Prostate cancer racial disparity seen even in very-low-risk disease

By: SUSAN LONDON, Family Practice News Digital Network,

African American men with verylow-risk prostate cancer undergoing prostatectomy still have a higher likelihood of poor oncologic outcomes that should be discussed during counseling, according to results from a retrospective cohort study appearing in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Investigators at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, studied 1,801 men – 14% African American, 82% white, and 4% other races/ethnicities – treated in the prostate-specific antigen era who met criteria for very-low-risk disease but opted for an immediate radical prostatectomy instead.

Study results showed that relative to white peers, African American men were significantly more likely to have tumors with adverse pathologic features, upgrading at prostatectomy, positive surgical margins, and scores predicting a higher risk of recurrence, Dr. Debasish Sundi and his colleagues reported.

In a multivariate analysis restricted to the 359 men treated with modern practices (extended biopsy sampling and contemporary Gleason grading), African American men had a more than tripling of the odds of adverse tumor features and a more than doubling of the odds of pathologic upgrading relative to men of other races/ethnicities.

The investigators wrote that the study “shows a disparity in outcomes for African American men after radical prostatectomy by multiple metrics, even within a highly selected and contemporary cohort of very-low–risk patients. This underscores the need to develop and use race-based risk classifiers when counseling patients about different management strategies.”

“African American men with very low risk of prostate cancer should be counseled about increased oncologic risk when deciding among their disease management options,” they recommended.

However, “the results of our study do not support the universal rejection of active surveillance in African American men but rather should promote future studies to address whether alternate race-specific surveillance entry criteria should be used for African American men to ensure oncologic parity with their white counterparts.”

The investigators retrospectively studied men undergoing radical prostatectomy at Johns Hopkins since 1992, excluding any who received neoadjuvant hormonal therapy and restricting analyses to those who met National Comprehensive Cancer Network criteria for very-low-risk disease.

Relative to their white peers, African American men were more likely to have upgrading at prostatectomy (27.3% vs. 14.4%), positive surgical margins (9.8% vs. 5.9%), adverse pathologic features (14.1% vs. 7.7%), and a CAPRA-S (Cancer of the Prostate Risk Assessment Post-Surgical scoring system) score of 3 or higher, indicating a higher risk of biochemical recurrence (14.8% vs. 6.9%), the investigators reported (J. Clin. Oncol. 2013 June 17 [doi: 10.1200/JCO.2012.47.0302]).

With a median follow-up of 3 years, African Americans also had a higher rate of biochemical recurrence (4% vs. 1.4%), but the two groups were statistically indistinguishable with respect to metastasis-free, cancer-specific, or overall survival.

In the subset of men treated with modern clinical practices, compared with white men, African American men again had higher rates of upgrading (32.7% vs. 12.6%), positive margins (19% vs. 6.3%), adverse pathology (19.8% vs. 7.2%), and higher CAPRA-S scores (21% vs. 5.7%).

A multivariate analysis in this subset showed that compared with white men and other men combined, African American men still had higher odds of upgrading at prostatectomy (odds ratio, 2.26; P = .03), adverse pathology (OR, 3.23; P = .03), and higher CAPRA-S scores (OR, 6.57; P = .001).

The authors disclosed no potential conflicts of interest.

Almost 2 million try to quit smoking in wake of CDC campaign

By: ALICIA AULT, Family Practice News Digital Network,

Almost 2 million Americans tried to quit smoking in the wake of a 2012 government educational campaign, and at least 100,000 of them have quit permanently.

That’s according to an analysis of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Tips From Former Smokers campaign that was published online in the Lancet on Sept. 9. The analysis by CDC officials estimates that 1.6 million Americans tried to quit after the campaign’s launch in March 2012. By June 2012, when it ended, at least 100,000 of them could be defined as having permanently quit.

“These are really minimal estimates,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, in a briefing with reporters. “We think the actual impact may have been even larger than this.”

The Tips From Former Smokers campaign was made possible by a $54 million grant from the Affordable Care Act’s Public Health and Prevention Fund. Print ads featured graphic photos of former smokers with stomas, or scars from open heart surgery. Former smokers also described tobacco’s toll on their health in broadcast and radio ads and videos posted to the CDC website. The TV ads directed viewers to the 1-800-QUIT-NOW quit line or to the National Cancer Institute’s quit assistance website, www.smokefree.gov.

A testimonial from former smoker Terrie Hall has been the most-visited page on the entire CDC site, receiving 2.5 million hits so far, Dr. Frieden said. In it, Ms. Hall tells smokers: “Record your voice for loved ones while you still can.” Ms. Hall was diagnosed with throat cancer, had her larynx removed, and now speaks with the aid of an artificial voice box.

Overall, the tips campaign was seen by four out of five smokers, the Lancet report estimated.

To assess how well the campaign worked, the CDC used a nationally representative online survey. Current smokers – those who had smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime and now smoked every day or some days – and nonsmokers (all others) were compared. There was a baseline survey before the campaign started and another immediately after the campaign ended.

Of the invited smokers, 70% (4,108) responded, and 58% (3,000) of the invited nonsmokers responded to the baseline survey. After the campaign ended, 74% (3,058) of the smokers and 74% (2,220) of the nonsmokers responded. About 75% of the smokers and nonsmokers said they recalled seeing at least one tips ad.

The prevalence of smokers who tried to quit in the past 3 months increased from 31% before the tips campaign to 35% after the campaign. At the end of the 12-week campaign, 13% of smokers who tried to quit said they had not smoked again.

After stratifying the results of the overall response to the campaign, the CDC researchers found that there were more quit attempts among younger smokers, lighter smokers, African American smokers, and smokers with less education.

Calls to the 1-800-QUIT-NOW line increased 132% during the 12-week campaign, 200,000 more calls than during the same period the previous year. There were also 500,000 unique visitors to the www.smokefree.gov website.

The analysis showed that the campaign spurred a large number of nonsmokers to talk to their friends or family about the dangers of smoking and quitting. Applying the findings to the U.S. population, the researchers reported that almost 5 million nonsmokers recommended a smoking cessation service to a friend or family member, and 6 million discussed the dangers of smoking.

Obamacare Is Shaping Up as a Good Deal for Consumers

By Rick Newman | The Exchange –6 hours ago,

It might still turn out to be too complex, disruptive or dependent on government coercion. But so far, Obamacare is looking like a good deal for people who enroll.

With the first phase of President Obama’s sweeping health care reforms set to go into effect October 1, insurance companies are beginning to formulate and publish the premiums they’ll charge people who sign up for coverage through one of the statewide exchanges established by the law. In most states that have published those rates, the premiums are comparable to what group plans charge, and in some cases even a bit lower.

The nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation has assembled rate information for 17 states, including New York, California, Ohio and Virginia, plus the District of Columbia. For the most part, the Obamacare rates track premiums insurers tend to charge in small-group plans offered by medium-sized businesses. If such rates stick, it would be a mark of success for the controversial program, which was intended to provide reasonably priced insurance for people who can’t get affordable coverage through an employer, family member or other source.

In New York City, for instance, the cheapest “silver” plan, providing a middle tier of benefits, would cost a 40-year-old person $359 per month. The cheapest cost for a similar plan would be $214 in Baltimore, $256 in Omaha and $281 in Seattle. That’s without any federal aid.

Generous subsidies

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as Obamacare is officially known, offers generous subsidies for lower-income workers to help offset the cost of insurance and encourage them to enroll. For a family of four living in New York City (including two 40-year-old parents and two kids) with a total income of $60,000, the total cost of a silver plan would be around $1,112 per month. But a $702 tax credit will lower the family’s out-of-pocket cost to $409 per month, which is the cap on per-family costs in most cities. Families with lower incomes qualify for bigger credits that lower their out-of-pocket costs even more.

Since these are real rates insurance companies expect to charge real consumers for coverage in 2014, they provide much better insights into how well Obamacare is likely to work than the fiery rhetoric that’s surrounded the law since it passed in 2010. “It shows that insurers believe enrollment will be reasonable, and it won’t just be sick people who enroll,” says Gary Claxton, one of the Kaiser researchers who gathered and analyzed the insurance data. “It’s really good news that these rates aren’t coming in twice as high as what the average person pays for insurance now.”

Cost estimates based on data from the Congressional Budget Office have suggested the average premium for a 40-year-old purchasing a silver plan would be about $320 per month, without subsidies. But Kaiser found that, in 15 of the 18 regions it examined, at least one insurance company offers a cheaper plan for the same tier of coverage. “While premiums will vary significantly across the country,” Kaiser says, “they are generally lower than expected.”

That doesn’t mean premiums will remain low. Since Obamacare is basically a huge, unprecedented experiment, insurance companies could be overestimating the number of people who will enroll. If they end up with fewer new customers than expected, premiums would probably go up. The same thing would happen if patients buying coverage through exchanges turn out to be sicker than expected, which would raise costs that have to be borne by everybody in the system.

What could go wrong

Plenty of other things could go wrong. Americans could balk at the individual mandate, which requires them to buy coverage or pay a penalty; if too many people opt for the penalty, it could undermine the economics of Obamacare and intensify the political backlash to the law. Beyond that, federal subsidies could turn out to be unaffordable if Washington continues drowning in debt. Key cost-containment efforts could fail. Republicans, generally opposed to the law, could win the White House in 2016 and roll back the whole program.

Of course, Obamacare could turn out to be less disruptive and more effective than expected, too — which wouldn’t be all that hard, given the economic catastrophe many opponents of the law have predicted will be its inevitable outcome. By that standard, if Obamacare does no harm and a little good, it will arguably qualify as a success. Even more so if costs go down and benefits improve over time.

High-dose, high-potency statins reduced dementia risk

Dr. Tin-Tse Lin

Dr. Tin-Tse Lin

By: NASEEM S. MILLER, Family Practice News Digital Network

MSTERDAM – Elderly patients who received the highest total equivalent doses of high-potency statins, such as atorvastatin or rosuvastatin, had a threefold decrease in the risk of developing dementia, according to a retrospective, observational study in Taiwan.

Dr. Tin-Tse Lin, who presented the study at the annual congress of the European Society of Cardiology, said that the mechanism might be due to the statins’ effect on cholesterol reduction, antithrombotic activity, and their anti-inflammatory effect. The study, however, showed that lesser-prescribed lovastatin at a higher dose was positively associated with dementia development.

The findings add another piece to the statin-dementia puzzle and may alleviate some of the concerns with the so-called “brain fog” effect of statins, experts said.

Dr. Kim Williams Sr., chair of cardiology at Wayne State University, Detroit, said that the study “was very reassuring in that there was no real evidence of dementia with the statins that we tend to use, which are the more powerful ones.” Older statins like lovastatin, however, are still of concern, said Dr. Williams, vice president of the American College of Cardiology, who was not involved in the study.

In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration added a warning to the statins’ label that the drugs could cause temporary memory loss and confusion.  Meanwhile, several studies, including a 2012 review, have found no causality or conclusive relationship between statins and cognitive impairment.

For the Taiwanese study, researchers used a random sample of 1,000,000 people covered by the country’s National Health Insurance. They identified nearly 58,000 patients who were older than 65 years of age and without a history of dementia in 1997 and 1998. The patients were followed up for an average of 4.5 years.

