fresh voices from the front lines of change







As I’ve noted before, we have a saying in the south that often applies to national politics: “A hit dog will holler”:

A hit dog will holler: when a group of folks find themselves in a troublesome situation, more often than not, the troublemaker speaks up first to clear his name.

This phrase also works if you are speaking truth in a situation that offends one or more people and they speak up in offense. You’ve hit a nerve (it hurts) and they holler, much like when a dog is hit by a vehicle. All of his nerves have been hit, so he hollers. That’s how you get, a hit dog will holler. The proper response is “every time.”

Well, Vice President Joe Biden rolled up his rhetorical newspaper and whacked the GOP ticket squarely upon its hindquarters. And boy, did they holler.

It all started when Biden told a predominantly African American audience that Mitt Romney’s and Paul Ryan’s policies would “unchain Wall Street” and “put you all back in chains.”

The remark came roughly two-thirds of the way through Mr. Biden’s 30-minute speech, which was delivered to a crowd that included many African-Americans at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville, Va.

“Romney wants to let the — he said in the first hundred days, he’s going to let the big banks once again write their own rules, unchain Wall Street,” Mr. Biden said. “They’re going to put you all back in chains.”

On a C-Span video of the speech, the audience does not appear to react negatively to Mr. Biden’s phrasing; indeed, laughter can be heard among the crowd.

The response from conservatives was predictable, up to and including calls for Biden to apologize and even to step down as Vice President. John McCain — who might be well advised to keep quiet, let anyone revisit his pick for VP — suggested President Obama drop Biden from the ticket and draft Hillary Clinton.

To their credit, neither the President not the Vice President has listened to their would-be advisers on the right. Instead the President defended his VP’s remarks, and Biden himself doubled-down on that dose of truth that conservatives found so hard to swallow.

“We don’t have to imagine anymore. The details are there. Here’s what Congressman Ryan said. He said, ‘We believe a renewed commitment to limited government will unshackle our economy.’ The Speaker of the House said, used the word ‘unshackled’ as well, referring to their proposals. The last time these guys unshackled the economy, to use their term, they put the middle class in shackles. That’s how we got where we are,” Biden said in Wyethville.

“I’m told that when I made that comment earlier today in Danville, Virginia, the Romney campaign put out a tweet. You know, tweets these days? Put out a tweet, went on the airwaves saying, ‘Biden, he’s outrageous in saying that,’ I think I said instead of ‘unshackled,’ ‘unchained.’ ‘Outrageous to say that.’ That’s what we had. I’m using their own words. I got a message for them. If you want to know what’s outrageous, it’s their policies and the effects of their policies on middle class America. That’s what’s outrageous,” Biden added.

Conservatives cried foul, but have not yet cited any evidence that the vice president was wrong. And I don’t mean in the literal sense, though it might be a stretch for conservatives like Peter Beinart to consider that Biden did not literally mean that “Romney, who once claimed (falsely) that his father marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., plans to bring back slavery.”  (It makes sense, though, that a party that either defends slavery or labels anything it doesn’t like as “slavery” — was too cowardly to face up to the reality of slavery in the constitution — wouldn’t see the deep irony here.)


Romney may not want to “bring back slavery” exactly (more on this in a bit), but he does support policies that would bring back at least one of reality of the old days: Black disenfranchisement. Both Michael Tomasky and Al Sharpton have written about the legislative assault on the voting rights of the poor, African-Americans, Latinos, and anyone else that doesn’t fit the GOP demographic.

Tomasky makes it plain: the GOP is out to block the Black vote.

The more you wrap your mind around it, the more astonishing the moral deficiency becomes. Think about it. Every election come the warnings that if you haven’t paid your telephone bill yet or what have you, you won’t be permitted to vote. Something that like, which I saw all the time in New York City, can be pulled off by a handful of ne’er-do-wells, and the party leaders themselves can maintain plausible deniability.

