Thursday, May 8, 2008

Drug Wars VIII

Sometimes writing these essays are a chore and seem demanding, then there are other times when they seem to write themselves, this is one of the latter. I have written extensively about America’s war on drugs and all the ills and problems that it has caused. First of all let me state that I am not a conspiracy theorist. I do not believe that racism is involved in every aspect of life in America, at least it hasn’t been in my life. However, there are times when it plays a major role in how we interact with one another. The war on drugs and the death penalty are probably two of the most egregious ways in which racism does play a role in America. The recent results of a couple of studies highlight the disparity in our criminal justice system that can not be explained by any other means.

More than two decades after President Ronald Reagan escalated the war on drugs, arrests for drug sales or, more often, drug possession are still rising. And despite public debate and limited efforts to reduce them, large disparities persist in the rate at which blacks and whites are arrested and imprisoned for drug offenses, even though the two races use illegal drugs at roughly equal rates.

Two new reports, issued Monday by the Sentencing Project in Washington and by Human Rights Watch in New York, both say the racial disparities reflect, in large part, an overwhelming focus of law enforcement on drug use in low-income urban areas, with arrests and incarceration the main weapon.[1]

Ok, here is the short course of racism in America. Drug addiction has no respect of person, it affects blacks and whites in similar numbers. It is not a black issue or a white issue. The difference is in how it is prosecuted in both communities. The drug war has always been depicted by the politicians and the media as a black inner-city issue, as if there were no drug problems in white suburbia. So if we are using drugs at roughly the same numbers then how can one explain that more than 50% of all persons sent to prison for drug crimes are black? These are not traffickers and distributors, these are mostly possession cases.

Here is how you devastate a community and destroy its future. You begin by arresting its young men for minor drug offenses in a depressed economy. Once arrested you prosecute them for felony convictions. Once they have been convicted or have pled guilty then you have sentenced that young person to a life of hopelessness. That young person has forfeited all rights to achieve any semblance of legitimate success. Once they have received a felony conviction they are no longer eligible for education grants, most government programs that target the poor, or be able to participate in the most basic form of citizenship by voting. One simple arrest by outside observation has actually removed this young person from competing in our society in any meaningful way in the future.

Two-thirds of those arrested for drug violations in 2006 were white and 33 percent were black, although blacks made up 12.8 percent of the population, F.B.I. data show. National data are not collected on ethnicity, and arrests of Hispanics may be in either category.

“The race question is so entangled in the way the drug war was conceived,” said Jamie Fellner, a senior counsel at Human Rights Watch and the author of its report.

“If the drug issue is still seen as primarily a problem of the black inner city, then we’ll continue to see this enormously disparate impact,” Ms. Fellner said.

Her report cites federal data from 2003, the most recent available on this aspect, indicating that blacks constituted 53.5 percent of all who entered prison for a drug conviction.[2]

By prosecuting the drug war in the way we are doing it, we are providing cover for racism to continue. We are spending 70% of our resources targeting inner-city and rural white neighborhoods as if these are the people importing the drugs from the foreign capitals and making the billions in profits. The people we are targeting for the most part are such major players in the drug trade most can’t even afford attorneys at trial. So where are all these drug profits going? I can tell you they are not being spent in my neighborhood, the occasional new pair of Jordan sneakers or chrome rims can hardly be presented as some large criminal enterprise.

Are drugs devastating our inner-city neighborhoods? Of course they are, but the solution is not to destroy the village to save it. Many in the black community are tired of the drug trade with its inherent crime and violence, but the way it is being combated today only creates more strife. We must develop alternatives to incarceration and the ruining of lives. The drug war has decimated the black community and has created an atmosphere of fear and distrust of those who are paid to protect us. All of us make mistakes especially during our youth, we mustn’t compound those mistakes by ruining their lives with felony convictions. While whites are offered diversionary programs to avoid felony records blacks are continually being placed in the system. We want crime reduced, but not at the expense of our future.