The study was divided into tertiles – low, medium, and high dosage – according to mean daily equivalent or total (across the entire follow-up period) equivalent dosage.

The primary endpoint was new diagnosis of presenile and senile dementia. Patients with vascular dementia were excluded.

More than 5,500 developed dementia. The remaining 52,000 patient served as controls.

Results showed that the adjusted hazard ratios for dementia were significantly inversely associated with increased total or daily equivalent statin dosage among the tertiles. For total equivalent statin dosage, the hazard ratios for dementia were 0.77 (low dosage), 0.63 (medium), and 0.33 (high), compared with controls, all significant differences. For mean equivalent daily dosage, HRs for dementia were 0.62, 0.70, 0.42, respectively, compared with controls, also significant differences.

The authors said that the protective effect of statins remained robust in different age, gender, and cardiovascular risk subgroups, with strong statistical trends.

Dr. Lin of the National Taiwan University Hospital, Hsin-Chu, Taiwan, said he did not know whether the findings would apply to other ethnicities.

He hypothesized that because disorders of cholesterol metabolism could lead to an increased incidence of cerebrovascular disease, and elevation of the cholesterol level may result in a high inflammatory status associated with neurodegeneration, “I think it is reasonable to say that statins may facilitate lowering the risk of dementia.”

Prof. Terje R. Pedersen of the University of Oslo (Norway), who commented on the study, said that “It is implausible that statins have any impact on progression of Alzheimer’s disease, but it might be plausible to think that when you prevent extensive atherosclerosis, then you also prevent dementia.”

The bottom line, said Dr. Williams, is that the study “adds another dimension to the idea that the stronger statins that are used in the highest doses have the best benefit. That’s certainly true for the cardiovascular risk and now with dementia prevention.”

Dr. Lin and Dr. Williams had no relevant disclosures. Prof. Pedersen has received research grants from Merck and Pfizer; consultation fees from Merck, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Amgen; speaker honoraria from Merck, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Roche, Novartis, Amgen, and GlaxoSmithKline.

Metformin might block prostate cancer progression

By: M. ALEXANDER OTTO, Family Practice News Digital Network

Metformin appears to have slowed, or perhaps even halted, the progression of prostate cancer in a retrospective, Canadian study of 3,837 diabetic men.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The longer the men were on the drug, the better they did; for each additional 6 months of treatment following diagnosis, prostate cancer mortality dropped 24% (adjusted hazard ratio 0.76). There was a 24% reduction in all-cause mortality in the first 6 months, as well (aHR, 0.76), but the association faded with time; 24-30 months out from diagnosis, metformin was associated with an all-cause mortality reduction of 7% (aHR, 0.93).

Although some of the men used other diabetes drugs such as sulfonylureas, thiazolidinediones, and insulin some of the time, only metformin improved prostate cancer outcomes, regardless of concomitant cancer treatments.

“We cannot conclude” that a nondiabetic population would see similar benefits, but the results “suggest that metformin may … improve survival as an adjunct therapy, even among those already receiving optimal cancer treatments. We believe an interventional study of the use of metformin to delay progression in prostate cancer is warranted,” wrote Dr. David Margel, a uro-oncology fellow at the University of Toronto when the study was conducted, and now a urologist at the Rabin Medical Center in Petah-Tikva, Israel (J. Clin. Oncol. 2013 Aug 5 [doi: 10.1200/JCO.2012.46.7043]).

Dr. Margel and his team are not the first to suggest that the ubiquitous diabetes drug might also be a potent cancer fighter. Metformin is being tested in dozens of trials not only for prostate tumors, but also for breast, brain, lung, uterine, colorectal, pancreatic, skin, blood, and thyroid cancers.

It probably doesn’t stop benign cells from turning cancerous, but may “influence cancer cells indirectly by decreasing insulin levels or directly by influencing cancer cell proliferation and apoptosis,” the investigators wrote.

Study data came from health care databases kept by the province of Ontario, including the Ontario Cancer Registry and Ontario Diabetes Database.

The men were a median of 75 years old at diagnosis, and followed for a median of 4.64 years. About a quarter (976) presented with high-grade tumors, and almost 60% (2,167) with high-volume tumors. Thirty-five percent (1,343) died during the study period; prostate cancer was responsible for 7.6% (291) of the deaths.

The men were a median of 75 years old at diagnosis, and followed for a median of 4.64 years. About a quarter (976) presented with highgrade tumors, and almost 60% (2,167) with high-volume tumors. Thirty-five percent (1,343) died during
the study period; prostate cancer was responsible for 7.6% (291) of the deaths.

“Overall, 1,251 (32.6%) and 1,619 (42.2%) were exposed to metformin before and after [prostate cancer] diagnosis, respectively. Patients were exposed to metformin for a median of 19 months before diagnosis and 8.9 months after diagnosis,” Dr. Margel and his team noted.

The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care funded the project. The authors have no conflicts of interest.

Death of the Republican Party

(Credit: AP/Isaac Brekken)

(Credit: AP/Isaac Brekken)

By Kim Messick, Salon

In a recent article, I argued that the Republican Party has been captured by a faction whose political psychology makes it highly intransigent and uninterested in compromise. That article focused on the roots of this psychology and how it shapes the Tea Party’s view of its place in American politics. It did not pursue the question of exactly how this capture took place — of how a major political party, once a broad coalition of diverse elements, came to be so dependent on a narrow range of strident voices. This is the question I propose to explore below.

In doing so, we should keep in mind three terms from political science (and much political journalism) — “realignment,” “polarization” and “gridlock.” These concepts are often bandied about as if their connections are obvious, even intuitive. Sometimes, indeed, a writer leaves the impression that they are virtually synonymous. I think this is mistaken, and that it keeps us from appreciating just how strange our present political moment really is.

“Realignment,” for instance, refers to a systematic shift in the patterns of electoral support for a political party. The most spectacular recent example of this is the movement of white Southerners from the Democratic to the Republican Party after the passage of major civil rights laws in the mid-1960s. Not coincidentally, this event was critically important for the evolution of today’s Republican Party.

After the Civil War and the collapse of Reconstruction in the 1870s, the identification of white Southerners as Democrats was so stubborn and pervasive as to make the region into the “solid South” – solidly Democratic, that is. Despite this well-known fact, there is reason to suspect that the South’s Democratic alliance was always a bit uneasy. As the Gilded Age gave way to the first decades of the 20th century, the electoral identities of the two major parties began to firm up. Outside the South, the Democrats were the party of the cities, with their polyglot populations and unionized workforces. The Republicans drew most of their support from the rural Midwest and the small towns of the North. The Democrats’ appeal was populist, while Republicans extolled the virtues of an ascendant business class: self-sufficiency, propriety, personal responsibility.

It will be immediately evident that the Republican Party was in many ways a more natural fit for the South, which at the time was largely rural and whose white citizens were overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The South’s class structure, less fluid than that of the industrial and urban North, would have chimed with the more hierarchical strains of Republican politics, and Southern elites had ample reason to prefer the “small government” preached by Republican doctrine. But the legacy of Lincoln’s Republicanism was hard to overcome, and the first serious stirrings of disillusion with the Democratic Party had to wait until 1948. That year, South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond, enraged by President Truman’s support for some early civil rights measures, led a walkout of 35 Southern delegates from the Democratic Convention. Thurmond went on to become the presidential nominee of a Southern splinter group, the States’ Rights Democratic Party (better known as “Dixiecrats”), and won four states in the deep South.

The first Republican successes in the South came in the elections of 1952 and 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower won five and eight states, respectively*. These victories, however, were only marginally related to racial politics; Eisenhower’s stature as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in World War II had a much larger role, as did his party’s virulent anti-communism. Nixon held only five of these states in 1960.

The real turning point came in 1964. After passage of the Civil Rights Act, Barry Goldwater’s conservative campaign, with its emphasis on limited government and states’ rights, carried five Southern states, four of which had not been won by a Republican in the 20th century. No Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of Southern states since, with the single exception of former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign. The South is now the most reliably Republican region of the country, and supplies the party with most of its Electoral College support.

The South’s realignment explains a lot about our politics. But it doesn’t, in itself, explain one very important fact: why the post-civil rights Republican Party went on to become the monolithically conservative party we have today. We can put this point as a question: Why didn’t the Republican Party end up looking more like the pre-realignment Democrats, with a coalition of Northern moderates and liberals yoked to conservative Southerners? (And the Midwest along for the ride.) In effect, we’re asking how realignment is related to “polarization” — the ideological sorting out that has led to our present party system, in which nearly all moderates and liberals identify as Democrats and nearly all conservatives as Republicans.

It’s important to ask this question for at least two reasons. First, because it highlights the fact that realignment and polarization are analytically distinct concepts — a point often passed over in discussions of this subject. The sudden migration of Southern whites into Republican ranks is obviously connected with polarization; what we need to know is exactly how and why. Which brings us to the second reason. Because the answer we’re led to is so refreshingly old-fashioned and therefore, in today’s intellectual culture, completely counterintuitive: They are connected through the agency of political actors.

In “Rule and Ruin,” his wonderful history of the collapse of Republican moderation, the historian Geoffrey Kabaservice documents the process by which conservative activists remade the Republican Party in their image. (If I could recommend only one book this year to students of American history, it would be this one.) Filling a broad canvas with an enormous wealth of detail, Kabaservice shows us that conservatives always thought of themselves as engaged on two fronts: Moderate Republicans were as much the enemy as liberal Democrats. William Rusher, Bill Buckley’s colleague at National Review, remarked revealingly that the modern conservative movement formed itself “in opposition to the Eisenhower administration.”

One can’t help but admire the tenacity, focus and creativity that conservative activists brought to their task. They transformed the Republican Party at every level: from the grass roots, where they assumed control of local bodies such as city councils, caucuses and county commissions, to the state and national party machinery. They also built a network of institutions designed to cultivate and publicize conservative ideas. These ranged from relatively sophisticated periodicals and think tanks (National Review, the early Heritage Foundation) to rawer, more demotic facsimiles (the American Spectator, the Cato Institute). Groups such as the Moral Majority arose, especially on the religious right, and new media technologies allowed for the consolidation of conservative voices on talk radio and cable television.

These actions were all part of the same relentless design: to purge the Republican Party of moderate voices and to install conservatives in every position of meaningful power and influence. But they had another side as well. Because as a party shapes itself it also shapes its electorate. And a party engaged in a process of purification, if it wants to continue to win elections, needs a similarly purified electorate.

The realignment of Southern whites must be understood in this context. When they deserted the Democratic Party in the mid-’60s, they presented Republicans with a huge electoral windfall. Republicans then had to decide how to invest this unexpected capital. In doing so they had to balance at least two things: numbers and intensity. Numbers are important, of course — you can’t win elections without them — but it’s an old adage in politics that an intense 51 percent is better than a relaxed 55 percent. The Republican decision to embrace an increasingly radical version of conservatism should be seen, in effect, as an attempt to leverage the intensity and loyalty of their new Southern voters. These qualities were expected to offset the loss of any moderate or liberal supporters who might abandon the party as it lurched to the right.