But what’s going on around the country this year requires the assent of officialdom. This is a conspiracy of thousands of people, Republican Party operatives in every state in the country (except those where the black vote is small enough not to matter), all of them agreeing that denying the most fundamental civic right to a group of citizens because they vote the wrong way is a good idea—and knowing that they can get away with it because, after all, it’s “just” “those people.” Imagine that Democrats had decided to proceed along these lines in America’s rural precincts. Something tells me that the country’s great law-enforcement agencies and media institutions would have managed to get to the bottom of it then—and that the Democratic Party would have ended up all but destroyed.

…It’s a sick and sickening situation, and it delegitimizes everything else about the Republican Party. I can understand how someone believes in limited government or low taxes. I can understand how someone could oppose affirmative action. I cannot understand how any individual can be anything other than abjectly ashamed to be associated with a political party so thuggish as to try to rig elections like this and then at its conventions have the gall to invoke Abraham Lincoln and hire lots of black people to sing and dance and smile, to make up for their absence among the attendees. A black mark indeed.

Al Sharpton heard from the horse’s mouth the method behind the madness:

Last week, Florida’s former Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer appeared on my TV show, Politics Nation on MSNBC, and candidly discussed how the GOP in his state systematically pushed for harsh new voter ID laws in order to suppress the vote — specifically that of African Americans and young people. Blowing the lid off of insider meetings, Greer said his party gave up on courting minority voters and instead began seeking methods to disenfranchise and purge as many of them from participating as possible. He confirmed what some of us have long argued, and he provided a backdrop into what is transpiring all across the country in advance of the upcoming presidential election. Well today, in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, a judge ruled in favor of upholding the draconian Republican-supported voter ID law. This outrageous ruling is a slap in the face to democracy, and a slap in the face to all those who sacrificed so dearly in order to secure our liberties.

In what can only be described as a shocking and appalling ruling, Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson has sided with those who would seek to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of otherwise eligible voters just a few months before Election Day. While Simpson said he was disturbed by statements made by Pennsylvania state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (who openly said voter ID laws would allow Gov. Romney to win Pennsylvania), he believed that state officials would be able to enforce these laws in a “nonpartisan, even-handed manner.” But

As I noted earlier, Mitt Romney likes Voter ID laws.

Mitt Romney likes voter ID laws. People who don’t like Black people like voter ID laws. As Harold Meyerson points out, that’s because of what might happen if Republicans’ voter suppression works.

Suppose Mitt Romney ekes out a victory in November by a margin smaller than the number of young and minority voters who couldn’t cast ballots because the photo-identification laws enacted by Republican governors and legislators kept them from the polls. What should Democrats do then? What would Republicans do? And how would other nations respond?

…If voter suppression goes forward and Romney narrowly prevails, consider the consequences. An overwhelmingly and increasingly white Republican Party, based in the South, will owe its power to discrimination against black and Latino voters, much like the old segregationist Dixiecrats. It’s not that Republicans haven’t run voter suppression operations before, but they’ve been under-the-table dirty tricks, such as calling minority voters with misinformation about polling-place locations and hours. By contrast, this year’s suppression would be the intended outcome of laws that Republicans publicly supported, just as the denial of the franchise to Southern blacks before 1965 was the intended result of laws such as poll taxes. More ominous still, by further estranging minority voters, even as minorities constitute a steadily larger share of the electorate, Republicans will be putting themselves in a position where they increasingly rely on only white voters and where their only path to victory will be the continued suppression of minority votes. A cycle more vicious is hard to imagine.

That “vicious cycle” could be the GOP’s answer to its “white man problem”. No need to worry about being too “old, white, and fat.” Just make sure that only the “right people” vote. Voila! Demographic suicide averted.

Mitt Romney believes that more Black folks would vote for him, if they knew what was good for them. Until we do, he apparently believes fewer of us should vote.


While he might not be calling for the repeal of the 13th amendment, or a reversal of the Dred Scott decision, the policies backed by Romney and the GOP have already reversed generations of Black economic gains.

Romney’s history alone doesn’t inspire confidence that his policies would even get the African-American unemployment rate down to the same level as the national unemployment rate.

Remember, this is a guy who touts his business experience as his main qualification for the presidency. But Romney was an “outsourcing pioneer,” as well as a “vulture capitalist,” who created more jobs in China than he created here (most of which were low-wage, and offered no path to middle class-status).

