Saturday, March 8, 2014

U.S. Senate Votes Against Confirmation of Progressive Attorney Debo Adegbile from the NAACP To Head the Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Department of Justice

Willie Horton Politics: Senate Votes Against Civil Rights
Ari Berman
March 5, 2014
The Nation

Debo Adegbile outside the Supreme Court on Feb. 27, 2013, after arguments in the Shelby County, Ala., v. Holder voting rights case. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Today, the US Senate voted 47-52 not to confirm Debo Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Every Republican senator and seven Democrats voted against Adegbile’s nomination.

Adegbile, the former director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was superbly qualified for the position. He was endorsed by the American Bar Association and high-profile lawyers on both sides of the aisle, and presciently defended the Voting Rights Act before the Supreme Court last year. He would’ve made an excellent head of the Civil Rights Division.

But Adegbile was the victim of a vicious right-wing smear campaign, attacking him because LDF defended Mumia Abu Jamal’s right to a fair trial. All across the right-wing media echo chamber, on Fox News and conservative blogs, the words Adegbile and “cop-killer” were plastered in the headlines. The Fraternal Order of Police came out against his nomination, even though a court agreed with LDF that Abu Jamal had not been granted a fair trial—a basic right in American society regardless of whether he did or did not commit the crime.

In disqualifying Adegbile, senators are establishing a very dangerous precedent that attorneys are responsibile for all of the actions of their clients. “LDF’s advocacy on behalf of Mr. Abu-Jamal does not disqualify Mr. Adegbile from leading the Civil Rights Division,” prominent members of the Supreme Court bar wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year. “To conclude otherwise would send the wrong message to any lawyer who is affiliated, or might be asked to become involved, with a difficult, unpopular case for the purpose of enforcing and preserving important constitutional principles.”

It’s understandable why every Republican senator lined up against Adegbile’s nomination—the modern GOP has voted against civil rights time and time again. But the opposition of Democrats Casey, Coons, Donnelly, Heitkamp, Manchin, Pryor and Walsh is more shameful (Harry Reid voted no for procedural reasons, to keep the nomination alive). The idea that voting against the nomination of the head of the DOJ Civil Rights Division would swing a close race is laughable. Casey and Coons deserve particular scorn, since they represent safe blue states and both profess to be supporters of the causes Adegbile supports, like voting rights.

Today’s vote shows that, twenty-six years after George Bush ran the infamous Willie Horton ad against Michael Dukakis, race-based gutter politics is still not a thing of the past. As the Los Angeles Times wrote, “Adegbile deserves better.”

Friday, March 7, 2014

Major Scholar, Political Theorist, Critic, Historian, And Radical Activist Adolph Reed, Jr. On The Abdication And Erosion Of the American Left In The Age Of Obama

Nothing Left
The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals
By Adolph Reed Jr.
February 19, 2014
Harper's Magazine

(b. 1947)

For nearly all the twentieth century there was a dynamic left in the United States grounded in the belief that unrestrained capitalism generated unacceptable social costs. That left crested in influence between 1935 and 1945, when it anchored a coalition centered in the labor movement, most significantly within the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). It was a prominent voice in the Democratic Party of the era, and at the federal level its high point may have come in 1944, when FDR propounded what he called “a second Bill of Rights.” Among these rights, Roosevelt proclaimed, were the right to a “useful and remunerative job,” “adequate medical care,” and “adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.”

The labor-left alliance remained a meaningful presence in American politics through the 1960s. What have become known as the social movements of the Sixties — civil rights activism, protests against the Vietnam War, and a renewed women’s movement — were vitally linked to that egalitarian left. Those movements drew institutional resources, including organizing talents and committed activists, from that older left and built on both the legislative and the ideological victories it had won. But during the 1980s and early 1990s, fears of a relentless Republican juggernaut pressured those left of center to take a defensive stance, focusing on the immediate goal of electing Democrats to stem or slow the rightward tide. At the same time, business interests, in concert with the Republican right and supported by an emerging wing of neoliberal Democrats, set out to roll back as many as possible of the social protections and regulations the left had won. As this defensiveness overtook leftist interest groups, institutions, and opinion leaders, it increasingly came to define left-wing journalistic commentary and criticism. New editorial voices — for example, The American Prospect — emerged to articulate the views of an intellectual left that defined itself as liberal rather than radical. To be sure, this shift was not absolute. Such publications as New Labor Forum, New Politics, Science & Society, Monthly Review, and others maintained an oppositional stance, and the Great Recession has encouraged new outlets such as Jacobin and Endnotes. But the American left moved increasingly toward the middle.

Today, the labor movement has been largely subdued, and social activists have made their peace with neoliberalism and adjusted their horizons accordingly. Within the women’s movement, goals have shifted from practical objectives such as comparable worth and universal child care in the 1980s to celebrating appointments of individual women to public office and challenging the corporate glass ceiling. Dominant figures in the antiwar movement have long since accepted the framework of American military interventionism. The movement for racial justice has shifted its focus from inequality to “disparity,” while neatly evading any critique of the structures that produce inequality.

The sources of this narrowing of social vision are complex. But its most conspicuous expression is subordination to the agenda of a Democratic Party whose center has moved steadily rightward since Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Although it is typically defended in a language of political practicality and sophistication, this shift requires, as the historian Russell Jacoby notes, giving up “a belief that the future could fundamentally surpass the present,” which traditionally has been an essential foundation of leftist thought and practice. “Instead of championing a radical idea of a new society,” Jacoby observes in The End of Utopia, “the left ineluctably retreats to smaller ideas, seeking to expand the options within the existing society.”

The atrophy of political imagination shows up in approaches to strategy as well. In the absence of goals that require long-term organizing — e.g., single-payer health care, universally free public higher education and public transportation, federal guarantees of housing and income security — the election cycle has come to exhaust the time horizon of political action. Objectives that cannot be met within one or two election cycles seem fanciful, as do any that do not comport with the Democratic agenda. Even those who consider themselves to the Democrats’ left are infected with electoralitis. Each election now becomes a moment of life-or-death urgency that precludes dissent or even reflection. For liberals, there is only one option in an election year, and that is to elect, at whatever cost, whichever Democrat is running. This modus operandi has tethered what remains of the left to a Democratic Party that has long since renounced its commitment to any sort of redistributive vision and imposes a willed amnesia on political debate. True, the last Democrat was really unsatisfying, but this one is better; true, the last Republican didn’t bring destruction on the universe, but this one certainly will. And, of course, each of the “pivotal” Supreme Court justices is four years older than he or she was the last time.

Why does this tailing behind an increasingly right-of-center Democratic Party persist in the absence of any apparent payoff? There has nearly always been a qualifying excuse: Republicans control the White House; they control Congress; they’re strong enough to block progressive initiatives even if they don’t control either the executive or the legislative branch. Thus have the faithful been able to take comfort in the circular self-evidence of their conviction. Each undesirable act by a Republican administration is eo ipso evidence that if the Democratic candidate had won, things would have been much better. When Democrats have been in office, the imagined omnipresent threat from the Republican bugbear remains a fatal constraint on action and a pretext for suppressing criticism from the left.