It was a perfectly rational strategy, and it worked brilliantly. Between 1968 and 1992 — 24 years, an entire generation — Democrats won exactly one presidential election, the post-Watergate campaign of 1976. But after ’92 the strategy began to break down on the national level, due mainly to demographic factors: There simply weren’t enough rural white voters anymore to win presidential elections in a consistent way. But by then the right was fully in control of Republican politics and uninterested in sharing power (or policy) with their moderate brethren. They developed a narrative to counter any suggestion that ideological rigidity was the cause of the party’s losses in national (and, increasingly, statewide) races: the quixotic claim that it had nominated “moderates” unable to bring out the conservative majorities who lurk, abandoned and bereft, in the heartland.

In the meantime the ritual purges have continued — the immediate denunciations, thundered from various media pulpits, whenever a Republican politician utters an unorthodox opinion; the threat (or reality) of primary challenges to silence dissent; the invocation of paranoid fantasies that inflame “the base” and make them ever more agitated and vindictive.

Now, in 2013, we have the politics that 50 years of this process have created. The Democratic Party has fewer conservatives than it once did, but is still a broadly coalitional party with liberal and moderate elements. It controls the coasts, has strength in the industrial Midwest, and is making inroads in the upper, more urbanized South and in Florida. It confronts a Republican Party almost wholly dependent on the interior states of the old Confederacy. (The party continues to win in the mountain and prairie West, but the region is too sparsely populated to provide any real electoral heft.) Because of its demographic weakness, it is more beholden than ever to the intensity of its most extreme voters. This has engendered a death spiral in which it must take increasingly radical positions to drive these voters to the polls, positions that in turn alienate ever larger segments of the population, making these core voters even more crucial — and so on. We have a name these days for the electoral residue produced by this series of increasingly rigorous purifications. We call it “the Tea Party.”

The cry of the hour is that our politics is “dysfunctional” — mired in “gridlock,” all bipartisanship lost. This is of course true, but it must be seen as merely the latest result of the conservative politics of purity. After all, when does a politician, in the normal course of affairs, have a reason to do something? When he thinks it will gain him a vote, or that not doing it will cost him a vote. It follows that politicians have a reason to be bipartisan — to work with the opposition — only when doing so will increase, not decrease, their electoral support. And this can only happen if they potentially share voters with their opposition. But the Republican electorate is now almost as purified as the Republican Party. Not only is it unlikely to support Democratic candidates, it’s virtually certain to punish any Republican politician who works with Democrats. The electoral logic of bipartisanship has collapsed for most Republicans; they have very little to gain, and much to lose, if they practice it. And so they don’t.

Unfortunately, our government isn’t designed to function in these conditions.  The peculiarities of our system — a Senate, armed with the filibuster, that gives Wyoming’s 576,000 people as much power as California’s 38,000,000; gerrymandered districts in the House; separate selection of the executive and the legislature; a chronically underfunded elections process, generally in partisan hands and in desperate need of rationalization — simply won’t permit it. What we get instead is paralysis — or worse. The Republican Party, particularly in the House, has turned into the legislative equivalent of North Korea — a political outlier so extreme it has lost the ability to achieve its objectives through normal political means. Its only recourse is to threats (increasingly believable) that it will blow up the system rather than countenance this-or-that lapse from conservative dogma. This was the strategy it pursued in the debt ceiling debacle of 2011, and if firebrands such as Ted Cruz and Mike Lee have their way it will guide the party’s approach to the same issue this fall, and perhaps to government funding (including “Obamacare”) as well. Realignment and polarization have led us to gridlock and instability.

The relentless radicalization of the Republican Party since 1964 is the most important single event in the political history of the United States since the New Deal. It has significantly shaped the course of our government and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But this means it has also shaped the individual life of every citizen— the complex amalgam of possibilities and opportunities available (or not) to each of us. The conservative visionaries of the ‘50s and ‘60s wanted a new world. We’re all living in it now.

* The 1928 election is something of an exception to this statement; eight Southern states, offended by Democratic candidate Al Smith’s Catholicism, voted instead for Herbert Hoover. But it seems safe to regard this election as an outlier; FDR won every Southern state in the next four presidential elections.

Richest Top 1% Grabs 20% of America’s Income

By Sam Pizzigati, Other Words | Op-Ed,

Fifty years ago, average Americans lived in a society where less than $10 of every $100 in personal income went to the nation’s richest 1 percent.

Our top 1 percent are now grabbing just under 20 percent of America’s income, double the 1963 level.

How did this happen? We Americans certainly never voted for this upward redistribution. In all the years since Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, no candidates ever campaigned on a platform that called for enriching America’s already rich.

Yet the rich have been enriched. And they keep getting even richer while America’s 99 percent face an economic insecurity that never lets up.

This doesn’t make sense. Americans, after all, live amid democratic institutions. Why haven’t the American people, through these institutions, been able to undo the public policies that squeeze the bottom 99 percent and lavishly reward the crew at the top?

Why, in other words, hasn’t democracy slowed rising inequality?

Four political scientists take a crack at answering exactly this question in the current issueof the American Economic Association’s Journal of Economic Perspectives.

The four analysts — Stanford’s Adam Bonica, Princeton’s Nolan McCarty, Keith Poole from the University of Georgia, and New York University’s Howard Rosenthal — lay out a nuanced reading of our political scene that explores everything from the partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts to voter turnout by income level.

But one particular reality dramatically drives their analysis: Societies that let wealth concentrate at enormously intense levels, the four show, will quite predictably end up with a wealthy class who can concentrate enormous resources on getting their way.

These wealthy underwrite political campaigns. They spend fortunes on lobbying. They keep politicians and bureaucrats “friendly” to their interests with a revolving door that promises lucrative employment in the private sector.

Just how deeply have America’s super-rich come to dominate our political process? Bonica and his co-authors offer up a revealing anecdote: Back in 1980, no American gave out more in federal election contributions than Cecil Haden, the owner of a tugboat company. Haden contributed what would, in today’s dollars, amount to about $1.72 million, almost six times more than any other political contributor in 1980.

In the 2012 election cycle, by contrast, just one deep-pocket couple alone, gaming industry giant Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, together shelled out $103.4 million to bend politics in their favored wealth-concentrating direction.

The Adelsons sit comfortably within the richest 0.01 percent of America’s voting-age population. Over 40 percent of the contributions to American political campaigns are now emanating from this super-rich elite strata.

In the 1980s, campaign contributions from the top 0.01 percent roughly equaled the campaign contributions from all of organized labor. In 2012, America’s top 0.01 percent all by themselves outspent labor by more than four-to-one.

Donors in this top 0.01 percent, Bonica and his colleagues point out, “give pretty evenly to Democrats and Republicans” — and they get a pretty good return on their investment. Both “Democrats as well as Republicans,” the four analysts observe, have come to “rely on big donors.”

What has this reliance produced? Nothing good for average Americans. Back in the 1930s, for instance, Democrats championed the financial industry regulations that helped create a more equal mid-20th century America. In our time, significant numbers of Democrats have joined with Republicans to undo these regulations.

Conventional economists, the new paper by Bonica and his fellow analysts adds, tend to ascribe rising inequality to broad trends like globalization and technological change — and ignore the political decisions that determine how these trends play out in real life.

But new technologies, the four political scientists counter, don’t automatically have to concentrate wealth — and these new technologies wouldn’t have that impact if our intellectual property laws, a product of political give-and-take, better protected the public interest.

But too many lawmakers and other elected leaders can’t see that “public interest.” Cascades of cash — from America’s super rich — have them conveniently blinded.

How Reagan Armed Saddam with Chemical Weapons

by NORM DIXON CounterPunch.com,

On August 18, 2002, the New York Times carried a front-page story headlined, “Officers say U.S. aided Iraq despite the use of gas”. Quoting anonymous US “senior military officers”, the NYT “revealed” that in the 1980s, the administration of US President Ronald Reagan covertly provided “critical battle planning assistance at a time when American intelligence knew that Iraqi commanders would employ chemical weapons in waging the decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq war”. The story made a brief splash in the international media, then died.

While the August 18 NYT article added new details about the extent of US military collaboration with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during Iraq’s 1980-88 war with Iran, it omitted the most outrageous aspect of the scandal: not only did Ronald Reagan’s Washington turn a blind-eye to the Hussein regime’s repeated use of chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers and Iraq’s Kurdish minority, but the US helped Iraq develop its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.

Nor did the NYT dwell on the extreme cynicism and hypocrisy of President George Bush II’s administration’s citing of those same terrible atrocities–which were disregarded at the time by Washington–and those same weapons programs–which no longer exist, having been dismantled and destroyed in the decade following the 1991 Gulf War–to justify a massive new war against the people of Iraq.

A reader of the NYT article (or the tens of thousands of other articles written after the war drive against Iraq began in earnest soon after September 11, 2001) would have looked in vain for the fact that many of the US politicians and ruling class pundits who demanded war against Hussein–in particular, the one of the most bellicose of the Bush administration’s “hawks”, defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld–were up to their ears in Washington’s efforts to cultivate, promote and excuse Hussein in the past.

The NYT article read as though Washington’s casual disregard about the use of chemical weapons by Hussein’s dictatorship throughout the 1980s had never been reported before. However, it was not the first time that “Iraqgate”–as the scandal of US military and political support for Hussein in the ’80s has been dubbed–has raised its embarrassing head in the corporate media, only to be quickly buried again.

One of the more comprehensive and damning accounts of Iraqgate was written by Douglas Frantz and Murray Waas and published in the February 23, 1992, Los Angeles Times. Headlined, “Bush secret effort helped Iraq build its war machine”, the article reported that “classified documents obtained by the LA Times show … a long-secret pattern of personal efforts by [George Bush senior]–both as president and vice president–to support and placate the Iraqi dictator.”

Even William Safire, the right-wing, war-mongering NYT columnist, on December 7, 1992, felt compelled to write that, “Iraqgate is uniquely horrendous: a scandal about the systematic abuse of power by misguided leaders of three democratic nations [the US, Britain and Italy] to secretly finance the arms buildup of a dictator”.

The background to Iraqgate was the January 1979 popular uprising that overthrew the cravenly pro-US Shah of Iran. The Iranian revolution threatened US imperialism’s domination of the strategic oil-rich region. Other than Israel, Iran had long been Washington’s key ally in the Middle East.

Washington immediately began to “cast about for ways to undermine or overthrow the Iranian revolution, or make up for the loss of the Shah. Hussein’s regime put up its hand. On September 22, 1980, Iraq launched an invasion of Iran. Throughout the bloody eight-year-long war–which cost at least 1 million lives–Washington backed Iraq.

As a 1990 report prepared for the Pentagon by the Strategic Studies Institute of the US War College admitted: “Throughout the [Iran-Iraq] war the United States practised a fairly benign policy toward Iraq… [Washington and Baghdad] wanted to restore the status quo ante … that prevailed before [the 1979 Iranian revolution] began threatening the regional balance of power. Khomeini’s revolutionary appeal was anathema to both Baghdad and Washington; hence they wanted to get rid of him. United by a common interest … the [US] began to actively assist Iraq.”

