Thursday, May 29, 2008

Left Behind: Backdrop to a National Crisis - Hurricane Katrina

by Dr. Peniel E. Joseph, Harvard University and Brandeis University

The tragic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is the most recent expression of the deepening crisis of the American state in the age of globalization. This crisis of the American state is intimately connected to a series of events and political trends in the post-Cold War era. The most notable examples of these recurring circle of crises in recent years were embodied in the 2000 presidential election, the disturbing gap between rich and poor, growing disaffection of the American electorate, and the domination of information and knowledge by the power elite. Until the arrival of Katrina, the most obvious manifestations of these dangers were reflected in the twin crises of the national security state in post-9/11 America, and the American invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation since 2002. Despite its ferocious rage, Katrina is not solely responsible for the untold devastation that was visited on the poor people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. She is only guilty of exposing the cynicism of an American political system that allows masses of the poor, especially the black poor, to endure lives of quiet desperation amid a land of plenty. As in all monumental events, Katrina has a context. While mindful of the significance of its more recent national and global trends, Katrina has a deeper context in the marginalization of the black poor in the history of American public policy, as well as in the American imagination.

The recent disaster in New Orleans and the larger Gulf Coast region has, in addition to inflicting incalculable horrors on the region in the form of death and misery, opened up the vortex of race, class, and citizenship that provides a backdrop to this unfolding national crisis. Sluggish federal response, a president lacking the political will to convey the breadth of the catastrophe, corporate media reports that characterized the black poor as savages while portraying their white counterparts as struggling innocents, and the Louisiana Governor's hysterical threats to shoot "looters" bring these contradictions into sharp focus. Collectively, the masses of the black poor in New Orleans have waited much longer for government intervention than the agonizing hours and days it took to persuade government officials that the crisis was too overwhelming to ignore. The direct descendants of enslaved Africans, African Americans in New Orleans have lived and died, fought and struggled, and, often waited lifetimes for help that never came.

The death and devastation in New Orleans, a city that is two-thirds black, with a poverty line that hovers above thirty percent (84% of whom are black), represents the contemporary face of racism. Hurricane Katrina's assault on the poorest and most vulnerable segments of the African American community throws into sharp relief recent debates over black poverty, civil rights, and individual responsibility triggered by comedian Bill Cosby's controversial comments that decried the decline of community values, family structure, and individual responsibility among the black poor. In Katrina's immediate aftermath federal officials echoed Cosby's indictment of the black poor. They also openly questioned why those left behind had stayed in their homes in the face of Mayor Nagin's evacuation order. Why didn't they leave sooner? Because they couldn't. In an economic climate where, despite soaring oil prices and middle-class anxiety, Americans consider the ownership of ever expanding homes and gas guzzling SUV's a personal right, it's easy to forget those left behind during these prosperous times. But for all too many African Americans, the denial of adequate public education and professional opportunities to participate in American prosperity has a familiar ring to it. In an era where too many Americans congratulate themselves on the size of the black middle-class, the number of prominent black political figures, and the wealth of black entrepreneurs, the pitiful lives of the black poor goes rarely acknowledged and remains invisible.

African Americans in New Orleans represent the latest generation of blacks to live in shelter unfit for human beings, attend schools that do not educate, and be viewed by black elites and white politicians as undeserving Americans. Over a century ago the great African American intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois, in his pioneering study, The Philadelphia Negro, investigated the miserable living conditions of blacks in Philadelphia and concluded that racist public policy, not racial malingering, conspired to trap blacks in the inner city. Du Bois' intervention went unheeded during much of the first half of twentieth century America as waves of blacks migrated to big cities in the North, Midwest, and West. Confined to racially and economically segregated "ghettos," black urban development during and after the First and Second World Wars, was contoured by public policy (most notably the New Deal) that effectively prevented African Americans from enjoying the massive wealth transfers and subsidies (in housing, the GI Bill, etc.) that facilitated the baby boomers' entrée into America's postwar middle-class. Of course, it wasn't just northern cities (or urban areas for that matter) that were short-changed. Urban rebellions during the 1960s transcended regionalism. Although they are popularly remembered as having taken place in Harlem, Detroit, Newark, and Watts, the rebellions expanded the devastating nexus of race, class, crime, education, and poverty that would grip the 1970s. To add insult to injury, American social scientists largely ignored the long history of racial discrimination and policy exclusion that (along with deindustrialization and globalization) led to urban crises during the 1970s and 1980s and labeled urban America's most desperate residents as the "underclass." These are the African Americans who were left behind to die in New Orleans. In a different era, Black Power activists such as Huey P. Newton described this group as "brothers on the block" while Malcolm X characterized them as "Field Negroes."