Exaggerating the differences between Democratic and Republican candidates, moreover, encourages the retrospective sanitizing of previous Democratic candidates and administrations. If only Al Gore had been inaugurated after the 2000 election, the story goes, we might well not have had the September 11 attacks and certainly would not have had the Iraq War — as if it were unimaginable that the Republican reaction to the attacks could have goaded him into precisely such an act. And considering his bellicose stand on Iraq during the 2000 campaign, he well might not have needed goading.

The stale proclamations of urgency are piled on top of the standard jeremiads about the Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade. The “filibuster-proof Senate majority” was the gimmick that spruced up the 2008 election cycle, conveniently suggesting strategic preparation for large policy initiatives while deferring discussion of what precisely those initiatives might be. It was an ideal diversion that gave wonks, would-be wonks, and people who just watch too much cable-television news something to chatter about and a rhetorical basis for feeling “informed.” It was, however, built on the bogus premise that Democrat = liberal.

Most telling, though, is the reinvention of the Clinton Administration as a halcyon time of progressive success. Bill Clinton’s record demonstrates, if anything, the extent of Reaganism’s victory in defining the terms of political debate and the limits of political practice. A recap of some of his administration’s greatest hits should suffice to break through the social amnesia. Clinton ran partly on a pledge of “ending welfare as we know it”; in office he both presided over the termination of the federal government’s sixty-year commitment to provide income support for the poor and effectively ended direct federal provision of low-income housing. In both cases his approach was to transfer federal subsidies — when not simply eliminating them — from impoverished people to employers of low-wage labor, real estate developers, and landlords. He signed into law repressive crime bills that increased the number of federal capital offenses, flooded the prisons, and upheld unjustified and racially discriminatory sentencing disparities for crack and powder cocaine. He pushed NAFTA through over strenuous objections from labor and many congressional Democrats. He temporized on his campaign pledge to pursue labor-law reform that would tilt the playing field back toward workers, until the Republican takeover of Congress in 1995 gave him an excuse not to pursue it at all. He undertook the privatization of Sallie Mae, the Student Loan Marketing Association, thereby fueling the student-debt crisis.

Notwithstanding his administration’s Orwellian folderol about “reinventing government,” his commitment to deficit reduction led to, among other things, extending privatization of the federal meat-inspection program, which shifted responsibility to the meat industry — a reinvention that must have pleased his former Arkansas patron, Tyson Foods, and arguably has left its legacy in the sporadic outbreaks and recalls that suggest deeper, endemic problems of food safety in the United States. His approach to health-care reform, like Barack Obama’s, was built around placating the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and its failure only intensified the blitzkrieg of for-profit medicine.

In foreign policy, he was no less inclined than Reagan or George H. W. Bush to engage in military interventionism. Indeed, counting his portion of the Somali operation, he conducted nearly as many discrete military interventions as his two predecessors combined, and in four fewer years. Moreover, the Clinton Administration initiated the “extraordinary rendition” policy, under which the United States claims the right to apprehend individuals without charges or public accounting so that they can be imprisoned anywhere in the world (and which the Obama Administration has explicitly refused to repudiate). Clinton also increased American use of “privatized military services” — that is, mercenaries.

The nostalgic mist that obscures this record is perfumed by evocations of the Clinton prosperity. Much of that era’s apparent prosperity, however, was hollow — the effects of first the tech bubble and then the housing bubble. His administration was implicated in both, not least by his signing the repeal of the 1933 Glass–Steagall Act, which had established a firewall between commercial and investment banking in response to the speculative excesses that sparked the Great Depression. And, as is the wont of bubbles, first one and then the other burst, ushering in the worst economic crisis since the depression that had led to the passage of Glass–Steagall in the first place. To be sure, the Clinton Administration was not solely or even principally responsible for those speculative bubbles and their collapse. The Republican administrations that preceded and succeeded him were equally inclined to do the bidding of the looters and sneak thieves of the financial sector. Nevertheless, Clinton and the Wall Street cronies who ran his fiscal and economic policy — Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers, Alan Greenspan — are no less implicated than the Republicans in having brought about the economic crisis that has lingered since 2008.

It is difficult to imagine that a Republican administration could have been much more successful in advancing Reaganism’s agenda. Indeed, Clinton made his predilections clear from the outset. “We’re Eisenhower Republicans here,” he declared, albeit exasperatedly, shortly after his 1992 victory. “We stand for lower deficits, free trade, and the bond market. Isn’t that great?”

Taking into account the left’s disappearance into Democratic neoliberalism helps explain how and why so many self-proclaimed leftists or progressives — individuals, institutions, organizations, and erstwhile avatars of leftist opinion such as The Nation — came to be swept up in the extravagant rhetoric and expectations that have surrounded the campaign, election, and presidency of Barack Obama.

Obama and his campaign did not dupe or simply co-opt unsuspecting radicals. On the contrary, Obama has been clear all along that he is not a leftist. Throughout his career he has studiously distanced himself from radical politics. In his books and speeches he has frequently drawn on stereotypical images of leftist dogmatism or folly. When not engaging in rhetorically pretentious, jingoist oratory about the superiority of American political and economic institutions, he has often chided the left in gratuitous asides that seem intended mainly to reassure conservative sensibilities of his judiciousness — rather as Booker T. Washington used black chicken-stealing stereotypes to establish his bona fides with segregationist audiences. This inclination to toss off casual references to the left’s “excesses” or socialism’s “failure” has been a defining element of Brand Obama and suggests that he is a new kind of pragmatic progressive who is likely to bridge — or rise above — left and right and appeal across ideological divisions. Assertions that Obama possesses this singular ability contributed to the view that he was electable and, once elected, capable of forging a new, visionary, postpartisan consensus.

This feature of Brand Obama even suffused the enthusiasm of those who identify as leftists, many of whom at this point would like to roll up their past proclamations behind them. Here was a nominal progressive who actually could win the presidency, clearing the electoral hurdle that Jesse Jackson, Ralph Nader, and other protest candidates could not. Yet few acknowledged the extent to which Obama’s broad appeal hinged on his disavowals of left “excesses.” What kind of “progressive” pursues a political strategy of distancing himself from the left by rehearsing hackneyed conservative stereotypes? Even granting the never-quite-demonstrated assertion that Obama is, in his heart of hearts, committed to a progressive agenda (a trope familiar from the Clinton Administration, we might recall), how would a coalition built on reassuring conservatives not seriously constrain his administration?

The generalities with which Obama laid out his vision made it easy to avoid such questions. His books are not substantive articulations of a social program but performances in which his biographical narrative and identity stands in for a vaguely transformational politics. Sometimes this projection has been not so subtle. In an interview with the journalist James Traub a year before the election, Obama averred: “I think that if you can tell people, ‘We have a president in the White House who still has a grandmother living in a hut on the shores of Lake Victoria and has a sister who’s half Indonesian, married to a Chinese-Canadian,’ then they’re going to think that he may have a better sense of what’s going on in our lives and in our country. And they’d be right.”