At first, as Iraqi forces seemed headed for victory over Iran, official US policy was neutrality in the conflict. Not only was Hussein doing Washington’s dirty work in the war with Iran, but the US rulers believed that Iraq could be lured away from its close economic and military relationship with the Soviet Union–just as Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat had done in the 1970s.

In March 1981, US Secretary of State Alexander Haig excitedly told the Senate foreign relations committee that Iraq was concerned by “the behaviour of Soviet imperialism in the Middle Eastern region”. The Soviet government had refused to deliver arms to Iraq as long as Baghdad continued its military offensive against Iran. Moscow was also unhappy with the Hussein’s vicious repression of the Iraqi Communist Party.

Washington’s support (innocuously referred to as a “tilt” at the time) for Iraq became more open after Iran succeeded in driving Iraqi forces from its territory in May 1982; in June, Iran went on the offensive against Iraq. The US scrambled to stem Iraq’s military setbacks. Washington and its conservative Arab allies suddenly feared Iran might even defeat Iraq, or at least cause the collapse of Hussein’s regime.

Using its allies in the Middle East, Washington funnelled huge supplies of arms to Iraq. Classified State Department cables uncovered by Frantz and Waas described covert transfers of howitzers, helicopters, bombs and other weapons to Baghdad in 1982-83 from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait.

Howard Teicher, who monitored Middle East policy at the US National Security Council during the Reagan administration, told the February 23, 1992, LA Times: “There was a conscious effort to encourage third countries to ship US arms or acquiesce in shipments after the fact. It was a policy of nods and winks.”

According to Mark Phythian’s 1997 book Arming Iraq: How the US and Britain Secretly Built Saddam’s War Machine (Northeastern University Press), in 1983 Reagan asked Italy’s Prime Minister Guilo Andreotti to channel arms to Iraq.

The January 1, 1984 Washington Post reported that the US had “informed friendly Persian Gulf nations that the defeat of Iraq in the three-year-old war with Iran would be ‘contrary to US interests’ and has made several moves to prevent that result”.

Central to these “moves” was the cementing of a military and political alliance with Saddam Hussein’s repressive regime, so as to build up Iraq as a military counterweight to Iran. In 1982, the Reagan administration removed Iraq from the State Department’s list of countries that allegedly supported terrorism. On December 19-20, 1983, Reagan dispatched his Middle East envoy–none other than Donald Rumsfeld–to Baghdad with a hand-written offer of a resumption of diplomatic relations, which had been severed during the 1967 Arab-Israel war. On March 24, 1984, Rumsfeld was again in Baghdad.

On that same day, the UPI wire service reported from the UN: “Mustard gas laced with a nerve agent has been used on Iranian soldiers … a team of UN experts has concluded … Meanwhile, in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, US presidential envoy Donald Rumsfeld held talks with foreign minister Tariq Aziz.”

The day before, Iran had accused Iraq of poisoning 600 of its soldiers with mustard gas and Tabun nerve gas.

There is no doubt that the US government knew Iraq was using chemical weapons. On March 5, 1984, the State Department had stated that “available evidence indicates that Iraq has used lethal chemical weapons”. The March 30, 1984, NYT reported that US intelligence officials has “what they believe to be incontrovertible evidence that Iraq has used nerve gas in its war with Iran and has almost finished extensive sites for mass producing the lethal chemical warfare agent”.

However, consistent with the pattern throughout the Iran-Iraq war and after, the use of these internationally outlawed weapons was not considered important enough by Rumsfeld and his political superiors to halt Washington’s blossoming love affair with Hussein.

The March 29, 1984, NYT, reporting on the aftermath of Rumsfeld’s talks in Baghdad, stated that US officials had pronounced “themselves satisfied with relations between Iraq and the US and suggest that normal diplomatic ties have been restored in all but name”. In November 1984, the US and Iraq officially restored diplomatic relations.

According to Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, in a December 15, 1986 article, the CIA began to secretly supply Iraq with intelligence in 1984 that was used to “calibrate” mustard gas attacks on Iranian troops. Beginning in early 1985, the CIA provided Iraq with “data from sensitive US satellite reconnaissance photography … to assist Iraqi bombing raids”.

Iraqi chemical attacks on Iranian troops–and US assistance to Iraq–continued throughout the Iran-Iraq war. In a parallel program, the US defence department also provided intelligence and battle-planning assistance to Iraq.

The August 17, 2002 NYT reported that, according to “senior military officers with direct knowledge of the program”, even though “senior officials of the Reagan administration publicly condemned Iraq’s employment of mustard gas, sarin, VX and other poisonous agents … President Reagan, vice president George Bush [senior] and senior national security aides never withdrew their support for the highly classified program in which more than 60 officers of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) were secretly providing detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for air strikes and bomb-damage assessments for Iraq.”

Retired DIA officer Rick Francona told the NYT that Iraq’s chemical weapons were used in the war’s final battle in early 1988, in which Iraqi forces retook the Fao Peninsula from the Iranian army.

Another retired DIA officer, Walter Lang, told the NYT that “the use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern”. What concerned the DIA, CIA and the Reagan administration was that Iran not break through the Fao Peninsula and spread the Islamic revolution to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Iraq’s 1982 removal from Washington’s official list of states that support terrorism meant that the Hussein regime was now eligible for US economic and military aid, and was able to purchase advanced US technology that could also be used for military purposes.

Conventional military sales resumed in December 1982. In 1983, the Reagan administration approved the sale of 60 Hughes helicopters to Iraq in 1983 “for civilian use”. However, as Phythian pointed out, these aircraft could be “weaponised” within hours of delivery. Then US Secretary of State George Schultz and commerce secretary George Baldridge also lobbied for the delivery of Bell helicopters equipped for “crop spraying”. It is believed that US-supplied choppers were used in the 1988 chemical attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja, which killed 5000 people.

With the Reagan administration’s connivance, Baghdad immediately embarked on a massive militarisation drive. This US-endorsed military spending spree began even before Iraq was delisted as a terrorist state, when the US commerce department approved the sale of Italian gas turbine engines for Iraq’s naval frigates.

Soon after, the US agriculture department’s Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) guaranteed to repay loans–in the event of defaults by Baghdad–banks had made to Iraq to buy US-grown commodities such as wheat and rice. Under this scheme, Iraq had three years to repay the loans, and if it could not the US taxpayers would have to cough up.

Washington offered this aid initially to prevent Hussein’s overthrow as the Iraqi people began to complain about the food shortages caused by the massive diversion of hard currency for the purchase of weapons and ammunition. The loan guarantees amounted to a massive US subsidy that allowed Hussein to launch his overt and covert arms buildup, one result being that the Iran-Iraq war entered a bloody five-year stalemate.

By the end of 1983, US$402 million in agriculture department loan guarantees for Iraq were approved. In 1984, this increased to $503 million and reached $1.1 billion in 1988. Between 1983 and 1990, CCC loan guarantees freed up more than $5 billion. Some $2 billion in bad loans, plus interest, ended up having to be covered by US taxpayers.

A similar taxpayer-funded, though smaller scale, scam operated under the auspices of the federal Export-Import Bank. In 1984, vice-president George Bush senior personally intervened to ensure that the bank guaranteed loans to Iraq of $500 million to build an oil pipeline. Export-Import Bank loan guarantees grew from $35 million in 1985 to $267 million by 1990.

According to William Blum, writing in the August 1998 issue of the Progressive, Sam Gejdenson, chairperson of a Congressional subcommittee investigating US exports to Iraq, disclosed that from 1985 until 1990 “the US government approved 771 licenses [only 39 were rejected] for the export to Iraq of $1.5 billion worth of biological agents and high-tech equipment with military application …

“The US spent virtually an entire decade making sure that Saddam Hussein had almost whatever he wanted… US export control policy was directed by US foreign policy as formulated by the State Department, and it was US foreign policy to assist the regime of Saddam Hussein.”

A 1994 US Senate report revealed that US companies were licenced by the commerce department to export a “witch’s brew” of biological and chemical materials, including bacillus anthracis (which causes anthrax) and clostridium botulinum (the source of botulism). The American Type Culture Collection made 70 shipments of the anthrax bug and other pathogenic agents.

The report also noted that US exports to Iraq included the precursors to chemical warfare agents, plans for chemical and biological warfare facilities and chemical warhead filling equipment. US firms supplied advanced and specialised computers, lasers, testing and analysing equipment. Among the better-known companies were Hewlett Packard, Unisys, Data General and Honeywell.

Billions of dollars worth of raw materials, machinery and equipment, missile technology and other “dual-use” items were also supplied by West German, French, Italian, British, Swiss and Austrian corporations, with the approval of their governments (German firms even sold Iraq entire factories capable of mass-producing poison gas). Much of this was purchased with funds freed by the US CCC credits.

The destination of much of this equipment was Saad 16, near Mosul in northern Iraq. Western intelligence agencies had long known that the sprawling complex was Iraq’s main ballistic missile development centre.

Blum reported that Washington was fully aware of the likely use of this material. In 1992, a US Senate committee learned that the commerce department had deleted references to military end-use from information it sent to Congress about 68 export licences, worth more than $1 billion.

In 1986, the US defence department’s deputy undersecretary for trade security, Stephen Bryen, had objected to the export of an advanced computer, similar to those used in the US missile program, to Saad 16 because “of the high likelihood of military end use”. The state and commerce departments approved the sale without conditions.

In his book, The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq, Kenneth Timmerman points out that several US agencies were supposed to review US exports that may be detrimental to US “national security”. However, the commerce department often did not submit exports to Hussein’s Iraq for review or approved them despite objections from other government departments.

On March 16, 1988, Iraqi forces launched a poison gas attack on the Iraqi Kurdish village of Halabja, killing 5000 people. While that attack is today being touted by senior US officials as one of the main reasons why Hussein must now be “taken out”, at the time Washington’s response to the atrocity was much more relaxed.

Just four months later, Washington stood by as the US giant Bechtel corporation won the contract to build a huge petrochemical plant that would give the Hussein regime the capacity to generate chemical weapons.

On September 8, 1988, the US Senate passed the Prevention of Genocide Act, which would have imposed sanctions on the Hussein regime. Immediately, the Reagan administration announced its opposition to the bill, calling it “premature”. The White House used its influence to stall the bill in the House of Representatives. When Congress did eventually pass the bill, the White House did not implement it.

Washington’s political, military and economic sweetheart deals with the Iraqi dictator came under even more stress when, in August 1989, FBI agents raided the Atlanta branch of the Rome-based Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL) and uncovered massive fraud involving the CCC loan guarantee scheme and billions of dollars worth of unauthorised “off-the-books” loans to Iraq.

BNL Atlanta manager Chris Drougal had used the CCC program to underwrite programs that had nothing to do with agricultural exports. Using this covert set-up, Hussein’s regime tried to buy the most hard-to-get components for its nuclear weapons and missile programs on the black market.

Russ Baker, writing in the March/April 1993 Columbia Journalism Review, noted: “Elements of the US government almost certainly knew that Drougal was funnelling US-backed loans–into dual-use technology and outright military technology. The British government was fully aware of the operations of Matrix-Churchill, a British firm with an Ohio branch, which was not only at the centre of the Iraqi procurement network but was also funded by BNL Atlanta… It would be later alleged by bank executives that the Italian government, long a close US ally as well as BNL’s ultimate owner, had knowledge of BNL’s loan diversions.”