How many of the jobs Romney made millions outsourcing, or helping other companies outsource, while at Bain Capital belonged to African American men, who were over represented in those jobs, and thus disproportionately impacted by the loss of those jobs?

The public sector is bleeding jobs at the state and local level — more than 600,000 since 2009 — as a direct result of three years of de facto austerity forced on city and state governments by conservatives as conservatives obstructed any form of economic stimulus that might have aided state and local governments, including money to help states and municipalities retain or rehire teachers and first-responders, and even opposed a smaller bill to help keep teachers in the classroom. Mitt Romney has joined his party’s war on public sector workers, declaring the America needs fewer teachers, police officers, and fire fighters.

How many of those public sector jobs were filled by African Americans — men and women (especially women) who have hit hardest job by the public sector job loss that’s decimating the black middle class

African Americans were targeted and sometimes pushed into subprime loans, and many are now struggling with financial burdens of debt and destroyed credit that may last generations, because of the same financial sector deregulation that Republicans want to bring back, and that Mitt Romney championed in his speech to the NAACP.

As he wrapped up his speech, Mitt Romney made it clear that he would he would be a “severely conservative,” and will continue the same conservative policies, the same disastrous consequences for African Americans. The same conservative obstruction and intransigence that choking off the recovery will leave African Americans in the red.

Romney alone is bad enough, but now he has a running mate. Paul Ryan as VP would be a nightmare for the poor and minorities.

A vice president is now directly involved in discussing, implementing and even helping to formulate domestic and foreign policy. Vice-Presidents chair presidential committees and commissions. They are consulted and make recommendations on major policy decisions and changes. They are often the hit men on controversial policy issues and during elections they are on the campaign trail to say what the president often can’t say. Clinton’s VP Al Gore and Bush’s VP Dick Cheney played the role of advisor and point man on key issues. Obama VP Joe Biden plays the same role. In any case, the VP is now often right in the center of presidential politics and the national political debate.

Ryan would be even more at the center of that debate and decision making. He was picked in large part not to balance the Romney ticket, but because of his budget hammering big stick. A Romney White House will not only listen to him, but rely heavily on him on policy decisions involving spending slashes, almost all of it involving crucial domestic programs.

This would come at the worst possible time for the poor and minorities. The poor are not only getting poorer, they are also more numerous than any time in the last half-century and have slipped even further behind in wealth and income disparities. Other reports repeatedly confirm that a disproportionate number of the poor are blacks and Hispanics. The single biggest reason for their plunge downward is the relentless pecking away at federal spending on enhancement programs in health care, education, job and skills training, and the massive cutbacks and downsizing in the public employment sector.

This has been coupled with a colossal leap in the fortunes of the rich and major corporations. Their wealth bounty has soared through a benign and porous tax and regulatory system that has given the taxpayer company store away to them. The Ryan plan would be a dream come true for them. It would shove out even more of the tax cut bounty to the wealthiest, and do absolutely nothing to insure that any of the tax cut giveaway go toward investment in new job creation. The cuts would leave the tattered safety net for the poor in even greater tatters. It doesn’t take a soothsayer to predict that the number of poor will skyrocket even more under the Ryan plan.

African-Americans are still waiting for the economic recovery to “trickle down.” 


No one is suggesting that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan literally want to bring back old-fashioned, antebellum-style slavery. But Russell Simmons makes an interesting point when he said that Biden was dead right, in a way that the VP himself probably hadn’t intended.

The greatest cause of the destruction of the fabric of the black community in the past forty years is drug legislation that targets and imprisons those who live in under-served communities. The consequences of these draconian laws are that it takes diseased people, locks them up for long periods of time, educates them in violent criminal behavior and dumps them back into the community. The money for this operation is obviously funded by the “good old boys” who run Wall Street.

So, when Joe Biden’s comment yesterday made Republicans jump out of their seats, I wondered why they were so upset. Black people certainly were not. If Republicans really want to know how to help black people, then end the war on drugs, because that really is a war against our own people. Changing those policies will start to free “the chains.” Instead, these and other biased policies supported by the Republican Party disempower blacks and all other minorities in various ways. Without healthcare, quality education, equal rights for women and gays and a just tax code (that raises my taxes!), under-served communities will be hit the hardest by the election of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. We must do everything in our power to make sure that doesn’t happen. 