Where does it all begin and how does the ball get rolling. I read a story recently on the numbers of street stops being made by the NY city police and the numbers are staggering. There are similar numbers for traffic stops in communities across America. If we continue to target only one community then naturally the crime statistics are going to be skewed towards that group. The war on drugs has allowed this country to choose what group to prosecute and what communities to devastate under the cover of law and order. No one can argue the legality of what is being done, but what about the morality of it?

Street stops have gradually increased, to 508,540 in 2006 from 97,296 in 2002, according to departmental statistics. Because more than half of those stopped were black, the increases led some police critics to suggest that minorities were being unfairly singled out, though the police reject such claims.

“The numbers are troubling both because of the number of people stopped and because blacks continue to be, overwhelmingly, the ones who are stopped,” Mr. Dunn said. “Someone outside the Police Department, like the mayor’s office, the City Council or the Justice Department has now got to step in and demand a public accounting of the department’s stop-and-frisk practices.”[3]

The issue isn’t that blacks are committing more crimes despite the constant images being displayed on the nightly local news. The issue is that blacks are more likely to be stopped and searched than whites. If the police were to use the same tactics in the suburbs as they use in the inner-city I guarantee you the number of whites arrested would increase. And if they were sentenced in the same manner as blacks there would be a national outcry. Imagine if 50% of young white males were given a felony conviction in their early teens and were rendered useless from that point on. The war on drugs has allowed those with racist attitudes to institute those beliefs under the cover of legitimate crime fighting.


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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

How Much Longer Can This Continue?

For more than a month I have called a moratorium on the Democratic race only blogging on the hype of the contests as presented by the media. After the two primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, it is apparent that Hillary Clinton can not win the nomination. Even if she were to win the remaining contests she would still not be able to catch Obama. So what is the point of continuing? Hillary Clinton has waged a strong campaign and is deserving of praise for being able to recover when most had pronounced her campaign dead. The time has now come for Hillary to set aside her personal belief that the nomination was inevitably hers and to do what is best for the Party. What is best for the Party is for Hillary to gracefully suspend her campaign and allow the Party to coalesce behind the presumptive nominee Barack Obama.

I sent a message to one of her most loyal supporters early Wednesday morning asking what are her realistic options? "She has only one option," he replied. "Gracefully exit and help unify the party to beat [John] McCain." How quickly, he was asked. "I would advise them to figure out how to do it as soon as this weekend," he replied.

Another veteran Democrat who has backed Clinton was equally pessimistic in his private assessment. "It's hard to see a path toward the twin goals of Hillary winning and the party uniting," he wrote. "Her strategy cannot be to destroy the village in order to save it. The superdelegate dam is about to break. Hillary losing [George] McGovern is like LBJ losing [former CBS News anchor Walter] Cronkite."[1]

Even Hillary’s most ardent supporters have got to realize that the only way for her to win at this point would be at the expense of the Party and its opportunity to win in November. In spite of his flaws and inexperience Barack Obama has done what many thought was impossible, he was able to upset the candidate who began this campaign with money, name recognition, and history. I understand the difficulty of what Hillary and her supporters must do, it will be difficult to acknowledge that they will not be the campaign of history. But lets be honest its over. If anyone can explain to me how Hillary can win and not destroy the Party I am all ears. The time for emotionalism is past, the numbers in all categories are against her and now the superdelegates are deserting her. The lost of George McGovern is huge and cannot be underestimated.

It has been stated that with only 3 weeks to go we should allow Hillary to finish out the primary process. My question is why? The campaign can only get more contentious and it will only serve to strengthen John McCain. If we were not talking about Hillary would we even be having this conversation. I think not. Hillary has nothing left to prove, she has demonstrated her toughness, her tenacity, and her ability to survive. Hillary has vowed to continue fighting, my question is fighting for what? If you can’t win mathematically then your only purpose can be to damage Obama so much prior to the convention that his candidacy is unviable. If that is the case then she loses even if she wins and not only her but the Democrats as well. It is time for the Party leaders to put an end to this. They have been reluctant to rein in the Clinton’s but this has to end. The so-called Party leaders had better grow a pair of balls and put an end to this lesson in futility, before the Party splits along lines that cannot be repaired.