Yet, even the public outrage generated by the Halabja massacre and the widening BNL scandal did not cool Washington’s ardour towards Hussein’s Iraq.

On October 2, 1989, US President George Bush senior signed the top-secret National Security Decision 26, which declared: “Normal relations between the US and Iraq would serve our long-term interests and promote stability in both the Gulf and the Middle East. The US should propose economic and political incentives for Iraq to moderate its behaviour and increase our influence with Iraq… We should pursue, and seek to facilitate, opportunities for US firms to participate in the reconstruction of the Iraqi economy.”

As public and congressional pressure mounted on the US Agriculture Department to end Iraq’s access to CCC loan guarantees, Secretary of State James Baker–armed with NSD 26–personally insisted that agriculture secretary Clayton Yeutter drop his opposition to their continuation.

In November 1989, Bush senior approved $1 billion in loan guarantees for Iraq in 1990. In April 1990, more revelations about the BNL scandal had again pushed the department of agriculture to the verge of halting Iraq’s CCC loan guarantees. On May 18, national security adviser Scowcroft personally intervened to ensure the delivery of the first $500 million tranche of the CCC subsidy for 1990.

According to Frantz and Waas’ February 23, 1992, LA Times article, in July 1990 “officials at the National Security Council and the State Department were pushing to deliver the second installment of the $1 billion in loan guarantees, despite the looming crisis in the region and evidence that Iraq had used the aid illegally to help finance a secret arms procurement network to obtain technology for its nuclear weapons and ballistic-missile program”.

From July 18 to August 1, 1990, Bush senior’s administration approved $4.8 million in advanced technology sales to Iraq. The end-users included Saad 16 and the Iraqi ministry of industry and military industrialisation. On August 1, $695,000 worth of advanced data transmission devices were approved.

“Only on August 2, 1990, did the agriculture department officially suspend the [CCC loan] guarantees to Iraq–the same day that Hussein’s tanks and troops swept into Kuwait”, noted Frantz and Waas.

NORM DIXON writes for Australia’s Green Left Weekly.

NAACP chief Ben Jealous to resign, cites family reasons

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous

Melanie Eversley, USA TODAY,

The man who has become the face of the NAACP — from marches protesting the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin to vigils for death row inmate Troy Davis in Georgia — is resigning effective Dec. 31.

In an interview with USA TODAY, Benjamin Todd Jealous said the constant travel as president and CEO of the nation’s largest civil rights organization has kept him away too much from his wife, civil rights lawyer Lia Epperson, and children, daughter Morgan, 7, and Jack, 13 months. He said he plans to make a formal announcement to his staff Monday morning.

“Leadership knows when to step up and when to step down,” Jealous said. “This day I can say with pride that I’m prepared to step down and make room for the next person who will lead this organization to its next chapter.”

Jealous, 40, said he is talking to a handful of schools within commuting distance of metropolitan Washington about teaching. He plans to continue work with civil rights colleagues toward raising money for a fund to promote black participation in politics. In a separate interview with USA TODAY columnist DeWayne Wickham, Jealous detailed plans to create an “EMILY’s list for people of color.”

WICKHAM: NAACP chief steps down to take next step

The civil rights leader said he’s satisfied that he will leave an organization in much better condition than it was when he took over five years ago. Back then, the Baltimore-based civil rights group was financially shaky and shouldering constant criticism that its aging leadership was out of touch. Now, the organization is solvent, social media savvy and its staff seems to be part of a new cadre of leaders — headed by President Obama — who are diverse, well-educated and visible.

“In the last five years, we’ve had double-digit revenue growth, we’ve spent five years in the black,” Jealous said.

Under Jealous, the donor base has grown from 16,422 in 2007, just before he started, to 132,543 last year. Revenue has grown from $25.7 million in 2008 to $46 million in 2012. Out of a total score of 70, independent non-profit reviewing organization Charity Navigator gives the NAACP 51.42 for finances and 70 for accountability and transparency.

When Jealous came in at age 35, he was hailed as the youngest leader of the organization in its history, although some questioned whether he was old enough to serve, and the board vote approving him was close. As a lifelong activist, he was known in the civil rights community but not by the general public. Over the years, he changed that, appearing in public constantly, often alongside other civil rights leaders. If there was a major regional or national civil rights event, Jealous was often there with rolled-up sleeves.

Jealous has had bumps too. In 2010, he faced criticism when he condemned black USDA employee Shirley Sherrod after a deceptively edited video appeared to show her making biased remarks about her work with a white farmer. Sherrod’s comments were actually part of a longer speech in which she discussed overcoming her prejudices.

Jealous grew up in California, the son of civil rights activists. He was suspended from Columbia University for organizing student protests but returned later to graduate, also becoming a Rhodes Scholar and earning a graduate degree from Oxford. He’s worked as an investigative reporter for Mississippi’s Jackson Advocate and was founding director of Amnesty International’s Human Rights Program.

Jealous said a couple of instances reinforced that he needed to move to his next stage in life. His daughter reminded him he’d promised to stay in the job only five years (it was really something, he said, that he told her to appease her). In February 2012, he was two blocks away from home, heading out for a much-needed, non-travel week at the NAACP offices, when he got a call about the death of Trayvon Martin. He went back home, told his wife he’d be gone two days and wound up traveling to Sanford, Fla., on that case many times over the months after that.

NAACP board chairwoman Roslyn Brock said Jealous had worked through one three-year contract that the organization had extended by a year and was just beginning his second three-year contract.

“Truly we were surprised,” Brock said of learning the news Wednesday. “We’re disappointed that he’s leaving at this time. He’s five years in, and we were expecting him to be with us seven years, based on our agreement with him.”

She said the organization understands. “We know his passion for the work, and we could hear the pain in his voice,” Brock said. “We looked back over the five years. He has made a sacrifice. But he’s left us in a place with a five-year strategic plan.”

Included in that plan is the continuation of work to eliminate the death penalty and to register 50,000 new voters by Martin Luther King Day in January 2014.

Van Jones, host of CNN’s Crossfire and former Obama green jobs adviser, said he has known Jealous since they were both student activists, Jones at Yale Law School and Jealous at Columbia undergrad. Jones said he liked the fact that the product of a plan the NAACP pushed years ago — to steer black Americans toward elite educational institutions — has helped return the organization to relevance.

“Ben Jealous really electrified the organization,” Jones said. “You’re talking about the oldest civil rights organization on the planet, and it was starting to show. The NAACP before Ben got there was financially in the red and politically marginal. Ben should be on the cover of every business magazine in America as foremost turnaround artist on the American scene.”

Other civil rights leaders credited Jealous for reaching out beyond the groups that have traditionally worked with the NAACP and stretching old boundaries.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a group that advocates for gay and lesbian rights, said that when he assumed his role a little more than a year ago, Ben Jealous reached out and met with him on his first day on the job. Jealous was insistent that both groups work together, and Griffin credits Jealous with pushing the marriage equality measures that have passed in recent years, as well as strengthening previously weak activist ties between the black and lesbian and gay communities.

“Many times I’ve called him a modern-day civil rights visionary, and I truly think that is the only description that captures him,” Griffin said. “He led the NAACP to embrace marriage equality but also transformed the national conversation of civil rights.”

Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union, said Jealous helped expand what’s considered the civil rights agenda from the expected voting rights and death penalty cases to issues surrounding the closure of dangerous power plants, early childhood education and health care.

“He’s been incredible in re-energizing the NAACP and taking the national operations to the next level,” said Henry, whose group worked with the NAACP to create a fund to advance black participation in politics.

Because Jealous does not leave for four months, the organization does not yet have a plan in place for his replacement, Brock said.

Jealous suggested the 104-year-old organization might be looking at a woman president.

“I’m the 17th president of the NAACP and the 17th man. I do expect that the next president of the NAACP will be different in some way,” he said with a small laugh.

Why Is It Easier to Get an Assault Weapon Than to Vote?

By Barbra Streisand, Reader Supported News,

A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon.” – President Bill Clinton

The former president is absolutely right about what a great democracy should do. Unfortunately this is not the case in the United States today.

There have always been attempts by conservatives to restrict the franchise. It took women well over a century and painful struggle to get the right to vote. For African Americans in the South, activists were beaten and killed before the federal government stepped in to end “Jim Crow” laws against voting. Then it took massive voter registration drives in an atmosphere of intimidation to fully extend the right and access to vote for all citizens.

Until recently, there was a movement in the states towards making voting more convenient and accessible. Now, conservative governors and legislators are turning back the clock on progress.

Many Americans suffer from the difficulty of voting on a Tuesday in November instead of the weekend — a relic of an agricultural nation. But it wasn’t enough for some conservatives.

So, they discovered a “solution” in search of a “problem” — the infinitesimal amount of voter fraud. But the real motive was stated by GOP Pennsylvania House Majority leader Mike Turzai, “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”

According to the authoritative Brennan Center, since the beginning of 2011, 19 states have passed 25 laws and two executive actions restricting voting. The laws vary, but all have the same impact. In these states, it is now more difficult for those Americans who typically have the least access to power in our democracy to participate. Some of the restrictions are particularly perverse.

Texas allows a state-issued “concealed carry permit” for guns to count as a voter ID but not a duly authorized ID from the flagship University of Texas. Tennessee and North Carolina also prohibit university identification from their own systems. A student without a driver’s license essentially loses his/her rights while a gun owner, simply by owning a gun, does not. On Election Day 2012, Floridahad hours-long lines because of new restrictions on early voting. North Carolina also eliminated same-day registration and reduced early voting. Indiana now allows other voters to challenge and demand proof of registration from fellow voters before they can vote.

The purpose of these voter restrictions laws is to make it more difficult for the young, the elderly, the poor and minorities to vote. Our voter participation rates are already among the lowest in the world’s democracies, but conservatives seem intent on lowering it further.

But guns, why, owning them should be easier than ever. Congress failed to renew the assault weapons ban, but one can buy an assault weapon from an individual or a gun show without having to show any identification. Even after the movie theatre carnage in Colorado and the slaughter of school children in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut by individuals wielding assault weapons and large ammunition clips, Congress failed to provide enough votes for simple background checks.

A recent study by two professors at Cleveland State University estimated that Americans own between 262 and 310 million firearms. The U.S. population is less than 314 million. Over 30,000 Americans die every year from firearms, and one person in three knows someone who has been shot according to the Brady Center. There are many suggestions about reducing gun violence in the United States. But allowing someone to buy an assault weapon without showing any identification surely is not one of them. Despite the paranoia fostered by the gun lobby, no government agency is going to come and take away guns from American citizens. In fact, the only national database of gun ownership is controlled by the NRA!

It is time to promote sensible reforms about gun violence and to stop further restrictions on voting. The only way this will happen is if enough Americans vote for politicians willing to oppose the NRA and its backers — the gun manufacturers, and vote out those politicians who seek to restrict Americans’ right to vote for their own narrow partisan reasons.