Perhaps it is fitting that one of the most eloquent defenses of black people--and by extension, of American democracy and the very meaning of citizenship--has come from rap artist Kanye West, whose improvisational critique during an NBC hurricane telethon ("George Bush does not care about black people.") placed the spotlight on the media's hypocrisy and the White House's blatant callousness. Hip Hop, afterall, was borne out of the crucible of America's urban crisis, producing a generation of black and brown youth who know, against all odds, that their lives are worth living and saving. While Katrina has unleashed a national crisis, it also presents Americans of all colors with a tremendous opportunity. If the nation ever needed to be reminded of what's at stake when we discuss "race relations," this is no longer the case. Chester Himes once said that "A fighter fights, and a writer writes." Now is the time for progressives, radicals, and humanists of all stripes to do both.

Dr. Peniel E. Joseph is a Tenured Associate Professor at Brandeis University. He is also a Visiting Fellow at Harvard University. For more information, please visit

Marc Lamont Hill: A Breakdown of the Stop Snitching Movement

by Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Temple University

Over the past year, the hip-hop community has come under intense scrutiny and criticism for the wildly popular "Stop Snitching" campaign. The movement, which has been accompanied by a flurry of t-shirts, songs, websites, and DVDs, is ideologically grounded in the belief that people should not cooperate with law enforcement authorities under any circumstances. In addition, Lil Kim's 2005 conviction and one year prison sentence for obstruction of justice, Cam'ron's refusal to help police find the person who shot him during an attempted robbery in October 2005, Busta Rhymes' and Tony Yayo's refusal to speak to police about the February 2006 murder of Rhymes' bodyguard Israel Ramirez at a video shoot, and the now infamous "Stop Snitching" DVD featuring NBA star Carmelo Anthony, have all increased the recent amount of public attention paid to the centuries-old politics of snitching. In response to the "Stop Snitching" campaign, community organizations, politicians, and law enforcement agencies have mounted a full-fledged counter-movement, informally titled "Start Snitching", designed to encourage the hip-hop generation to cooperate with authorities when criminal acts are committed.

To be certain, the issue of snitching is neither restricted to nor rooted in hip-hop culture. Within most American communities, reporting other people's bad acts is a practice that is strongly discouraged. Judaic, Islamic, and Christian laws all speak negatively about backbiting and gossip. Mantras like "don't be a tattle tale" and "snitches get stitches" serve as early childhood reminders for many Americans, irrespective of race and class, of the moral and pragmatic consequences that accompany snitching. Prominent white Americans like New York Times writer Judith Miller, who recently came under attack from her neo-conservative comrades for failing to expose Lewis "Scooter" Libby, have paid dearly (multi-million dollar book deals notwithstanding) for their commitments to secrecy. Even the police, who are among the strongest opponents of the "Stop Snitching" movement, have a 'blue code' of silence that protects them from internal snitches. Nevertheless, the hip-hop community has absorbed the brunt of the public attack on snitching, with little effort given to examining the unique significance of snitching within urban communities.

While critics dismiss the "Stop Snitching" campaign as a rejection of civic responsibility that further verifies dominant public beliefs about the moral incompetence of the hip-hop generation, a closer analysis reveals a much more complicated set of issues that have gone unaddressed. In its a priori dismissal of the "Stop Snitching" campaign, the general public has failed to acknowledge the moral complexity and legitimacy of an anti-snitching position. In all fairness, this is partially the fault of the hip-hop industry itself, which has marketed "Stop Snitching" in ways that undermine any claims to moral authority by not placing any conditions or caveats on its pleas for silence. While it is certainly problematic to condemn all acts of communication with authorities, it is equally shortsighted and irresponsible to advocate an absolute pro-snitching position.

