because he did not appoint him to the post.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Happy New Year's message

I just want to take a moment to send Happy New Year wishes to everyone. I want to personally thank everyone who took the time to visit The Blackboard and read my posts. I really appreciate your support with what I am trying to do with The Blackboard. My plan is a simple one – publish content on The Blackboard that contains sharp and insightful analysis on the more critical issues and current events of the day. The Blackboard is committed to bringing to you, my reading audience, solid analysis from a unique perspective. In addition to the analysis, The Blackboard has a page containing a several links to various resource materials for your reading and/or research activities.

But I need your help in making The Blackboard a success and it’s really not difficult at all – if you like what you have read on The Blackboard then please let other people know about it. Post a link on your Twitter feed or Facebook page, or send out an email to your friends letting them know about The Blackboard. Help me spread the word about The Blackboard!!

My goal is to build an online community of informed and critical thinkers to facilitate discussion and debate on important issues. In the coming months, The Blackboard will feature multimedia content that will include guest columnists, investigative and journalism reporting, and interviews with elected officials, activists, leaders of various organizations. The Resource page will be updated frequently with new links to important information. The Blackboard will continue to look at political and social issues as well as healthcare, education, the national economy, criminal justice, poverty and human rights.

I want to thank you again for supporting The Blackboard!

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Charles Brooks, CEO
Brooks Publishing Group, LLC
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