Obama’s Syria War Is Really About Iran and Israel

President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

By Bob Dreyfuss TheNation.com,

The dirty little not-so-secret behind President Obama’s much-lobbied-for, illegal and strategically incompetent war against Syria is that it’s not about Syria at all. It’s about Iran—and Israel. And it has been from the start.

By “the start,” I mean 2011, when the Obama administration gradually became convinced that it could deal Iran a mortal blow by toppling President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, a secular, Baathist strongman who is, despite all, an ally of Iran’s. Since then, taking Iran down a peg has been the driving force behind Obama’s Syria policy.

Not coincidentally, the White House plans to scare members of Congress into supporting the ill-conceived war plan by waving the Iranian flag in their faces. Even liberal Democrats, some of whom are opposing or questioning war with Syria, blanch at the prospect of opposing Obama and the Israel lobby over Iran.

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Item for consideration: a new column by the Syria analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the chief think tank of the Israel lobby. Andrew Tabler headlines his piece: “Attacking Syria Is the Best Way to Deal with Iran.” In it, he says:

At first glance, the festering Syria crisis seems bad news for diplomatic efforts to keep Iran from developing nuclear capabilities. In actuality, however, achieving U.S. objectives in the Syria crisis is an opportunity to pressure Iran into making hard choices not only in Syria, but regarding its nuclear program as well. More U.S. involvement to achieve its objectives in Syria will inevitably run counter to Tehran’s interests, be it to punish the Assad regime for chemical weapons use or to show support for the Syrian opposition in changing Assad’s calculus and forcing him to “step aside” at the negotiating table or on the battlefield.

Many in U.S. policymaking circles have viewed containing swelling Iranian influence in Syria and preventing Iran from going nuclear as two distinct policy discussions, as the Obama Administration only has so much “bandwidth” to deal with Middle East threats. But the recent deepening of cooperation between Tehran, Hezbollah and the Assad regime, combined with their public acknowledgement of these activities, indicates that they themselves see these activities as furthering the efficacy of the “resistance axis.”

Like every alliance, its members will only make hard policy choices if the costs of its current policies far outweigh the benefits. U.S. strikes on the Assad regime, if properly calibrated as part of an overall plan to degrade the regime, would force Tehran to become more involved in Syria in order to rescue its stalwart ally. This would be costly for Iran financially, militarily and politically. Those costs would make the Iranian regime and its people reassess aspirations to go nuclear.

Needless to say, such a strategy is bound to be counterproductive, since—by slamming Syria, never mind toppling Assad—Washington is likely to undermine doves and bolster hawks in Tehran and undermine the chances for successful negotiations with Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, who’ll be speaking at the UN General Assembly later this month.

In fact, both Russia and Iran have signaled recently, in the wake of Syria’s obvious deployment and use of sarin gas and other deadly weapons that they might be getting ready to join the rest of the world in condemning Syria’s chemical warfare, and that makes it far more likely that the much-postponed US-Russia “Geneva II” peace conference on Syria might work. The hawkish Washington Post today notes Rouhani’s new administration in Tehran is softening its tone on Syria, and it reports that the new Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, has acknowledged the Syria has erred, saying: “We believe that the government in Syria has made grave mistakes that have, unfortunately, paved the way for the situation in the country to be abused.”

Meanwhile, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, while issuing scathing denunciations of the coming U.S. attack on Syria, has dropped broad hints that he might be willing to join with other nations if and when the United Nations weapons team concludes that Assad used nerve gas, suggesting that Russia might not block a UN Security Council resolution against Syria. In his much-reported interview with the Associated Press, Putin insisted on waiting for the UN report:

“If there is evidence that chemical weapons have been used, and used specifically by the regular army, this evidence should be submitted to the U.N. Security Council. And it ought to be convincing. It shouldn’t be based on some rumors and information obtained by intelligence agencies through some kind of eavesdropping, some conversations and things like that.”

Then, according to the Washington Post, Putin declared that he might join a UN-sponsored coalition on Syria:

He said he “doesn’t exclude” backing the use of force against Syria at the United Nations if there is objective evidence proving that Assad’s regime used chemical weapons against its people. But he strongly warned Washington against launching military action without U.N. approval, saying it would represent an aggression. Russia can veto resolutions at the U.N. Security Council and has protected Syria from punitive actions there before.

But a change in tone on the part of Russia and Iran—the latter of whom the Obama administration still refuses to invite to Geneva II if and when it occurs—won’t mean a thing if the object of war with Syria is to send a message to Iran. As Jeffrey Goldberg, writing for Bloomberg, says, for Israel it’s all about Iran:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel would prefer that Obama enforce his red line on chemical weapons use, because he would like to see proof that Obama believes in the red lines he draws. From Netanyahu’s perspective, Israel isn’t unduly threatened by Assad. Syria constitutes a dangerous, but ultimately manageable, threat.

Netanyahu believes, of course, that Iran, Syria’s primary sponsor, poses an existential threat to his country, and so would like the Iranians to understand very clearly that Obama’s red lines are, in fact, very red. As Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me last night, the formula is simple: “If the Iranians do not fear Obama, then the Israelis will lose confidence in Obama.”

In his round-robin television appearances on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry—now the administration’s über-hawk—repeatedly said that bombing Syria would send a message to Iran. As he told Fox News on Sunday:

“The fact is that if we act and if we act in concert, then Iran will know that this nation is capable of speaking with one voice on something like this, and that has serious, profound implications, I think, with respect to the potential of a confrontation over their nuclear program. That is one of the things that is at stake here.”

Gov. Deal Gave Campaign Money to his Family

NathanDealBy Bryan Long,

Gov. Nathan Deal and his team say that Real PAC was organized to support all Republican candidates across the state.

But payments from the fund have gone to Deal’s family, friends, business partners and his own political machine.

Real PAC paid $10,355 for piloting and jet service to a man who was Gov. Deal’s business partner at the time.

Real PAC paid for parties at the Governor’s Mansion.

Real PAC paid $46,108.15 to his daughter-in-law’s firm.

But don’t worry. This is all perfectly fine, according to Gov. Deal and his team.

Last night, the governor’s attorney told Christopher King with CBS Atlanta, “all of the terms of that arrangement, completely vetted with the ethics commission, completely found to be legitimate.”

The only ethics commission left in Georgia is you — and maybe your local newspaper.

When Gov. Deal took office he slashed the ethics budget and cut the staff from 26 people to just nine.

Gov. Deal also changed the rules, making it tougher to even file a complaint.

In a radical change from previous rules, the person who files a complaint is responsible for the governor’s attorney’s fees if the complaint doesn’t rise to the standards of his hand-picked commission.

This is true. If you lose in front of his hand-picked panel, you pay his attorney’s fees.

Just recently, a substitute teacher in north Georgia filed a complaint with the ethics commission because Gov. Deal paid his daughter-in-law from his campaign funds. The governor’s hand-picked ethics panel told the teacher that Gov. Deal had done nothing wrong and handed the teacher a bill for $10,387.50.

The teacher worked an extra job at Subway for 10 months to be able to pay Gov. Deal’s attorney’s fees. Eventually the ethics commission voted 3-1 to suspend the fee.

When the previous ethics director, Stacey Kalberman, and her deputy director attempted to investigate complaints filed against the governor and his campaign, Gov. Deal promptly fired her.

So with that background, we get to today.

The governor’s attorney says that Gov. Deal’s hand-picked ethics commission and under-staffed ethics office “completely vetted” Real PAC and its payments to the governor’s family, friends, business partners and his own political machine.

While the ethics commission typically publishes advisory opinions on its website, Better Georgia searched high and low and couldn’t find a public (transparent) advisory opinion on Real PAC and its payments to Gov. Deal’s family, friends, business partners and political machine.

There is a growing scandal in the governor’s office that has attracted national attention.

The scandal continues to grow because the governor has gutted the state ethics committee. And now he wants you to believe that everything is OK.

Gov. Deal thinks he can get away with anything.

You have to decide whether you will let him.

It’s up to you to decide whether this is acceptable.

Bernie Sanders: Billions for ‘AnotherWar,’ but No Money for Needs at Home

 

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders

John Nichols ,

In an age of deep partisan divisions, the broadest opposition to United States military intervention in Syria is not coming from Republicans. Or Democrats.

Independent voters are the most determined foes of President Obama’s proposal to launch missile strikes in response to reports that the Syrian government employed chemical weapons in that country’s brutal civil war. While Republicans and Democrats surveyed for the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll expressed strong opposition to the president’s proposal—by margins of 55-43 and 54-42, respectively—independents were against the plan 66-30.

So what does the independent senator from Vermont say?

Bernie Sanders shares the skepticism.

The Vermonter, who caucuses with the Democrats but has a history of breaking with presidents of both parties on matters of principle, is asking questions that are more likely to be heard on Main Street than in the cloistered conference rooms where administration aides are asking members of Congress to authorize the use of force against Syria.

“We’ve cut back on education, we’ve cut back on nutrition programs, we’ve thrown kids off Head Start,” says Sanders. “We have billions to spend on a war but no money to take care of the very pressing needs of the American people. That bothers me a lot.”

Like most senators, Sanders has not made a formal declaration on how he will vote when the chamber takes up the authorization measure that was approved Wednesday on a ten (seven Democrats, three Republicans) to seven (five Republicans, two Democrats) vote of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Senator Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, voted “present.”)

Sanders says he will keep listening to the arguments made by the White House. “But,” he said on MSNBC’s The Ed Show Wednesday night, “I would be less than honest with you if didn’t say I had very, very deep concerns about this proposal. And, by the way, I can tell you that in my office the phones are bopping off the hook and almost unanimously people are opposed to what the president is talking about.”

The senator, who has a track record of engagement with international human rights issues, expresses deep concern about reports of the deployment of chemical weapons, and about the humanitarian issues raised by developments in Syria.

But the Vermonter worries, as well, about the prospect that “a third Middle East war in 12 years may make a very bad situation even worse.”

He fears the prospect of the United States “getting dragged into an interminable war.”

Those are common concerns in Washington these days.

But Sanders goes further.

What distinguishes the senator’s response is the extent to which he is speaking about priorities. Or, rather, about the impact a new global policeman project might have on the ability of an easily distracted Congress to recognize—even in a time of military conflict—that the fundamental economic challenges facing tens of millions of Americans must be addressed.

“(The) truth is that a largely dysfunctional Congress has difficulty today focusing on the very serious issues facing our country: the disappearing middle class, high unemployment, low wages, the high cost of college, the decline of our manufacturing sector and the planetary crisis of global warming,” argues Sanders. “I fear very much that U.S. involvement in another war in the Middle East, and the cost of that war, will make it even harder for Congress to protect working families.”

“Our Republican friends have made it very clear: they’re not going to ask the wealthy or large corporation to pay more in taxes,” says Sanders. “They already want to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. What may well be happening is the cost of this war may be paid for by more kids being thrown off of Head Start, senior citizens being thrown off ‘Meals on Wheels’ programs, educational programs being cut.”

Sanders is raising an important matter with regard to this Congress.

And with regard to the scope and character of the coming debate.

“Right now, it’s impossible to know if military intervention in Syria will cost the U.S. $100 million or hundreds of billions,” explains the National Priorities Project.