I am so tired of listening to the Hillary apologists who say not to worry, the Party will be unified by the fall. I think this is being unrealistic and not looking at or listening to the voters. What Hillary supporters don’t understand is that it was the Party powerbrokers that allowed Obama in the race in the first place. Are we to believe that the Democrats are so disordered that a freshman Senator from Illinois and black at that could get into this race without their allowing it at best and requesting it at worse? Hillary was always considered damaged goods by the insiders and the ease at which Obama was able to raise money and support is proof of that. Obama has been able to raise enormous amounts of money from small contributors but also from the establishment types as well. Hillary thinks that if she can make it to the convention she can engineer a coup, the truth is that those delegates she is counting on were the ones who engineer the Obama uprising in the first place.

I fully expect for Hillary to suspend her campaign by this weekend. If she doesn’t then she will have lost whatever dignity this campaign has afforded her. The fall-out will plague the Democrats well beyond this election cycle and into the future. If the Democrats lose the youth that Obama has been able to motivate due to backroom deals it will plague them for a generation. Is the ego of any candidate worth that?


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Monday, May 5, 2008

Fair and Balanced When Needed

Am I the only person who can remember how the Democrats were decrying the unfair and unbalanced coverage of the Fox News Network? The outcry was so vociferous that few if any Democrats (except Joe Lieberman) would even appear on the network. In another example of how today’s MSM does not report the news but tries to generate the news, the Fox Network has suddenly become Democratic central. The MSM has convinced the Democratic candidates that they now need the network to reach those “bitter” white voters. The campaigns have become so desperate to court the white vote that they have bought into the Fox narrative that they are the only way to reach these voters.

Standing in front of a television camera last week, the chairman of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign, Terry McAuliffe, uttered four words that the Fox News Channel would not soon forget.

“Fair and balanced Fox!,” he exclaimed, noting that the network was the first to project Mrs. Clinton’s Pennsylvania primary win.

Fox executives could not have asked for a more rousing endorsement. The next day it showed up in promotions.

Now, I can accept that in an effort to disseminate the Democratic message one might appear on the network for an interview to present the Democratic plan for America, but for a Democratic campaign chairperson to promote the network as “fair and balanced” is beyond comprehension. Mr. McAuliffe has now provided Fox with the credibility it sorely was lacking among Democratic leaning voters and independents. Instead of Republican hacks and wing-nuts making the pronouncement about Fox, we will now have a leading Democrat in their network promotions. So another fall out from this win at all cost primary campaign will be the elevation of Fox from the conservative echo chamber it has been to a “legitimate source” of news. This same legitimate source which will “swift boat” the Democratic nominee come the fall.

A good example is the “Jeremiah Wright” controversy, no network has used it more to frighten and divide the country than Fox. There has not been a day that you can’t find sound-bite after sound-bite followed by expert commentary depicting this incident as the end of not only Obama’s campaign, but also the end of Western Civilization as we know it. Is anyone foolish enough to believe that these same clips and commentary won’t be out in full force if Senator Obama is the nominee. The problem with espousing the virtues of Fox in May is that it will be difficult in October to return to the truth about their agenda.

The majority of viewers of Fox know what they are getting, these are not voters who will typically support the causes of the Democratic Party. So while the Democratic candidates prostrate themselves before the Fox News audience it will have limited or no effect on the outcome in the fall. The majority of Fox News viewers tend to be older, white, and right of center. These are the viewers who still believe that Saddam Hussein masterminded 9/11, that there are still WMD’s in Iraq; we just haven’t found them yet, and that Iran possesses nuclear weapons.

Mr. Obama’s aides have been more reticent, and some supporters say privately that Fox has been the most aggressive in covering the inflammatory comments by Mr. Wright. Mr. Obama’s own complaints about the sound bite coverage of his former pastor at times seemed directed toward Fox.