Unsurprisingly, therefore, there is little with which to disagree in those books. They meant to produce precisely that effect. Matt Taibbi characterized Obama’s political persona in early 2007 as

an ingeniously crafted human cipher, a man without race, ideology, geographic allegiances, or, indeed, sharp edges of any kind. You can’t run against him on issues because you can’t even find him on the ideological spectrum. Obama’s “Man for all seasons” act is so perfect in its particulars that just about anyone can find a bit of himself somewhere in the candidate’s background, whether in his genes or his upbringing. . . . [H]is strategy seems to be to appear as a sort of ideological Universalist, one who spends a great deal of rhetorical energy showing that he recognizes the validity of all points of view, and conversely emphasizes that when he does take hard positions on issues, he often does so reluctantly.

Taibbi described Obama’s political vision as “an amalgam of Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton and the New Deal; he is aiming for the middle of the middle of the middle.” Taibbi is by no means alone in this view; others have been more sharply critical in drawing out its implications, even during the heady moment of the 2008 campaign.

Nearer the liberal mainstream, Paul Krugman repeatedly demonstrated that many of candidate Obama’s positions and political inclinations were not only inconsistent with the hyperbolic rhetoric that surrounded the campaign but were moreover not even especially liberal. When in a June 2008 issue of The Nation Naomi Klein expressed concern about Obama’s profession of love for the free market and his selection of very conventionally neoliberal economic advisers, Krugman responded rather waspishly, “Look, Obama didn’t pose as a Nation-type progressive, then turn on his allies after the race was won. Throughout the campaign he was slightly less progressive than Hillary Clinton on domestic issues — and more than slightly on health care. If people like Ms. Klein are shocked, shocked that he isn’t the candidate of their fantasies, they have nobody but themselves to blame.” As early as 2006, Ken Silverstein noted in these pages that the rising star’s extensive corporate and financial-sector connections suggested that his progressive supporters should rein in their hopes. Larissa MacFarquhar, in a 2007 New Yorker profile, also gave reason for restraint to those projecting “transformative” expectations onto Obama. “In his view of history,” she reports, “in his respect for tradition, in his skepticism that the world can be changed any way but very, very slowly, Obama is deeply conservative. . . . Asked whether he has changed his mind about anything in the past twenty years, he says ‘I’m probably more humble now about the speed with which government programs can solve every problem.’ ”

These and other critics, skeptics, and voices of caution were largely drowned out in the din of the faithful’s righteous fervor. Some in the flock who purported to represent the campaign’s left flank, such as the former SDS stalwart Carl Davidson and the professional white antiracist Tim Wise, denounced Obama’s critics as out-of-touch, pie-in-the-sky radicals who were missing the train of history because they preferred instead to wallow in marginalization. This response is a generic mantra of political opportunists. Some who called for climbing on the bandwagon insisted that Obama was a secret progressive who would reveal his true politics once elected. Others relied on the familiar claim that actively supporting the campaign — as distinct from choosing to vote for him as yet another lesser evil — would put progressives in a position to exert leftward pressure on his administration.

Again and again, perfectly sentient adults cited the clinching arguments made on the candidate’s behalf by their children. We were urged to marvel at and take our cues from the already indulged upper-middle-class Children of the Corn and their faddish, utterly uninformed exuberance. And it was easy to understand why so many of them found Obama to be absolutely new under the sun. To them he was. A twenty-five-year-old on November 4, 2008, was a nine-year-old when Bill Clinton was first elected, ten when he pushed NAFTA through Congress, thirteen when he signed welfare “reform,” and sixteen when he signed the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, which repealed Glass–Steagall.

Obama’s miraculous ability to inspire and engage the young replaced specific content in his patter of Hope and Change. In the same way that he and his supporters presented his life story as the embodiment of a politics otherwise not clearly defined, the projection of inspired youth substituted a narrative of identity — and a vague and ephemeral one at that — for argument. Those in Obama’s thrall viewed his politics as qualitatively different from Bill Clinton’s, even though the political niche Obama had crafted for himself only deepened Clintonism. Of course, perception of Obama’s difference from the Clintons and other Democratic contenders past and present was bound up in his becoming the first black president, the symbolic significance of which far outweighed the candidate’s actual politics. Thus, for instance, the philosopher Slavoj Žižek, usually not a faddish enthusiast, proclaimed just after the 2008 presidential election that

Obama’s victory is not just another shift in the eternal parliamentary struggle for a majority, with all the pragmatic calculations and manipulations that involves. It is a sign of something more. . . . Whatever our doubts, for that moment [of his election] each of us was free and participating in the universal freedom of humanity. . . . Obama’s victory is a sign of history in the triple Kantian sense of signum rememorativum, demonstrativum, prognosticum. A sign in which the memory of the long past of slavery and the struggle for its abolition reverberates; an event which now demonstrates a change; a hope for future achievements.

Nevertheless, Obama could not have sold his signature “bipartisan” transcendence so successfully to those who identify as leftists if Clinton had not already moved the boundaries of liberalism far enough rightward. Obama’s posture of judiciousness depends partly on the ritual validation of bromides about “big government,” which he typically evokes through resonant phrases rather than through affirmative argument that might ring too dissonantly with his leftist constituents. He can finesse the tension with allusions because Clinton, in his supposed “New Covenant” from a “New Democrat,” had already severed the link between Democratic liberalism and vigorous, principled commitment to the public sector.

Obama also relies on nasty, victim-blaming stereotypes about black poor people to convey tough-minded honesty about race and poverty. Clinton’s division of the poor into those who “play by the rules” and those who presumably do not, his recasting of the destruction of publicly provided low-income housing and the forced displacement of poor people as “Moving to Opportunity” and “HOPE,” and most of all his debacle of “welfare reform” already had helped liberal Democrats to view behavior modification of a defective population as the fundamental objective of antipoverty policy. Indeed, even ersatz leftists such as Glenn Greenwald, then of, and The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel defended and rationalized Obama’s willingness to disparage black poor people. Greenwald applauded the candidate for making what he somehow imagined to be the “unorthodox” and “not politically safe” move of showing himself courageous enough to beat up on this politically powerless group. For her part, vanden Heuvel rationalized such moves as his odious “Popeyes chicken” speech as reflective of a “generational division” among black Americans, with Obama representing a younger generation that values “personal responsibility.”* Perhaps, but it’s noteworthy that Obama didn’t give the Popeyes speech to groups of investment bankers.