The budget transparency group notes, however, that “U.S. forces would use Tomahawk Cruise Missiles to attack Syria. On our brand-new Cost of National Security site, you can see the real-time cost of the Tomahawk Cruise Missile program. In 2013, the program is projected to cost U.S. taxpayers $320 million—or $36,563 every hour. That cost would spike if the U.S. military ultimately fired hundreds of missiles at Syria, as it did in Libya in 2011.”

No doubt the United States can and would spend whatever might be necessary to defend itself from attack. But when the Congress is considering whether to approve missile strikes that the State Departments admits are about “holding the Assad regime accountable,” and when President Obama is saying those strikes are “not time sensitive,” it is reasonable to include in the broader debate a discussion of the economics of war and peace, of military preparation and of military intervention.

It is reasonable to recall that the Libyan mission in which the United States engaged in 2011 cost in excess of $1 billion.

It is reasonable to suggest, as has Congressman Jim McDermott, D-Washington, that Congress should be talking not just about if and when to bomb Syria but about how the costs of the mission will be covered. “We’ve got all kinds of problems and here we are spending more money on a war,” says McDermott, who in addition to being a senior member of the House is a US Navy veteran and former a US Foreign Service Medical Officer.

Those who know a bit about war, and the world, are inclined to consider the human costs of military interventions.

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When President Dwight Eisenhower was winding down the Korean War in 1953, he explained that

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road. the world has been taking.

This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron

The congressional debate about Syria should consider all the issues that have been raised with regard to international relations and humanitarian interventions. It should speak about America’s place in the world, and about America’s resposibilities to other countries. But Senator Sanders is right to remind us that this debate also must consider how the United States will fare under the cloud of threatening war.

Standing in the hospital door

standing-in-hospital-doorBy Brian Long Better Georgia.com,

On Oct. 1, hospital doors will open wide to millions of Americans who had long been denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions and to those who simply couldn’t afford health care outside of emergency rooms.

But in Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal has decided to stand in the hospital door and block access to affordable health care.

Along with insurance commissioner Ralph Hudgens and the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, Gov. Deal is working hard to make sure Georgians never see the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.

On Sunday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution took a long look at the coordinated effort to obstruct a law that was passed by Congress, signed by the President and approved by the Supreme Court.

The newspaper introduces us to Elizabeth Hartley Filliat, 70, a retired teacher who lives in Alpharetta.

She correctly describes the state’s obstruction tactics as a “matter of life and death.”

No one who is battling so intensely for their lives should also simultaneously have to battle for-profit insurance companies,” said Filliat, who has a relative struggling to get insurance coverage.

“And it seems totally unconscionable that politics should play such a strong hand from being fully enforced in Georgia.”

But Gov. Deal has chosen a stubborn, partisan and politically motivated position instead of working to find the best way to assist more than 1.5 million Georgia residents.

About one in five Georgians don’t have health insurance.

This is one of the highest uninsured rates in the nation. An estimated 650,000 low-income Georgians would have gained coverage under an expanded Medicaid but won’t because of Gov. Deal’s work to obstruct the law.

In addition, the newspaper reports another 900,000 residents are expected to shop on the Federal health insurance exchange that opens Oct. 1.

Gov. Deal has done nothing to educate Georgia residents about the benefits of the new health exchange.

Many Georgians will never learn that after years of being denied health care coverage because of pre-existing conditions they are finally eligible for affordable coverage.

It’s wrong for Gov. Deal and Commissioner Hudgens to obstruct health coverage for so many Georgia residents, including the poorest families in the state. (Watch the video).

It’s wrong for a radical minority of Georgia voters to stand in the way of a law that will benefit so many.

And it’s wrong for Gov. Deal to stand in the hospital door.

– See more at: http://bettergeorgia.com/2013/09/09/gov-nathan-deal-stands-in-the-hospital-door#sthash.NgkgtUEO.dpuf

A Dream and a Man frozen in time?

President Obama addresses crowd at Aug. 28 commemoration of 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Photo: Monica Morgan

President Obama addresses crowd at Aug. 28 commemoration of 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Photo: Monica Morgan

By Richard Muhammad,

WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – Lines started early for the commemoration of the March on Washington, at one point stretching to the Washington Monument on the National Mall. It was a day of speeches, singing, memories and talk of where America stands 50 years after Aug. 28, 1963.

President Barack Obama was the final speaker on a program “devoted” to Martin Luther King and a message popularly mis-known as “I Have A Dream.” The president—preceded by King family members, activists, political, social and union leaders—talked about the Dream, the distance traveled and the distance yet to go.

But he didn’t lay out race-related, or racial justice policies for the remainder of his term. No grand vision for how he would use all executive power within his grasp to confront racial inequality. No boldness, no promise, no commitment, no focus on closing the gap that makes Black life generally harsher than life as a White person in America.

Much remains the same as 1963: Blacks earn less than Whites and are more likely to be poor. Black unemployment remains double that of Whites—even in the best of economic times. Voting rights are under assault. Advocates are calling on Congress, which has done little, to protect these rights as GOPers in the South and as far Up South as Pennsylvania push ways to suppress the Black vote. Racially-mixed couples have increased but are less likely to marry, according to the Census Bureau, likely because bringing someone of another race home for the big day remains a problem.

A Pew Research Center poll, “King’s Dream Remains An Elusive Goal,” found only 26 percent of Blacks felt things had gotten better in the past 5 years, while 21 percent said things were worse. Half said things were about the same.

A Gallup poll released Aug. 28 found 60 percent of Blacks felt Whites have an easier time getting jobs that Blacks are qualified for. Seventy-four percent of Blacks felt Whites had better job opportunities in 1963.

An early August Reuters-Ipsos poll found nearly “40 percent of white Americans and about 25 percent of non-white Americans are surrounded exclusively by friends of their own race.”

“The figures highlight how segregated the United States remains … Looking at a broader circle of acquaintances to include coworkers as well as friends and relatives, 30 percent of Americans are not mixing with others of a different race, the poll showed,” Reuters reported.

For Maryland resident Nana Kwesie, who hails from Ghana, the day was about lessons for seven-year-old Gabriel, his son. The struggle remains the same but you have to be smarter and more discerning to fight back, he said. Gabriel may not remember the day but it was part of an education in U.S. racial reality taught by his father, who worries some about his boy’s future.

A middle-aged Black woman, laid off after 20 years as a public school teacher, expressed pride in having a Black president. But, she was ready for him to leave office. Congress won’t cooperate to get anything done and the president doesn’t focus much on Black people, she said.

There is no doubt Mr. Obama remains popular and a source of pride for Black folk. Still his homage to Dr. King belied bitter truths and warnings from the civil rights martyr. It might have been expected: While Mr. Obama is often portrayed as the child of the Dream, his has been a racially reluctant presidency. He has been a stalwart in exhorting Blacks to shun dependence, avoid the trap of low expectations and goals pursued with too little discipline, but has kept White America as comfortable as possible. His messages on race—whether about the Trayvon Martin killing or Black discontent after acquittal of the Black teen’s killer—are carefully chosen and come under public duress. He has issued no strong call for White America to abandon its racial attitudes and combat systemic bias that limits and haunts Black people.

But the Dr. King of Mr. Obama and many who lionize him is a man frozen on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. The King who called the U.S. government the greatest purveyor of violence in the world is forgotten. The King who pushed for economic justice and care for poor people goes unmentioned. The King who called for an end to U.S. military adventures is discarded and an inconvenient truth for a president bent on bombing Syria.

“While lionized in death, King was often reviled and vilified during his lifetime by the same forces who would falsely claim today to have always been in his corner,” observed writer Adrian Harewood of the Ottawa Citizen.

“For his indictment of the U.S. war in Vietnam, King was labeled unpatriotic, naïve, a communist stooge, a dupe. Members of his own organization, the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) and civil rights stalwarts such as A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, Whitney Young of the Urban League, and even King’s trusted confidante Bayard Rustin, decried his ‘recklessness,’ accusing him of jeopardizing the gains made by the movement.”

Urban League leader Young told the media, the anti-war remarks should be seen as the view of a single Negro, not a community, not a movement, not a leader. Freezing Dr. King in time is one reason this country remains stuck on a racial treadmill. But the treadmill isn’t stuck in time. It rolls steadily backward.

When Syria Was a US Ally

By Juan Cole, RSN.com,

One of George Orwell’s keenest insights in 1984 is the kaleidoscopic character of modern state-to-state relations, wherein countries go from being allies to enemies and back again, and government spokesmen and the press report on each situation (friendship or enmity) as though it was eternal.

As the US prepares a possible missile attack on Syria, it is worth remembering the times in modern history when Syria was cooperative with the US or even an ally (yes). I’m not sure on whom this record of cooperation reflects worse, but it shows it is a Realist world out there…

1. In 1976 as the Palestine Liberation Organization and its Muslim and Druze allies were poised to take over Lebanon, Syria received a green light from the US and Israel to invade and put them down, strengthening the right wing Christian militias that were rivals to the PLO.

2. In 1985 Syria intervened with hijackers holding passengers on a US airliner hostage in Lebanon to free them, and was thanked when it succeeded by president Ronald Reagan.

3. In 1989, Syria supported US and Saudi attempts to broker a deal among Lebanon’s warring factions, leading to the Taif Accords that brought the Lebanese Civil War to an end.

4. Syria fought as an ally of the US against Iraq in the Gulf War in 1991.

5. In the 1990s, Syria attended several peace summits aimed at ending the Israel-Palestinian struggle. Then President Hafez al-Assad accepted George H. W. Bush’s invitation to talks, and later he met with President Clinton during the latter’s diplomatic push.

6. After 2001, the US sent captured al-Qaeda operatives to Syria to be tortured by that country’s secret police.

7. Syrian intelligence let the United States know when it discovered an al-Qaeda plot to attack the US Fifth Fleet navy HQ in Bahrain.

The Truth will set us free!

conrad_worrill_1By Dr. Conrad Worrill,

The movement to implement an appropriate African-Centered Curriculum in predominately Black inner city schools is critical to the on-going struggle for the liberation of African people in this country. We must continue to demand that the truth be taught throughout the school year.

This movement has now become popularly known as the African-Centered Education Movement. Simply stated, it focuses on teaching the truth concerning the contributions of Black people to the development of civilization in all subjects. During this new school year we must heighten the dialogue concerning the importance of this movement, particularly as it relates to the future of our children.

Throughout the country, Blacks in America have become more sensitive to challenging the racist and White supremacist basis of America’s public school curriculum.

Through the National Black United Front (NBUF) and its world African-Centered Education Plan, more Blacks are beginning to see the need for massive curriculum change in the public schools of this country and the youth must take leadership in this project.

There is not a day that goes by that someone does not call my office seeking information and help on how to start the process of changing the curriculum in their school. Parents are becoming more and more dissatisfied with what their children are being taught. They are also beginning to realize how much isn’t taught.

It is clear that the public school system is the place where Black children receive a significant portion of their view of the world and the history of the world. And, it also is a place where large numbers of Black youth are miseducated under the system of White supremacy through the ideas and interpretation of history that is presented to them.