Before Mr. Obama’s appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” an unnamed Obama adviser told the Web site Talking Points Memo the campaign was “clear-eyed about Fox’s role in the dissemination and amplification of Republican talking points.”

But neither candidate has criticized Fox in public. “Fox clearly takes on a conservative bent or slant in its coverage,” said one aide, who asked for anonymity to avoid angering other media organizations. On the other hand, “with Fox,” he said, “at least you know what you’re getting.”

Just remember when you dance with the devil, there will be a bill to pay later and it will be a bill I don’t know if the Democrats can pay. This election should have been a cake-walk, a landslide for the Democratic candidate, but as this primary campaign continues to unfold the only candidate getting stronger from it is John McCain, who by the way is a regular on Fox News and has received little if any negative coverage on the network. It is sad to see the Democrats willing to sell their souls for a few thousand votes, what’s next an appearance on the Rush Limbaugh show? The Democratic campaigns have now provided cover for those same reporters and analysts who will be ridiculing them during the summer. I have never thought that providing your enemy with ammunition in which to shoot at you with was a good strategy, but what do I know. I am just some inexperienced and naïve guy pounding away on his computer in his parent’s basement.


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Friday, May 2, 2008

Reading First Is Last

The news concerning the “No Child Left Behind” program just keeps getting worse and worse. What originally had the potential of revamping the education system in America for the better is now becoming another in the long list of failures of the Bush administration. When it was trumpeted in 2001 by the Bush administration as the answer to the failing education system, it was met with cautious optimism. On the surface it appeared to offer some much needed direction to the lack of standardized measurements of student progress, teacher skill levels, or school accountability. Other components of the bill offered school choice to public school students and parents, federally mandated testing and ratings of schools, and a reading program targeted at low income children.

Children who participate in the $1-billion-a-year reading initiative at the heart of the No Child Left Behind law have not become better readers than their peers, according to a study released today by the Education Department's research arm.

Reading First, aimed at improving reading skills among students from low-income families, has been plagued by allegations of mismanagement and financial conflicts of interest. But the Bush administration has strenuously backed the effort, saying it helps disadvantaged children learn to read. About 1.5 million children in about 5,200 schools nationwide, including more than 140 schools in Maryland, Virginia and the District, participate in Reading First.[1]

I don’t understand how we can spend over 5 billion dollars and have little if anything to show for it. How is it that after all of these years of public education and studies of public education techniques we still don’t know how to educate children from low income families? I don’t believe that the answer is we don’t know how to educate these children, unfortunately I think it is something more insidious than that. I think we do know how to educate these children, but that we don’t want to. A capitalist system needs to have a pool of cheap low skill workers to fuel the astronomical profits of America’s corporations. Keeping low income children uneducated or undereducated provides such a pool. Between the unskilled low income kids and the low skill immigrants flooding across our borders, Wal-Mart will have a pool of workers well into the future.

Reading is the building block of education, if you can’t read you will not be able to learn. So are we to assume that we can not teach our children to at least read? How is it that our best educational minds with a billion dollars a year for the last 6 years still have no clue how to teach our children to read? Every major university in this country has education departments that study and train our teachers and educators. I can not believe that with all the research grants and empirical studies that we are no closer to closing the education gap than we are right now. I understand the complexity of the issue, but I also understand the amount of resources and personnel that we have expended on the problem. Not only have we not been able to close the wealthy versus the low income gap here in America, but we have not been able to close the gap between America and the rest of the world.

Education Department officials said the study will help them better implement Reading First and said the program has the support of many educators across the country. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings recently likened the effort, aimed at improving instruction in schools with children from low-income families, to "the cure for cancer."