The act of snitching necessarily creates a social and ethical quagmire in which an individual must sacrifice one set of loyalties for another. More specifically, the potential snitch is forced to choose between competing ethical codes and social commitments when making their decision. Often, this process entails deciding between locally defined rules and larger, more official ones. For example, Lil' Kim's refusal to identify her crew members as assailants during a shootout at the Hot 97 radio station was an anti-snitching gesture that privileged her friendship bonds and street ethics over the established laws of the land regarding obstruction of justice. While it is tempting to condemn all such acts on moral or ethical grounds — in this case, arguing that Kim should have protected the interests of the assaulted and not those of the assailants — it is necessary to consider the validity and value of the particular rules and issues at stake on a case-by-case basis. It is also important to understand the various ways that snitching is considered and discussed within the context of hip-hop culture.

Dry Snitching
Dry snitching is one of the most common practices within contemporary hip-hop culture. The term emerged from prison culture to describe an inmate who, in an effort to avoid a confrontation, would talk loudly or otherwise draw attention to himself in order to attract a nearby correctional officer. This is done as a way of "snitching without snitching". Dry snitching also refers to the act of implicating someone else, intentionally or unintentionally, while speaking to an authority figure. Dry snitches are typically considered to be weak, naive, passive aggressive, or self-centered, all of which present ethical and practical dilemmas that must be weighed when discussing the practice of snitching.

For example, before channeling Tupac and becoming America's thug de jour, 50 Cent was a struggling rapper attempting to make a name for himself on the underground scene. In a 2000 song "Ghetto Quran", 50 named and described many of New York's most notorious drug dealers, including Pappy Mason, Rich Porter, Fat Cat, Prince, and Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff. The song earned 50 many enemies in New York's crime underworld, who were angry at the precarious legal position in which they believed 50's public disclosures might have placed them. It was this anger, according to the federal prosecutors involved in Chris and Irv Gotti's recent trial that led to 50's May 2000 shooting. To many observers, 50's sonic, dry snitching revelations undermined the very ghetto authenticity that the song was intended to evince.

Another example of dry snitching occurred in 2003, when Kobe Bryant was arrested on rape charges. While being interrogated, Bryant freely disclosed potentially embarrassing aspects of teammate Shaquille O'Neal's personal life in order to gain favor with Colorado police. According to the Los Angeles Times, Kobe reportedly told the officers that he should have followed Shaq's example and paid the woman not to say anything, adding that Shaq had already spend over one million dollars for those purposes. While some attributed this slip-up to Kobe's inexperience in such situations — one of the reasons that the suburban bred Kobe will never reach the ghetto superstar status of his generational peer, Allen Iverson, despite his extravagantly calculated gestures — others saw it as a passive aggressive act against his not so secret rival.

More recently, Karrine "Superhead" Steffans released her bestselling memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen (Amistad, 2005) in which she exposes the underside of the hip-hop industry. In offering her self-proclaimed "cautionary tale", Steffans also names numerous celebrities with whom she engaged in sexual encounters. While many people expressed disgust for her exploits — unfortunately, few people expressed similar disgust for the promiscuity of the men with whom she shared the trysts — others were more disturbed at the embarrassment that the book caused in the lives of her former partners, many of whom were married.

The motivations and morality of each of these acts of snitching are debatable. Did Kobe "out" Shaq out of innocent fear, or was it a disturbing display of schadenfreude? Was 50 ratting out the underworld elite, or merely paying homage? Is Steffans confessing her sins, or selling out her former running buddies? If we assume that all three of these people were not attempting to harm anyone else, is it okay for them to report someone else's misdeeds? Even if each of them were to admit that they had the worst intentions at heart, do they have any commitment to the people with whom they shared implicit or explicit compacts? Does this commitment change if they now believe the agreements to be immoral? While these questions are not easily answerable (if at all), they suggest that an anti-snitching position can be a legitimate and sophisticated response to dilemmas such as these.