* In a 2008 speech to a mostly African-American audience in the city of Beaumont, Texas, Obama scolded

his listeners about feeding junk food to children: “Y’all have Popeyes out in Beaumont? I know some of
y’all you got that cold Popeyes out for breakfast. I know. That’s why y’all laughing. . . . You can’t
do that. Children have to have proper nutrition. That affects also how they study, how they learn in
Obama’s reflexive disposition to cater first to his right generally has been taken in stride as political necessity or even applauded as sagacious pragmatism. Defenses of Obama’s endorsements of the likes of John Barrow, a conservative Democrat from Georgia, and the Republican turncoat senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania over more liberal Democrats rest on the assumption that Democrats can win only by operating within a framework of political debate set by the right and attempting to produce electoral majorities by triangulating constituencies. At least since Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, “serious” Democratic candidates have insisted that, because appealing to the right’s agenda is necessary to win, the responsible left must forgo demands for specific policies or programs as quid pro quo for their support. As its reaction to left criticism of his approach to health-care reform illustrated, the Obama Administration defines as “responsible” those who support it without criticism; those who do not are by definition the “far left” and therefore dismissible. To complete the dizzying ideological orbit, this limitation has been sold as evidence of the importance of subordinating all other concrete political objectives to the project of electing more Democrats, on the premise that the more of them we elect, the greater the likelihood that a majority will be amenable to embracing a leftist program.

Anticipation of jobs and “access” — the crack cocaine (or, more realistically, powder cocaine) of the interest-group world — helps to make this scam more alluring, especially among those who have nurtured their aspirations in elite universities or the policy-wonk left or both. Such aspirants can be among the most adamant in denouncing leftist criticism of the Democrat of the moment as irresponsible and politically immature.

But if the left is tied to a Democratic strategy that, at least since the Clinton Administration, tries to win elections by absorbing much of the right’s social vision and agenda, before long the notion of a political left will have no meaning. For all intents and purposes, that is what has occurred. If the right sets the terms of debate for the Democrats, and the Democrats set the terms of debate for the left, then what can it mean to be on the political left? The terms “left” and “progressive” — and in practical usage the latter is only a milquetoast version of the former — now signify a cultural sensibility rather than a reasoned critique of the existing social order. Because only the right proceeds from a clear, practical utopian vision, “left” has come to mean little more than “not right.”

The left has no particular place it wants to go. And, to rehash an old quip, if you have no destination, any direction can seem as good as any other. The left careens from this oppressed group or crisis moment to that one, from one magical or morally pristine constituency or source of political agency (youth/students; undocumented immigrants; the Iraqi labor movement; the Zapatistas; the urban “precariat”; green whatever; the black/Latino/LGBT “community”; the grassroots, the netroots, and the blogosphere; this season’s worthless Democrat; Occupy; a “Trotskyist” software engineer elected to the Seattle City Council) to another. It lacks focus and stability; its métier is bearing witness, demonstrating solidarity, and the event or the gesture. Its reflex is to “send messages” to those in power, to make statements, and to stand with or for the oppressed.

This dilettantish politics is partly the heritage of a generation of defeat and marginalization, of decades without any possibility of challenging power or influencing policy. So the left operates with no learning curve and is therefore always vulnerable to the new enthusiasm. It long ago lost the ability to move forward under its own steam. Far from being avant-garde, the self-styled left in the United States seems content to draw its inspiration, hopefulness, and confidence from outside its own ranks, and lives only on the outer fringes of American politics, as congeries of individuals in the interstices of more mainstream institutions.

With the two parties converging in policy, the areas of fundamental disagreement that separate them become too arcane and too remote from most people’s experience to inspire any commitment, much less popular action. Strategies and allegiances become mercurial and opportunistic, and politics becomes ever more candidate-centered and driven by worshipful exuberance about individuals or, more accurately, the idealized and evanescent personae — the political holograms — their packagers project.

As the “human cipher” Taibbi described, Obama is the pure product of this hollowed-out politics. He is a triumph of image and identity over content; indeed, he is the triumph of identity as content. Taibbi misreads how race figures into Brand Obama. Obama is not “without” race; he embodies it as an abstraction, a feel-good evocation severed from history and social relations. Race is what Obama projects in place of an ideology. His racial classification combines with a narrative of self-presentation, including his past as a “community organizer,” to convey a sensation of a politics, much as advertising presents a product as the material expression of inchoate desire. This became the basis for a faith in his virtue that largely insulated him from sharp criticism from the left through the first five years of his presidency. Proclamation that Obama’s election was, in Žižek’s terms, a “sign in which the memory of the long past of slavery and the struggle for its abolition reverberates” was also a call to suspend critical judgment, to ascribe to the event a significance above whatever Obama stood for or would do.

In fact, Obama was able to win the presidency only because the changes his election supposedly signified had already taken place. His election, after all, did not depend on disqualifying large chunks of the white electorate. As things stand, his commitments to an imperialist foreign policy and Wall Street have only more tightly sealed the American left’s coffin by nailing it shut from the inside. Katrina vanden Heuvel pleads for the president to accept criticism from a “principled left” that has demonstrated its loyalty through unprincipled acquiescence to his administration’s initiatives; in a 2010 letter, the president of the AFL-CIO railed against the Deficit Commission as a front for attacking Social Security while tactfully not mentioning that Obama appointed the commission or ever linking him to any of the economic policies that labor continues to protest; and there is even less of an antiwar movement than there was under Bush, as Obama has expanded American aggression and slaughter into Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and who knows where else.

Barack Obama has always been no more than an unexceptional neoliberal Democrat with an exceptional knack for self-presentation persuasive to those who want to believe, and with solid connections and considerable good will from the corporate and financial sectors. From his successful wooing of University of Chicago and Hyde Park liberals at the beginning of his political career, his appeal has always been about the persona he projects — the extent to which he encourages people to feel good about their politics, the political future, and themselves through feeling good about him — than about any concrete vision or political program he has advanced. And that persona has always been bound up in and continues to play off complex and contradictory representations of race in American politics.

Particularly among those who stress the primary force of racism in American life, Obama’s election called forth in the same breath competing impulses — exultation in the triumphal moment and a caveat that the triumph is not as definitive as it seems. Proponents of an antiracist politics almost ritualistically express anxiety that Obama’s presidency threatens to issue in premature proclamation of the transcendence of racial inequality, injustice, or conflict. It is and will be possible to find as many expressions of that view as one might wish, just as lunatic and more or less openly racist “birther” and Tea Party tendencies have become part of the political landscape. An equal longer-term danger, however, is the likelihood that we will find ourselves with no critical politics other than a desiccated leftism capable only of counting, parsing, hand-wringing, administering, and making up “Just So” stories about dispossession and exploitation recast in the evocative but politically sterile language of disparity and diversity. This is neoliberalism’s version of a left. Radicalism now means only a very strong commitment to antidiscrimination, a point from which Democratic liberalism has not retreated. Rather, it’s the path Democrats have taken in retreating from a commitment to economic justice.

Confusion and critical paralysis prompted by the racial imagery of Obama’s election prevented even sophisticated intellectuals like Žižek from concluding that Obama was only another Clintonite Democrat — no more, no less. It is how Obama could be sold, even within the left, as a hybrid of Martin Luther King Jr. and Neo from The Matrix. The triumph of identity politics, condensed around the banal image of the civil rights insurgency and its legacy as a unitary “black liberation movement,” is what has enabled Obama successfully to present himself as the literal embodiment of an otherwise vaporous progressive politics. In this sense his election is most fundamentally an expression of the limits of the left in the United States — its decline, demoralization, and collapse.