During a speech to educators in March, Spellings said that Reading First was one of most effective education programs she had encountered. "If ever a program was rooted in research and science and fact, this is it," she said.[2]

Well, if they are likening this program to the cure for cancer then anyone diagnosed with cancer is in deep trouble. If this program is rooted in science and these are the results it is no wonder we are losing the technology wars. This program despite what the secretary is saying has been riddled with rumors of mismanagement and kickbacks. The No Child Left Behind program has been criticized for emphasizing scores over teaching and for being under funded for the herculean task involved. The results of this study will do little to quiet the controversy.



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Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Latest Surge News

For those who have been captivated by the Hillary, Obama, and Reverend Wright debacle unfolding before our very eyes you may have missed the latest surge news. It appears that the ill-advised strategy of Prime Minister al Maliki to disarm the militias in Southern Iraq is having unintended consequences in Baghdad. What many considered a heavy handed attempt by the Iraqi Prime Minister to weaken his political opponents has awakened the sleeping dogs of Sadr City where al-Sadr’s militia has held sway. What the offensive has demonstrated is how fragile any gains from the surge have been and how at any moment they can be reversed, it has also demonstrated how unprepared the Iraqi army and security forces are at being able to secure their nation.

BAGHDAD, April 29 -- A four-hour battle Tuesday between U.S. soldiers and Shiite militiamen left at least 28 Iraqis dead in the capital's Sadr City neighborhood, making it one of the bloodiest days in a month of sustained street fighting.

The clashes underscored how deeply U.S. forces have been drawn into heavy combat in the huge Shiite district since Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki unexpectedly launched an offensive in southern Iraq last month against Shiite militias, primarily the Mahdi Army of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.[1]

April will now be the deadliest month for US casualties since September of 07 and is harbinger of many more deaths to come. The fighting in Sadr City has led to 50 US deaths for the month of April, as the US has been drawn into a larger role in taking on the militias. The US military has become the big brother who has been drawn into a fight by a younger sibling (al-Maliki) knowing that his actions will be defended no matter how foolish. The original strategy was for the offensive to highlight the improvement of the Iraqi military and its ability to fight independently of US forces, needless to say that has not been the case. Once again the Iraqi forces are on the outside as the American forces carry the fight to the militias.

As we here in America revisit the infamous “Mission Accomplished” moment of George Bush aboard the aircraft carrier the USS Abraham Lincoln, the current increase in violence has underscored how foolish that declaration was then and how foolish any “surge is working” declaration is today. While much has changed since that “Top-Gun” incident, much has stayed the same. What has changed? There have been more deaths of innocent Iraqis and US service personnel, there have been more people injured, and there have been worsening economic consequences for America. What has stayed the same? We are no closer to liberating Iraq than we were then, the Iraqis are no closer to taking responsibility for their nation, and of course we are no closer to defeating the so-called reason for the war al-Qaeda.

I find it very interesting that as the level of violence increases and the US forces are poised to begin house to house missions in Sadr City that the military leaders who were suppose to bring victory are being promoted even though we are no closer to victory. I find it hard to believe that now is the time to make a change in military leadership in Iraq when there have been no concrete gains and the level of violence is increasing. I wonder what General Petraeus has done worthy of a promotion on the ground? Maybe it isn’t what he has done on the ground in Iraq, but on the ground in Washington. Since May 1st 2003, the Iraqi War has changed from a fighting war to a political war. The war is driven not so much by the results in Iraq, but how they play in the US. The thing about a fight against an insurgency or an occupation is that the enemy does not have to score a convincing military victory, all they have to do is give the impression that they are invincible to the folks at home.

If the offensive against the militias, especially the ones in Sadr City continues to be pushed by US forces the number of casualties will continue to increase. What is taking place in Baghdad today is precisely what the independent military leaders have feared; urban warfare against an entrenched enemy that enjoys popular support. Even if we are able to dislodge the militias, the cost could be the loss of the populace from heavy casualties or heavy-handed tactics. The other problem that the US troops will face is that the militias had been filling in for the government by providing badly needed services and if they are removed and there is no replacement of services by the Iraqi government then we will have to worry about more than the militias.


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