Perhaps the most dangerous form of snitching that takes place in urban spaces is wet (also known as hard) snitching. Unlike dry snitching, which maintains a degree of indirection and unawareness, wet snitching occurs when an individual acts as a government informant in order to eliminate or reduce his or her own legal liability. Given the nature of most commercial anti-snitching messages — for example, recent t-shirts contain quotes like "I'll Never Tell" and "Niggas Just Lookin' For A Deal" — wet snitching is both the most reviled and relevant form within hip-hop culture.

While informants have always played a critical role in the government's surveillance, infiltration, and destruction of countless progressive social organizations, informants have become increasingly central to the prosecution of ordinary citizens. According to the United States Sentencing Commission, nearly 40 percent of drug trafficking prosecutions that resulted in sentences of 10 years or more (a population in which blacks and Latinos are grossly overrepresented) were directly connected to the contributions of informants. While at first glance this type of data may signal progress in the government's ostensible war against crime, a closer look reveals both moral and practical shortcomings.

Carmelo Anthony, right, appears in a video titled Stop Snitching — photo from Who's a Rat message board

While the practice of snitching has drastically increased the amount of drug arrests and convictions, it has also undermined the overall well being of America's most economically and politically vulnerable communities. According to Loyola professor Alexandra Natapoff, who published a groundbreaking 2004 article, "Snitching: The institutional and Communal Consequences", mandatory (and, I would argue, race targeted) drug sentencing laws, combined with the reduction of judicial flexibility have created tens of thousands of snitches who are mainly operating within poor, crime ridden neighborhoods. While snitching does not only occur within black and Latino communities, such areas are particularly susceptible, since one out of every four black and one out of every eight Latinos between 20 and 29 are under criminal supervision at any time. Given this reality, it is not surprising that, according to Natapoff, one out of every four young blacks are under pressure to snitch at any time. It is also not surprising that one out of 12 black men currently function as snitches within their communities in exchange for reduced criminal liability and continued police "protection".

At a moment when civil liberties are in jeopardy for all Americans due to the Patriot Act and sophisticated forms of domestic spying, the proliferation of snitches creates a new set of problems for ghetto denizens. Increased violence, sustained crime rates, growing distrust of fellow citizens (imagine going to the basketball court, barbershop, or the local bar knowing that one in twelve people in your community — and possibly that guy sitting right next to you — is a government informant), destruction of positive community-police relationships, and the invasion of privacy for law-abiding citizens are all consequences of the ghetto snitch industry. Instead of merely enabling the drug culture's foot soldiers to "flip" on big bosses (the expressed governmental intent of wet snitching), the current system often allows everyone to trade information for leniency, not least because the government is drowning in overstocked dockets and the criminals are masterful manipulators of the truth.

Indeed, in addition to fracturing communities with their deeds, snitches are notoriously unreliable in their testimony. To satisfy the conditions of their agreements, settle personal scores, or support their own criminal activity (which must be sustained in order to continue procuring information for the government — how's that for a catch-22?), snitches often manufacture stories and falsely accuse friends, family, neighbors, and rivals of criminal acts. According to the Northwestern University Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions, nearly half of the nation's wrongful death penalty convictions are due to the information provided by snitches.

It has become increasingly apparent that the practice of snitching is undergirded by tragically flawed public policies that have vicious effects on the stability and integrity of black and Latino communities. Given this reality, it is no wonder that many within the hip-hop community have openly rejected the practice of snitching. Unfortunately, the "no snitching" code, now appropriated as a fashion statement, has often been articulated without critical nuance and has resulted in an extremist position that betrays its own inherent complexity.

Snitching vs. Witnessing
In order to fully understand the legitimacy of the "Stop Snitching" movement within hip-hop, it is important to make a distinction between snitching and witnessing. While witnessing can be rightly considered a necessary civic practice in order to create and sustain safe communities, snitching is itself an act of moral turpitude. While a witness is an asset to truth and justice, the snitch is motivated primarily or entirely by self-interest. While witnesses are committed to upholding social contracts, snitches inevitably undermine them. Given this distinction, it seems that the bulk of the public outcry in favor of snitching is actually a plea for witnesses.