The crucial tasks for a committed left in the United States now are to admit that no politically effective force exists and to begin trying to create one. This is a long-term effort, and one that requires grounding in a vibrant labor movement. Labor may be weak or in decline, but that means aiding in its rebuilding is the most serious task for the American left. Pretending some other option exists is worse than useless. There are no magical interventions, shortcuts, or technical fixes. We need to reject the fantasy that some spark will ignite the People to move as a mass. We must create a constituency for a left program — and that cannot occur via MSNBC or blog posts or the New York Times. It requires painstaking organization and building relationships with people outside the Beltway and comfortable leftist groves. Finally, admitting our absolute impotence can be politically liberating; acknowledging that as a left we have no influence on who gets nominated or elected, or what they do in office, should reduce the frenzied self-delusion that rivets attention to the quadrennial, biennial, and now seemingly permanent horse races. It is long past time for us to begin again to approach leftist critique and strategy by determining what our social and governmental priorities should be and focusing our attention on building the kind of popular movement capable of realizing that vision. Obama and his top aides punctuated that fact by making brutally apparent during the 2008 campaign that no criticism from the left would have a place in this regime of Hope and Change. The message could not be clearer.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Renowned Historian Peniel Joseph On the Life, Work, And Legacy of Stokely Carmichael, 1941-1998

 Stokely:  A Life by Peniel Joseph.  Basic Civitas Books 2014


Tufts University professor Peniel Joseph a major historian and scholar of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements is interviewed at length on C-Span's IN DEPTH program talks extensively about these movements and his own career as both an academic and community activist as well as his brand new and critically acclaimed biography STOKELY: A LIFE (BasicCivitas Books, 2014) about one of the most important and central figures of both the Civil Rights and Black Power eras, Stokely Carmichael. This program was televised on C-SPAN'S BookTV on Saturday, March 2, 2014

In Depth with Peniel Joseph:

Author and historian Peniel Joseph talked about his life and career.He also responded to viewers' calls, Facebook comments, electronic mails, and tweets on topics such as rewriting post-war black history, the civil rights movement and the Obama era, among others.

The Tufts University professor is the author of three books: Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America; Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama; and Stokely: A Life. He is also the editor of: The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights-Black Power Era, and Neighborhood Rebels: Black Power at the Local Level.
Airdate: March 2, 2014

Interview time: 3 Hours

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

President Obama's "Brother's Keeper" Program And the Shallow Politics of Condescension and Evasion


Some people have actually asked me to provide a "nuanced" response to what Obama is doing with his new "Brother's Keeper" program so I took a deep breath, grunted loudly more than a few times and finally decided to "respond". So here it goes: OMG! This is a VERY BAD best. Is the President kidding us with this transparently feeble political gesture? It's frankly absurd to even PRETEND that this so-called "initiative" is a remotely serious strategy or actual provisional proposal for addressing what is a massive structural and institutional catastrophe facing Black America in general and black male (and female) youth in particular. What is being "offered" here is complete and utter BULLSHIT and is in the final analysis an embarrasing political INSULT to black people nationally. It's also FAR TOO LITTLE FAR TOO LATE. You mean to tell me that the demographic electorate most responsible for electing and reelecting this President (never forget folks that Obama received merely 43% of the white vote in 2008 and a woeful 39% of the national white vote in 2012 while receiving a huge 95% of the black vote in 2008 and 94% in 2012) is being treated at this late date in his Presidency with still more empty self aggrandizing rhetoric about how he personally went through what these boys and young men are going through and an even emptier economic commitment by the private sector yet of a mere 200 million dollars over five years by a slew of private foundations and corporations? This would be absolutely laughable if it wasn't so tragic. A mere 200 million dollars over five years for ANY major social and economic policy program is too ridiculous to even take seriously on ANY level let alone one in response to one of the largest and most severe social, economic, and cultural crises in US history like that facing Black america. Is the President and these foundations and corporations trying to hold us up to public ridicule with this nonsensical proposal? 200 million is chickenfeed money. CHUMP CHANGE.  Under these truly dire social, economic, and political circumstances facing us nationally (not to mention the ever escalating and relentless national expressions and dominance of the doctrine of white supremacy in the larger civil society as well as in our everyday lives) even 200 BILLION dollars over a five year period would be far short of cutting the mustard.

So instead of any truly well funded, generally progressive, and strongly supported government sponsored programs in the public sphere that would seriously address these problems in a systemic, independent, and systematic manner we are told that the President is simply hamstrung and paralyzed by the obviously ferocious and equally racist/reactionary antics and vicious attacks orchestrated by the Republican and Tea party rightwing in Congress. But as absolutely appalling and damaging as that fierce opposition has been and continues to be the larger truth is that the White House's domestic and economic policy agenda, the general Democratic Party in Congress, and the President himself could have and should have done FAR MORE than they have since 2009. This was especially true in the crucial two year period beginning with his inauguration in January 2009 up until the disastrous midterm elections of November, 2010. The necessary political capital and many strategic and tactical opportunities were there when the President and the Democratic Party had 58 senators (16 more than the Republicans) as well as a clear majority in the House. There is NO EXCUSE why the President, his administration, and the DP in Congress generally failed to unite and openly advocate and engage in a fierce PARTISAN fight against the openly contemptuous, reactionary, and racist Republicans and their demented Tea Party caucus. But both the White House and the DP leadership chose to follow the President's rather insipid and defensively passive leadership that vainly and rather self destructively BEGGED the Republicans and the emerging Tea Party gangsters for a clearly delusional bipartisan consensus that NEVER existed and had absolutely no chance of ever becoming a reality since it was a clear and decisive strategy of the right to oppose whatever the President and his supporters in the DP and most importantly in the general society wanted, needed, and deserved. Meanwhile the "official" national unemployment rate of African Americans remains at a staggering depression level of a whopping 12% (which in reality is two times larger nationally than white Americans and when one accounts for the millions who have in fact stopped looking for work in this stagnant economy the national black UE rate is actually closer to a horrific level of 17%). since these levels are much worse than the national figures for 1970, 1980, 1990, and 2000, it seems that serious political questions should and must be raised about not only the Republication right's venal performance but the general economic ineptitude in Obama's social and domestic policy agenda regarding African American's structural and institutional problems of stark racial disparities and general inequality in everything from employment to education, housing, wages, and even healthcare despite the real and necessary--yet clearly limited--reforms of the Affordable Care Act (misnamed in a typical fit of racist dismissal as 'Obamacare' by the cynical white supremacists who run and control both the Republican and Tea party right) a national struggle which should have been waged as a pitched political and ideological battle by the President and the DP generally for a single payer system and real universal coverage or at the very least a national fight for a comprehensive public option program.