The chains in this case are literal. Simmons doesn’t mention it by name, but the private prison industry is big business, especially in Republican-governed states like Louisiana and New Jersey. According to ProPublica, the corporation that owns the most private prison facilities (66 in all), brought in $1.7 billion in total revenue in 2011, and spent $17.4 million on lobbying over the last decade. Private prisons are a stable and growing part of the economy, and accounted for a 37% increase in the number of inmates in private prisons between 2002 and 2009.

And a number of those prisoners are black and brown. It’s an old story. In Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans From the Civil War to World War II, author Douglas Blackmon detailed how the southern system of leasing convicts (famously depicted in the novel and movie Gone With The Wind) combined with laws “specifically intended to intimidate blacks” led to what amounted to slavery.

Under laws enacted specifically to intimidate blacks, tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested, hit with outrageous fines, and charged for the costs of their own arrests. With no means to pay these ostensible “debts,” prisoners were sold as forced laborers to coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, quarries and farm plantations. Thousands of other African Americans were simply seized by southern landowners and compelled into years of involuntary servitude. Government officials leased falsely imprisoned blacks to small-town entrepreneurs, provincial farmers, and dozens of corporations-including U.S. Steel Corp.-looking for cheap and abundant labor. Armies of “free” black men labored without compensation, were repeatedly bought and sold, and were forced through beatings and physical torture to do the bidding of white masters for decades after the official abolition of American slavery.

The neoslavery system exploited legal loopholes and federal policies which discouraged prosecution of whites for continuing to hold black workers against their wills. As it poured millions of dollars into southern government treasuries, the new slavery also became a key instrument in the terrorization of African Americans seeking full participation in the U.S. political system.

As Dr. Niaz Kasrav wrote at The Grio, there’s a direct link between today’s for-profit prisons and “society’s desire — specifically in the South — to find cheap labor to replace the workforce lost to slave owners after emancipation.”

Today, Blacks account for almost 40% of the prison population, while comprising only 13% of the U.S. population. Meanwhile,  Hispanics account for 20% of prisoners, but comprise 16% of the U.S. population. Over all, despite a decline in violence crime, yet America’s incarceration rate has tripled since 1980. That puts us in a rather dubious record book.

The accelerating rate of incarceration over the past few decades is just as startling as the number of people jailed: in 1980, there were about two hundred and twenty people incarcerated for every hundred thousand Americans; by 2010, the number had more than tripled, to seven hundred and thirty-one. No other country even approaches that. In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education.

Those numbers are hardly accidental. In fact, the math is pretty simple.

  1. State governments are caught between ever-growing budget shortfalls, balanced-budget mandates, and a GOP dominated House that refuses to send any federal aid to states.
  2. The corporate jailers go on a buying spree, offering states the opportunity to “outsource” the increasingly expensive detention and care of inmate populations, while demanding
  3. For-profit prisons contract with states to take over correctional facilities, and receive a per diem based on the number of people locked up.
  4. Since private prison profits grow as prison populations grow, corporate jailers takes measure to ensure a steady stream of prisoners.
    1. They lock in high occupancy rates, by requiring states to maintain 90% occupancy rates.
    2. The lobby for harsher sentences.

The private prison has spent $45 million lobbying for laws and policies that would boost prison populations and private prisons’ profits. And, of course, ALEC plays a big part in lobbying for bills that prop up the private prison industry in myriad ways.

You’d have to be incredibly naive to believe that this doesn’t set up incentives for state and local officials to boost the ranks of the incarcerated, especially if some them figure out how to profit personally in the process.

The private prison industry also makes a tidy profit from the spread of anti-immigrant laws, which have nearly doubled the ranks of immigrant detainees —to about 400,000. Nearly half of all immigrant detainees are held in private prison facilities.  That means massive profits — $5.1 billion for detentions alone.

With a huge, under-paid  labor force on lockdown, corporate jailers can boost their profits by selling prisoner labor to increasingly interested private employers.

So, whether he was speaking figurative or literally, it turns out Joe Biden was right.

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