In building their case, anti-snitching pundits often cite instances in which acts of random or unnecessary violence go unpunished due to the public's refusal to act responsibly. A classic example of this "Bad Samaritan" behavior occurred in 1997 when seven-year-old Sherrice Iverson was molested and strangled in a Las Vegas bathroom stall by Jeremy Strohmeyer. Although Strohmeyer eventually confessed to the crime, police were unaided by his friend David Cash, who acknowledged witnessing the event but did not feel compelled to notify authorities.

While the public disgust and rejection of Cash's acts were nearly unanimous, such examples often serve as straw arguments — even the most ardent anti-snitching voices would condemn Cash's decision — that obscure more legitimate and commonplace moral dilemmas. For example, what should Cash have done if he had caught Strohmeyer stealing chips from the casino or smoking marijuana instead of assaulting the young girl? In this instance, the necessity of acting as a witness becomes more debatable. The potential reasons for this shift in sentiment are varied: a lack of deference for the particular laws that protect gambling establishments, a collective distrust of the particular casino or the casino industry, a lack of interest in punishing recreational drug use (they may smoke marijuana, as well), or fear of repercussions from the offender. For these and many other reasons, many people would opt to "mind my own business" under such circumstances. Like the hip-hop community, the larger American public makes decisions about snitching based on their own level of commitment to particular rules, laws, and groups, as well as their consideration of the particular stakes attached to intervening. We all make this decision to some degree or another, many times in our lives.

The Final Verdict
The most prominent critiques of the "Stop Snitching" campaign represent yet another failure of the general public to acknowledge the depth and truth-value of the hip-hop community's social commentary. Upon closer examination, an anti-snitching posture is a response to a set of circumstances, some unique and others universal, that many members of the hip-hop generation face. Clearly, the complexity of these circumstances cannot be adequately addressed through an "either-or" position on snitching. By advocating snitching under all circumstances, we ignore the moral dilemmas that are part and parcel of the practice. Also, we ascribe a level of unearned trust and moral authority to formal institutions, such as the government, despite its consistent indifference to the well being of its most defenseless citizens.

Conversely, by not articulating the particular rules and conditions under which snitching is highly problematic, the hip-hop community creates the conditions for a fundamentalist reading of a "don't talk to cops" social text. Surely this can lead to the type of moral irresponsibility and social decline that snitching advocates believe already exists. The solution, then, rests upon our ability to cease looking for simple answers to complex issues and begin the difficult work of open, engaged, and public dialogue about both snitching and witnessing.

Dr. Marc Lamont Hill is an Assistant Professor of Urban Education at Temple University. He is a columnist for Your Black World and does regular commentary for CNN, FOX, BET and other networks. For more information, please visit

Monday, May 19, 2008

Happy Birthday Malcolm

by Dr. Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Princeton University

I am part of the generation — the post civil-rights generation, post-black power generation — that turned Malcolm X into a T-shirt and cap. He was our symbol of racial discontent and political angst. Though we did not live through the brutal repression of Jim Crow, we knew for ourselves, in our own way, the effects of racial inequality. We saw the systematic destruction of urban communities, the incarceration of our peers, the violence and drugs that ravaged our neighborhoods. We knew that even the new opportunities and unprecedented accomplishments that previous generations made possible for us were often marked by racial isolation and insults.

We met Malcolm through the prism of popular culture, and we embraced him as a commodity, to signal our own disbelief in the American dream.

On Malcolm X’s birthday, those of us who embraced him as a pop icon need to encounter him again. We need to revisit Malcolm, because he has resisted all of our attempts to craft a single, well-packaged, vision of him. We need to unpack the things about him that remain elusive, difficult, messy and challenging.

We need to pause to think about him, because he left, for us, important social and political lessons.

Though Malcolm’s life was short, it was marked by dramatic change. He was born into poverty, madness and racial violence. His youthful arrogance, crime and indulgence led him to jail. But prison was no end for him; through a religious and political awakening, he found freedom in the context of imprisonment. He became an organization man, an orator, a world citizen and a free thinker with a cosmopolitan vision of the world.