In addition there was another highly egregious and rather disturbing aspect of the President's bizarre and frankly condescending media rollout of his new program at his press conference on thursday. It has to do with the brazenly false and patronizing suggestion/implication that the reason he decided upon launching this program was the racist murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012. What's utterly FALSE and so insulting on a number of levels about what the President actually said is the clearly illogical and perverse notion that somehow 17 year old Trayvon was racially profiled, stalked, and murdered because he was somehow an (now get this) "at risk" black boy (which is to say poor, fatherless, illiterate, prone to the use and abuse of drugs and even violence). However this ludicrous and again FALSE suggestion is not only a cowardly evasion and even dismissal of the real reasons why Trayvon (and Jordan Davis and Oscar Grant III, and Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo and a very large, growing, and endless national list of innocent black boys and young men who have been also racially profiled, stalked, and killed by both ordinary citizens and by the police especially over the past decade. What's missing from the President's strange and self serving remarks (which happen to be both sexist and racially biased--more on this in a moment) are some very important and salient facts about the real issues of poverty, fatherlessness, educational literacy, drugs, and violence that the President has obviously forgotten or is trying for some opportunist and self serving political reason to get the rest of us (i.e. the national black community as well as all other American citizens--especially white Americans--to swallow and pretend is real).

Let's be clear folks: Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis were not viciously profiled, stalked, and murdered by maniacal racists because they were "at risk" youth or because they didn't have fathers or because they were poor, illiterate or badly educated or because they "got high" from smoking joints or snorted cocaine. No, NONE of that is even remotely true. The simple, obvious TRUTH is that both Martin and Davis were two solidly middle to upper middle class black kids with TWO LOVING PARENTS EACH whose relationships with their intelligent, gainfully employed fathers were as essential and central a part of their lives as that with their equally intelligent, well educated and gainfully employed mothers. Furthermore it's incredibly sexist and finally BOGUS to suggest that the reason why some black male youth are "at risk" is simply because they come from a single mother run household or because their father (or some other adult male figure) is missing from their daily lives. That's a LIE. For starters look at the personal history of the President himself. Obama has the temerity to claim-- with a straight face yet-- that his life without a father and under the tutelage of a single mother is somehow analagous to that of impoverished "at risk" black male youth from around the country who suffer from educational problems and severe social alienation. But here again the President is indulgently and rather cynically manipulating our understanding of his own history to the benefit of his present agenda. after all the President came from a modest lower middle class home in Hawaii who with his sister who despite not having his African father in his home because of his parents' divorce nevertheless thrived in school enough to be accepted into and attend one of the most academically acclaimed and prominent private high schools in the entire country (the decidely posh and upwardly mobile Punahou school in Honolulu) and later matriculated at both Columbia University and Harvard Law School which culminated in him becoming the first African American to become President of the Harvard Law Review. Ultimately the rest of his now legendary/storied 20 year history following graduation led him to becoming President of the United States! This is hardly the "normal" or "typical" profile of ANY "at risk" child in this country--or any other child for that matter-- regardless of what their color, gender, or class origins were and it certainly is not an accurate picture of what fundamentally severe structural and institutional problems and obstacles actually face black youth, students, and adults generally in this society whether they are poor, from single parent households or poorly educated OR NOT. White Supremacy is an equal opportunity menace in this country and in the end no one who subscribes to, upholds, defends, or perpetuates this lethal doctrine at any level of this society--and especially in our major social, economic, political, and cultural institutions-- is ultimately concerned with or even remotely interested in where a black person may or may not have gone to school, who his/her parents are or what class they happen to be an economic member of. For example among the many horrific and very revealing statistics documenting just how pervasive and deeply rooted institutional and structural racism really is (and yes folks it's getting worse--especially over the past two decades) is this one: black COLLEGE graduates can generally expect to make LESS in both income and the attainment of social status in their lifetime than white HIGH SCHOOL graduates in the United States. That's a FACT Jack, and no amount of phony melodramatic rhetoric about "not having fathers in the home" or "too many single mothers" or personal illiteracy struggles or even (gasp) unemployment can or will change these realities--only a very broad based, united, and massive struggle for political, economic, and cultural democracy that focuses on the domination of extremely wealthy and privileged elites in every area of American life could possibly do that. After all every single major political, economic, social, or cultural reform in this society was the direct result of such intense concentrated mass organization, education, and mobilization from the grassroots UP--and this of course includes everything from civil and human rights for blacks and other people of color as well as conscious and committed white Americans, women, labor which includes the poor, working, and middle classes in genera. Unless and until we collectively make the kinds of serious, mature, and emphatic demands on this President and Congress as well as the obscenely wealthy, oppressive, and exploitive economic elites in this country WE ARE ALL "AT RISK"--and that's no joke. And I assure you that far more than merely being or becoming "our brother's keeper" (What? no "sisters" allowed?) in a woefully inadequate and spurious social program that turns real substantive public policy into a silly, idiotic con game of finding poor young black male kids who are "at risk" because they're somehow fundamentally "different" from the rest of us who according to this absurd logic are presumably not at risk or less so because (dig this!) we have fathers, don't lack a living wage, and are "educated" in a pathologically test driven educational environment that primarily rewards and privileges grades, private schools, and the status that results from having attended Ivy league institutions or something like them.  In any event at this late date there's no point in simply getting mad at or pointing fingers at me or any other honest and/or generally supportive critics of this administration and their/our many enemies in government, the corporate sector, Wall Street, the Supreme Court, and in much of the general white population. It's not our fault.

After all when your main public surrogate representing the White House's position on the 'Brother's Keeper' program is none other than that perennial political ambulance chaser and cynical self serving gliberal opportunist better known as the Reverend Al Sharpton--who is--let's face it!-- nothing more than a servile bombastic SHILL for Obama and the White House under any and all circumstances (regardless of any objective merit or even common sense) then it's painfully clear that hubris, defensive reactions, and rhetorical posturing take precedent over genuinely progressive political advocacy and courageous, steadfast commitment no matter what obstacles exist.

Trust me: even President Obama and his corny self promoting surrogates like that not-so-slick jackleg preacher Rev. Al Sharpton surely "know better"--at least intellectually-- even if they won't acknowledge it in public for fear that they will be labeled and attacked as "radicals." Yeah...right. FAT CHANCE...Spare me the bullshit...Stay tuned...



Obama Starts Initiative for Young Black Men, Noting His Own Experience

February 27, 2014
New York Times

Obama on Initiative to Help Minority Men


President Obama spoke about the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative to help young minority men and shared his own story about past drug use.

WASHINGTON — President Obama spoke in unusually personal terms at the White House on Thursday about how he got high as a teenager and was at times indifferent to school as he deplored what he called America’s numbness to the plight of young black men.

Drawing on the power of his own racial identity in a way he seldom does as president, Mr. Obama sought to connect his personal narrative about growing up without a father to that of a generation of black youth in the United States who he said faced higher odds of failure than their peers.

