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 JOKE...at 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