Malcolm displayed the capacity to learn, to grow, to discern and to change direction. It takes courage to admit that society’s approach to old subjects has grown rigid and needs to evolve and change. It is hard for leaders to admit that they have been wrong in the past. His life is a reminder that greatness is not found in arrogant self-righteousness or intellectual hubris, but in the willingness to be open to our own limitations.

Malcolm also reminds us that the movement is more important than the man. He was fiercely loyal to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, who was the conduit of his political awakening, the author of his adult manhood, the embodiment of his idea of the sacred, and his dear and beloved friend. But when Malcolm came to believe that his mentor was abusing power in a way that threatened to destroy the very principles that he embraced, he made the difficult choice to walk away from the Nation of Islam.

Many in the post-civil rights generation have yearned for their own history-defining, charismatic leader. But Malcolm’s struggle to make his own authentic, political contribution reminds us that ideals are more important than personalities. Progressive political movements that engender lasting change are always bigger than the flawed human beings who lead them. The goal is to invest our energies and efforts in the movement itself rather than in blind loyalty to any single figure. Malcolm reminds us that we must always lead, even as we follow.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

There is nothing new under the sun...

Brothers and all,

It appears that our brother Boyce has informed us that O'Reilly is on the war path against us and he is making YBW a major point of attack on his show. His show may attack the point of YBW this evening or it may be over a period of evenings. I cannot say I watch his show, I have seen it on t.v. a few times. I have seen his rants on more than a few occasions toward a variety of people and I always thought of his show, like many of the Fox shows as humanistically pointless, but in the market culture profitable. Why else would it still be on the air? But since Mr. O'Reilly wants to target us, let me move myself into the line of fire.

Mr. O'Reilly needs to know who he may be throwing stones at so let us begin with me. I am Dr. Cyrus Marcellus Ellis a PhD holder in Counselor Education from Mr. Jefferson's University, The University of Virginia. I am an American patriot, serving in the United States Army, United States Army Reserve and the New Jersey National Guard for 20 years of my life as an enlisted man and an Army Officer. I retired from service in 2004. I am drug free and crime free although I have my vices. I spend my days and nights trying to figure out ways to help humankind recover from drugs and alcohol as well as a host of mental health disorders. I earned my right to be tenured and I earned my right to speak to the glory and the sadness of my nation. I earned that right by maintaining the responsibilities of citizenship and through my military service. In other words, I have the right to gripe because of my adherence to the contradictory ecological reality of the U.S. and my capability as a United States soldier. Many people on the "Factor" do not have the ability to state their background in this fashion and the host may be one of them.

Why does Mr. O'Reilly want to target the letters posted here? Is it because he likes to engage in this kind of behavior for ratings, to show he is "tough", because he is bored at this point in time? I don't know. I offer this thought about this show, the time African Americans are spending on it and what is most important.

First, Mr. O'Reilly's show is like many shows on t.v. that I think ought to say goodbye from poisoning the minds of many people with quick sound bytes and skewed views. I dislike the show, The O'Reilly Factor or whatever it is called as much as I dislike the show, The Flava of love. We ought to be equally angry and dismayed that
VH1 would air shows like this showing our men and women as a bunch of loose moralled individuals. This "O'Reilly Show" does not help the struggling masses of our poor white brothers and sisters as well. White brothers and sisters work hard and are struggling and what relief, but does the O'Reilly show do anything about that, not at all. Rather it gives them a false sense of "relief" because they can point to an issue that is tangible while they are continuing to be robbed of their pensions, gas money, and grocery bills by individuals who will shake their hands and promise relief then go behind doors and make deals that undermine hard work and fairness.

Second, in my opinion, African Americans ought to spend their time on relieving the oppression in the market place, eroding the barriers to formal and higher education, and spending a great deal of time on getting young folk re-interested in the life of the mind and filling the ranks of all the available spots in education. We ought to spending our time teaching our young men to be fathers and providers and teaching our young ladies increase their ability to recognize that their bodies are not tools of a trade but the vessel that will deliver the human capital of a new generation. We already know that VH1, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS and others do not seek to improve the race. We need to recognize that grass roots activity, especially if coordinated, forces the hand of the idiotic and oppressive conditions of our world to change.