“I didn’t have a dad in the house,” Mr. Obama said as he announced a $200 million, five-year initiative, My Brother’s Keeper, to help black youth. “And I was angry about it, even though I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time. I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do. I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short.”

Mr. Obama said the idea for My Brother’s Keeper occurred to him in the aftermath of the killing of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager whose death two years ago sparked a roiling national debate about race and class. He called the challenge of ensuring success for young men of color a “moral issue for our country” as he ticked off the statistics: black boys who are more likely to be suspended from school, less likely to be able to read, and almost certain to encounter the criminal justice system as either a perpetrator or a victim.

Reaching Out to a New Generation Introducing an initiative to address the challenges facing young black men, President Obama on Thursday spoke in uncharacteristically personal terms about missteps in his youth.
CreditGabriella Demczuk/The New York Times

“We just assume this is an inevitable part of American life, instead of the outrage that it is,” Mr. Obama told an audience of business leaders, politicians, philanthropists, young black men from a Chicago support program, and Mr. Martin’s parents. “It’s like a cultural backdrop for us in movies, in television. We just assume, of course it’s going to be like that.”

“These statistics should break our hearts,” he added. “And they should compel us to act.”

Mr. Obama’s remarks come as the end of his time in office is in sight, with the president mindful of the legacy that his administration will leave behind on race and other civil rights issues like same-sex marriage and immigration. Mr. Obama has embraced the right of gay men and lesbians to marry, and Eric H. Holder Jr., his attorney general, has aggressively sought to ensure that all eligible Americans have access to the ballot box.

Although Mr. Obama nods on occasion to his history-making status as the nation’s first black president, he has sought to avoid being defined entirely by his race. He most often emphasizes that he is the leader of all Americans. But in recent years, the president has spoken more about the black experience in the United States — most strikingly after the death of Mr. Martin, when Mr. Obama said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”

On Thursday, the president combined his personal remarks on race with a broader call to focus on “the larger agenda”: economic insecurity and stalled mobility for Americans of any color.

“The plain fact is there are some Americans who, in the aggregate, are consistently doing worse in our society,” Mr. Obama said, “groups that have had the odds stacked against them in unique ways that require unique solutions, groups who’ve seen fewer opportunities that have spanned generations.”

The president also called for action from business leaders, members of religious groups, actors, athletes and anyone who can intervene in the lives of black men before they veer off course. He said a White House task force would examine ways the federal government can help, too.

“It doesn’t take that much, but it takes more than we are doing now,” Mr. Obama said. “We will beat the odds. We need to give every child — no matter what they look like, no matter where they live — the ability to meet their full potential.”

He also challenged black men to do better themselves, and said they must not make excuses for their failures or blame society for the poor decisions they have already made.

“You will have to reject the cynicism that says the circumstances of your birth or society’s lingering injustices necessarily define you and your future,” Mr. Obama said.

“It will take courage, but you will have to tune out the naysayers who say if the deck is stacked against you, you might as well just give up or settle into the stereotype.”

“Nothing will be given to you,” he said.

Thursday’s announcement is unlikely to satisfy Mr. Obama’s most vocal critics in the black population, who have accused him of forgetting his roots.

Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African-American studies at Duke, said the president’s initiative did not focus enough on the more systemic forms of racism in America.

“These young men weren’t killed because of structural situations that didn’t give them opportunities,” Mr. Neal said.

“It’s other kinds of racism and violence that those boys were dealing with. The initiative is not addressing those things.”

The initiative is the latest example of Mr. Obama’s efforts to bypass Congress, which has stymied him on many of the economic policies he considers central to the lives of blacks.

In a show of support, leaders from more than a dozen nonprofit foundations and executives from some of the nation’s largest companies joined the president, along with Magic Johnson, the retired basketball superstar, and Gen. Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state.

White House officials said the foundations had pledged to spend at least $200 million over the next five years in a search for solutions to the problems black men face with early-childhood development, school readiness, educational opportunity, discipline, parenting and the criminal justice system.

“This is not a one-year proposition,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s not a two-year proposition. It’s going to take time. We’re dealing with complicated issues that run deep in our history, run deep in our society and are entrenched in our minds.”

Gail C. Christopher, vice president for program strategy for the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, which has committed $750,000 to My Brother’s Keeper, said the initial money would be used for hiring staff, consultants and firms “to get something established that has legs.”

But more money will be needed for the initiative to have an impact, Ms. Christopher said. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a drop in the ocean of money that will be needed to transform the opportunity structures in our society,” she said.

Mr. Obama acknowledged the limits of an approach that relies little on the government. But he offered hope in the power of his office to bring together people as diverse as the Rev. Al Sharpton, the television host and civil rights campaigner, and Bill O’Reilly, the conservative host on Fox News and best-selling novelist. Both attended the event at the White House.

“If I can persuade, you know, Sharpton and O’Reilly to be in the same meeting,” the president said, “then it means that there are people of good faith who want to get some stuff done.”

Obama launches program to help minority youth
by Aamer Madhani
February 27, 2014

President Obama launched a new government partnership with businesses and philanthropic groups on Thursday aimed at keeping high-risk young men of color on the right path.

Obama called it a "moral issue" for the country to help minority youth gain the education and skills they need to succeed as adults and to stay out of jail.

"It doesn't take that much, but it takes more than we are doing now," Obama said. "And that's what My Brother's Keeper is about."

As part of the program, Obama wants to adopt best practices from communities throughout the country where businesses and foundations are already working together to mentor young minority men.

In support of the program, the Obama administration recruited several philanthropic groups — including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Ford Foundation and The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation — to pledge at least $200 million over the next five years to develop programs on early childhood development, parenting, school discipline reform and other critical areas.

Obama noted that in the first three years of life a child born into a low-income family typically hears 30 million fewer words than a child of a well-off family.

He also cited statistics that show a student who can't read at grade level by third grade is four times less likely to graduate by age 19 than a child who does read proficiently by that time. Children living in poverty are 13 times less likely to graduate on time than their wealthier peers.

The president took aim at zero-tolerance policies, the practice of automatically suspending students for certain infractions. The administration last month recommended that schools discontinue the practice.

Schools are twice as likely to suspend a Hispanic student and four times more likely to suspend an African-American student than they are white students. Students that are suspended even once before the ninth grade are twice as likely to drop out.

"There are ways to modify bad behavior that leads to good behavior," Obama said. "We can make classrooms good places for learning for everybody without jeopardizing a child's future."

The foundations have agreed to work with Obama's Cabinet secretary, Broderick Johnson, over the next 90 days to assess the effectiveness of existing public and private efforts and determine how the federal government can change its policies to support those efforts.

The announcement comes in the same week as the two-year anniversary of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager whose 2012 slaying in Florida spurred Obama to speak in personal terms about race.

Trayvon's parents, as well as the parents of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, an unarmed black teen who was killed in 2012 in Jacksonville, were among those invited to the White House for the announcement.

Obama also invited young men from a Chicago-based group called Becoming a Man, which he held up as group that his administration can learn from as it develops the initiative.

He recalled telling them about the bad choices he made, including "getting high" and sometimes taking school less seriously than he should have.

"I could see myself in these young men," Obama said. "The only difference was I grew up in an environment that was a little more forgiving."

Obama has faced periodic criticism during his presidency from prominent African Americans — including scholar Cornel West and radio host Tavis Smiley — who have charged that he has spent little political capital or energy focusing on the plight of poor minority communities.

But in recent weeks, the Obama administration won praise for focusing on some issues that are of great concern in minority communities.

Attorney General Eric Holder called on states this month to repeal laws that strip felons of the right to vote, a penalty imposed on nearly one in 13 African Americans.

Holder is also pushing Congress to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders and has sued Texas and North Carolina to overturn voter-identification laws that opponents say are more likely to keep minorities and the poor from voting.

On Thursday, Obama received praised from African-American lawmakers and activists for launching the initiative.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said the program could "give our young black men a fighting chance."

Motoko Rich and Tanzina Vega contributed reporting from New York.

Boys from a Chicago youth program listened at the White House on Thursday as Mr. Obama announced an initiative called My Brother’s Keeper.CreditGabriella Demczuk/The New York Times

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Chokwe Lumumba, 1947-2014: Revolutionary Political Activist, Community Organizer, Public Intellectual, Outstanding Attorney, and Mayor of Jackson Mississippi

(b. August 2, 1947--d. February 25, 2014)

Left to right: Chokwe Lumumba.  Credit Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press and Mr. Lumumba with Fulani Sunni Ali, whom he defended on charges related to the robbery of a Brinks armored car in 1981. Ali was acquitted of all charges. Credit Richard Drew/Associated Press


The surprising early death of Chokwe Lumumba is yet another MAJOR LOSS for us all on many different levels. Chokwe Lumumba was a committed radical political activist and community leader, a dynamic public intellectual, an outstanding attorney, and a consummate organizer of great courage and integrity. He will be deeply missed by many people throughout not only this country but the world. May brother Lumumba Rest in Peace & Power and our deepest and most heartfelt condolences go to his entire family and city of Jackson, Mississippi. Free the Land!...


Chokwe Lumumba, 66, Dies; Activist Who Became Mayor in Mississippi
February 26, 2014
New York Times

Chokwe Lumumba, a civil rights lawyer who once called for an independent black-majority country in the American Southeast before running for mayor of Jackson, Miss., last year, winning handily, died on Tuesday in Jackson. He was 66.

His family said the cause had not been determined.

As a political activist, Mr. Lumumba campaigned for the United States to pay billions of dollars to blacks as reparations for their ancestors’ enslavement.

As a lawyer, he helped the rapper Tupac Shakur in a successful effort to clear himself of assault charges in 1993; he persuaded Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi to release two sisters from a Mississippi prison in 1996 after they had served 16 years for an armed robbery that they said they had not committed; and he defended self-styled revolutionaries charged with robbing a Brinks armored car in 1981 in Rockland County, N.Y., and murdering three people in the process.

In Jackson, the state capital, Mr. Lumumba earned respect as a civic leader and a successful youth basketball coach and won election to the City Council in 2009. In a city that is 80 percent black and has had a black mayor since 1997, he was urged by neighbors and politicians to run for mayor last year as a Democrat. He won with 87 percent of the vote.

His major issue was the pragmatic one of fixing streets and sewers. In January, Mr. Lumumba persuaded voters to accept a one percent sales tax to pay for the improvements. His slogan: “One city, one aim, one destiny.”

Mr. Lumumba had earned a reputation as an aggressive defense lawyer, particularly in police brutality cases. He did not hesitate to challenge judges in the courtroom. Several cited him for contempt and reprimanded him. He spent three days in jail after appealing one such reprimand. In 2004, his Mississippi law license was taken away for six months.

He was born Edwin Finley Taliaferro in Detroit on Aug. 2, 1947, the second of eight children. He told an interviewer that as an 8-year-old he had been horrified when his mother showed him a magazine picture of the brutalized body of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old who had recently been murdered in Mississippi after being accused of flirting with a white woman in a grocery store. The case helped spark the civil rights movement.

Edwin was later at his mother’s side on the streets of Detroit as she passed out literature for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a civil rights organization. He attended Roman Catholic schools and in high school was student council president and captain of the football team.

He recalled that when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, he was so distraught that he changed his name to Chokwe Lumumba (pronounced SHOW-kway Luh-MOOM-buh). Chokwe was the name of one of the last African tribes to resist the slave trade. He took the name Lumumba after Patrice Lumumba, the African leader who led what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo in its successful fight to win independence from Belgium in 1960.

Chokwe Lumumba, a student at Kalamazoo College at the time of Dr. King’s assassination, joined students at Western Michigan University, which is also in Kalamazoo, in taking over a campus building, demanding more scholarships for blacks and more black professors.

After graduating with a degree in political science in 1969, he earned a law degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Around the same time, he joined the Republic of New Afrika, a black separatist group that advocated a majority-black republic in the American South, becoming its second vice president.

He soon traveled with the group to Hinds County, Miss., which includes Jackson. He became the New Afrika justice minister and led negotiations with unfriendly neighbors and law enforcement agencies. The group eventually left Jackson.

In 1976, Mr. Lumumba returned to Detroit to work as a public defender. Two years later he set up his own law firm to handle civil rights cases.

In the Brinks case, he defended Fulani Sunni Ali, the Republic of New Afrika’s information minister, who was originally known as Cynthia Boston. The presiding judge, saying Mr. Lumumba had used the proceedings to promote a “propaganda campaign” on behalf of the New Afrika group, threw him off the case, which was being tried in federal court in Manhattan. Civil libertarians criticized the judge, saying he had infringed on the defendant’s right to choose her own lawyer. Charges against Ms. Ali were dropped in 1981.

Later, in a separate proceeding, Mr. Lumumba won the acquittal of Ms. Ali’s husband, Bilal Sunni Ali, formerly William Johnson, but was cited for contempt for arguing with the judge. Mr. Lumumba began his summation by exclaiming the group’s slogan, “Free the Land!” He went on to compare the prosecutor to a dishonest “used-car salesman.”

Mr. Lumumba returned to Mississippi in 1988, and applied to practice law. Three years later, his application was accepted.

In the Shakur case, in 1993, the rap star became involved in a shooting melee with two off-duty police officers in Atlanta. Charges filed against Mr. Shakur and one of the officers were dropped. (Mr. Shakur was murdered in 1996 in Las Vegas.)

Mr. Lumumba’s wife, Nubia, died in 2003. He is survived by his sons Kambon Mutope, Thurman Lumumba and Chokwe Antar Lumumba; his daughter, Rukia Lumumba; and one grandson.

Mr. Lumumba hardly moderated his views in recent years. In an interview last year he continued to defend the Republic of New Afrika. The day after his election, he raised hackles by questioning Columbus’s historical importance. And at his inauguration, he could not resist raising his fist in the black power salute and shouting an old slogan: “Free the Land!”