Third, what is most important is that we have a nation of fractured communities. We have lost a lot of how hard working, God fearing, moral, just people (whatever one you are) get together and live in a high degree of harmony. The working poor, the hard hit middle class still carry the burden of taxation that fuels the nation's policy without any relief in sight. How do we spend our time worrying about one man, or a number of mixed up t.v. execs who exploit every cultural thing that exist so that "green" money can be made no matter the color of those who are exploited, ask Miley Cyrus.

All news programs need to move in a direction that asks a nation how is it that the lives of my brethren, U.S. soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen are paying for two countries with their lives, the American taxpayers are paying for the 95% (+) of the financial bill all the while we are paying the cost at our gas pumps and in our grocery stores. We know Al Qaeda is stronger in Afghanistan, our own intel people say they have the ability to strike us again-if they want to, yet we are five years into a war that was supposed to stop the very thing that has happened, but yet O'Reilly and others want to spend time on YBW. This is why I say there is nothing new under the sun.

I believe Washington, D.C. folk call it "wag the dog". When real issues are in your face, wag the dog, bomb another country, travel to Israel, don't talk to your conservative friends and hold them accountable, attack negroes, women, feminists, gay people because you have the pulpit to do so. Preachers do it, politicians do it, talk show hosts do it, many people do it...nothing new under the sun.

Y'all think about it...

Dr. Cyrus Marcellus Ellis is an associate, tenured professor of Counselor Education at Governors State University. Dr. Ellis holds a PhD in Counselor Education from The University of Virginia. He is the author of the new book It's All Gumbo to Me: Examining our world through the metaphor of Gumbo available on or at

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Marc and Melissa: All Politics Is Local

Call by Dr. Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Princeton University


After a week of Presidential politics dominated by everything but a meaningful discussion about policy I have decided to broaden the focus of my political energy a bit. Don’t get me wrong; I am still an undeterred, hopeful and ardent Obama supporter. But I am also reminding myself of longtime Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill’s famous admonition that “all politics is local.”
24-hour network news makes us drowsy about local politics. But most of the fundamental policy choices that affect our daily lives are made and implemented by office holders at levels much closer to the ground than the White House.

For Democrats, the long primary season is draining the political giving budget of many contributors. This could have a big effete on candidates at every level from the dogcatcher to the Senate. I hit that little red “Donate Now” button on my Obama campaign emails, but I am worried that as we battle at the top, we lose the resources to win the undercard.

So Marc, I am asking you and our readers to make suggestions about key races across the country where they think we ought to focus. Who are the candidates for the Mayor, Governor, Congress, School Boards and city and county office that you think can make a big difference in our communities? Where else should we write our $5 or $500 donation checks to make sure that the “silly season” in US Presidential politics does not distract us from making change where we can really impact people's lives.

Ok, I’ll start. One top pick for me is Kevin Powell’s challenge to Edolphus Towns in the 10th Congressional District of Brooklyn.

Marc what are your picks?


Response by Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Temple University


For me, the most important non-presidential race to watch comes from Ohio’s 10th Congressional District, where incumbent US Representative Dennis Kucinich is facing a serious challenge.

Since taking office in 1998, Kucinich has been one of the most consistent and principled voices in the Congress. From his persistent opposition to the Iraq war to his uniform challenge to free trade, Kucinich has consistently forced his Democratic colleagues to live up to their progressive promise. Although he was shunned by the mainstream media, Kucinich played a significant role in the 2008 Democratic primary, forcing the mainstream (read: corporate) candidates to answer tough questions about critical issues. More than any politician that I've ever encountered, Kucinich is sincere, ethical, committed, and unwavering in his advocacy for Left-wing values.

Unfortunately, while Kucinich was operating on the national scene, local opponents were plotting on his Congressional seat. By the beginning of 2008, four well-funded candidates attempted to unseat Kucinich in Democratic primary by painting him as an absentee congressman. Although Kucinich was able to defeat them through a twelfth hour fund raising effort, the battle is not over. In November, he will be facing former Republican State Representative Jim Trakas in another close contest.

A Kucinich loss will have a devastating impact on the city of Cleveland, the state of Ohio, and the entire nation. If we truly care about the future of a Left-wing movement, we must aid his re-election.

Can I count on your help?