Let’s turn to Carter G. Woodson’s great book, The Mis-Education of the Negro to get some further insight into this problem. Woodson observes “the so-called modern education, with all its defects, however, does others so much more good than it does the Negro, because it has been worked out in conformity to the needs of those who have enslaved and oppressed weaker people.”

For example, Woodson says, “The philosophy and ethics resulting from our educational system have justified slavery, peonage, segregation and lynching.  The oppressor has the right to exploit, to handicap, and to kill the oppressed.”

Continuing on Woodson explains, “No systematic effort toward change had been possible for, taught the same economics, history, philosophy, literature and religion which have established the present code of morals, the Negro’s mind has been brought under control of his oppressor.”

Concluding on this point Woodson states, “The problem of holding the Negro down, therefore, is easily solved. When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions.”

Therefore, it is inspiring to see so many of our people waking up all over America and seeking the truth concerning the real contributions of Black people to the world. Through study groups, conferences, Black talk radio, information network exchanges, Black Americans are coming into a new Black consciousness that seeks to reclaim the African mind and spirit.

Through the Portland Model Baseline Essays, the work of the Kemetic Institute, the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations, and other writings and curriculum materials, Africans are becoming much more aware of the following points that must be incorporated into the curriculum.

1. Africa is the home of early man.

2. Africa is the cradle of modern man.

3. Africa is the cradle of civilization.

4. Africa once held a position as world teacher including the teacher for the Western world.

5. There was and there still is a continental wide unity in Africa and in the African communities around the world.

6. The first time Africans left the continent was not on slave ships.

7. Africa and African people all over the world have been under siege for nearly 2,000 years and only recently by European slavery and colonization.

8. There is an African Diaspora all over the world today.

9. African people have resisted domination on the continent and all over the world.

10.       Even under slavery, colonization, segregation, apartheid, African people have made monumental contributions to arts, science and politics.

These ten points, and others, have become the basis upon which we can judge the
White supremacy public school curriculums content in textbooks and other learning materials.

In other words, these points have become the basis of determining whether the truth is being taught in the public schools of this country.

The Truth will set us all free!

Obamacare Provides Insurance Coverage For All Americans in October 2013

Beginning October 1, 2013, the public can sign up to join The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act better known as The Obamacare, which became law in March 23, 2010. But, in spite of the many benefits the public will gain from joining Obamacare, Republicans in the U. S. Congress and some Republican’s state houses want to defund Obamacare. Fifty-seven percent of Americans oppose the Republicans’ strategies to defund the Act.

The Republicans have voted 40 times to repel or defund the law. The Republicans now threaten to shut down the government to kill Obamacare. Regardless of more pressuring issues now facing the country, such as the budget, immigration, and Syria, killing Obamacare appears to be the only issue the Republicans focus on.

Since Obamacare was passed by Congress, signed into law by President Obama, and upheld by the U. S. Supreme Court, Republicans need to get over their defeat and start legislating meaningful legislations that beg their attention. Killing President Obama’s signature piece of legislation since passing has been a goal of the Republicans through whatever means, including distorting the facts to outright lying about the Obamacare.

In an article by Rick Newman, Obamacare is Shaping up as a Good Deal for Consumers, insurance companies are beginning to formulae and publish the premiums they will charge people who sign up for coverage through one of the statewide exchanges established by the law.

Cost estimates based on data from the Congressional Budget Office have suggested the average premium for a 40-year old purchasing a Silver Plan would cost about $320 per month, without subsidies. But Kaiser Healthcare found that, in 15 of the 18 regions it examined, at least one insurance company offers a cheaper plan for the same tier of coverage. While premiums will vary significantly across the country, “Kaiser says, “They are generally lower than expected.”President Obama’s health care plan has nearly identical goals and plans as former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s health care plan for Massachusetts. (In the last presidential election, then candidate Romney wanted a different plan for the country). The plan insured over 90% of the citizens of that state and the plan was a tremendous success. Obamacare will be just as successful if the Republicans in Congress and the Republican state governments would adopt and work with the health care law instead of obstructing or defunding it.

For more information about The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act check out www.healthcare.gov on the Internet that introduces you to the Health Insurance Marketplace which starts October 1, 2013. Below briefly explains coverage under the plan:

High-quality coverage: All marketplace plans offer the same set of comprehensive benefits. The plan covers preexisting conditions, hospitalizations, pregnancy, prescriptions, doctor’s visit, and more.

Lower insurance costs: Most people will get some help with costs. You may qualify for lower costs on your monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs. You may be able to get free or low-cost coverage from Medicaid of CHIP (Children’s
Health Insurance Program).

Coverage is in all states: No matter where you live, you can use the Marketplace to compare plans and enroll in coverage.

Create an account: First provide some basic information. Then choose a user name, password, and security questions for added protection.

Apply: On October 1, 2013, enter information about you and your family, including your income, household size, and more.

Pick a Plan: See all the plans and programs you’re eligible for and compare them side-byside. You’ll also find out if you can get lower costs.

Enroll: Choose a plan that meets your needs and enroll! Coverage starts as soon as January 1, 2014.

Obama, Clinton dispel ‘Obamacare’ myths

President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton on Obamacare

President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton on Obamacare

by Catharine Richert, Minnesota Public Radio,

The Affordable Care Act has been on the books for almost three and a half years. But myths about the law persist.

Many people are confused about the law because it is big and complicated, said University of Minnesota political science professor Lawrence Jacobs, who has studied and written about Obamacare.

But Jacobs also pointed out that people tend to be entrenched in their beliefs about the law so they aren’t necessarily trying to inform themselves in ways that would dispel myths.

Take the rumor that Obamacare promotes “death panels.” PolitiFact.com named the myth its “Lie of the Year” in 2009.

“The idea persists because the information that a lot of people get is coming from sources that tend to reinforce their existing beliefs,” Jacobs said.

False claims about Obamacare stand to cause political problems for Obama and the success of the Affordable Care Act, Jacobs said.

Between working at PolitiFact.com and writing PoliGraph for MPR News, I’ve come across a lot of whoppers about the health care overhaul. Here are my picks for the top five myths about Obamacare that refuse to die.

  1. The law creates “death panels.” In the summer of 2009, just as the debate over health care reform began, former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin wrote on Facebook that seniors and the disabled will “have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care.” The law does not create death panels that choose who
    gets care and who doesn’t. Palin may have been referring to a provision in a version of the bill being debated in the U.S. House at the time that would have created a group to study which medical treatments are the most effective.
    Read PolitiFact’s analysis of Palin’s statement here.
  2. The law represents a government takeover of healthcare. That’s a line that’s stuck since the early days of the health care debate even though the government isn’t taking over anything beyond the job of creating online marketplaces where consumers and small business owners can shop for health plans. Initially, Obama wanted to create a public option — a government insurance program similar to Medicare, but open to everyone. But that idea was dropped early on. The health care law does not make doctors public employees and it does not put the government in charge of hospitals, as is the case in parts of Europe. It’s true that the law does make some important changes to how health insurance works in the United States: it prevents insurers from denying coverage to customers with preexisting medical conditions; it requires health plans to proprovide a minimum level of coverage. But those amount to
    new federal regulations affecting an industry that is already highly regulated at the state level. So, does that amount to a government takeover? Several fact-checkers, including PoliGraph, say no.
  3. You won’t be able to keep your doctor or your current insurance. This claim falls into more of a grey area, because a lot depends on how you are currently insured. For people who get their insurance through their employer, not a whole lot will change unless the employer decides to change the coverage it offers. There’s nothing in the law that requires changes. If you’re buying insurance through one of the new exchanges, it’s possible you won’t be able to find a plan that includes your current physician. But that’s largely a function of the provider networks insurers use. And it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to choose your providers within a defined network. If you buy your own insurance  now and like it, you can keep it — assuming the coverage meets the minimum federal coverage requirements. Some plans won’t. But if you later switch to an insurance plan sold on MNsure, the coverage may be more robust to meet new health plan standards for plans sold on the exchanges. The bare-bones plans grandfathered in under the law will eventually disappear as a result.
  4. The ACA covers unauthorized immigrants and abortions. The Affordable Care Act doesn’t cover anything. It’s not a government insurance program. Obamacare bars unauthorized immigrants from purchasing insurance through
    the exchanges, and they cannot obtain Medicare or nonemergency Medicaid coverage. The law does allow them to get care at the emergency room, but that’s no different from how things already work. As for abortion coverage, the Affordable Care Act did not change the status quo. Federal funds can’t be used to cover abortions unless it is a case of rape, incest or the mother’s life is in danger. Insurance companies will retain their current ability to sell plans that cover abortions. What about insurance sold on the state exchanges? Obamacare doesn’t force insurers to cover abortions, but insurers can still offer it if they want to. Some states have banned abortion coverage, but Minnesota is not among them. People buying insurance on the exchange may be eligible for federal subsidies. So, the law includes a mechanism to make sure those dollars aren’t used to pay for abortion coverage.
  5. The ACA is a “jobkiller.” That claim is based on a mischaracterization of a Congressional Budget Office report that predicted upwards of 800,000 people, who keep their jobs just to get the health care coverage, would leave the workforce because they would now be able to find affordable insurance other ways – for instance, through the state insurance exchanges.

First Trial Ends in Acquittal in School Scandal in Atlanta

Tamara Cotman, a former Atlanta schools administrator, after she was acquitted Friday.

Tamara Cotman, a former Atlanta schools administrator, after she was acquitted Friday.

By KIM SEVERSON,

ATLANTA — The first Atlanta school administrator to face trial in the largest school cheating scandal in the country was found not guilty on Friday.

The case, heard by a Fulton County Superior Court jury, centered on whether Tamara Cotman, a former administrator, influenced a witness during the investigation of widespread cheating in the 52,000-student district.

That investigation resulted in 65 indictments against 35 teachers and administrators, among them Beverly Hall, the superintendent once highly regarded for her work turning around a district plagued by poor academic performance.

Ms. Cotman’s three-week trial was narrowly focused, and it was far from clear whether the acquittal could be counted as an indicator of how the broader case, scheduled to start next spring, would fare.

Prosecutors hope to prove that a group of educators conspired to falsely raise scores on Georgia’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, then covered up the cheating and retaliated against people who tried to report it.

Bonuses, federal money and Dr. Hall’s national reputation were tied to higher test scores, and thus the motivation for cheating, the indictment alleges.

Prosecutors said Ms. Cotman, who oversaw 21 Atlanta schools, influenced witnesses and advised principals under investigation to essentially rebel against state investigators.

Benjamin Davis, her lawyer, said during the trial that the case was not about cheating and that his client never witnessed any criminal behavior and did not try to block the investigation.

Prosecutors tried to portray Ms. Cotman as an operator in an atmosphere of deceit that stemmed from immense pressure to protect jobs and produce high test scores at any cost.

“She did it on the backs of babies,” Fani Willis, an assistant district attorney, said during closing arguments.

As preparations for what will surely be a complex and logistically challenging racketeering trial of nearly three dozen educators continue, personal troubles are beginning to surface.

Dr. Hall has had a diagnosis of breast cancer, said Richard Deane, her lawyer, who added that the court had been advised of her medical condition.

In addition, Willie Davenport, 66, an elementary school principal named in the indictment, had breast cancer and died this week.

A.S. Staley High School Alumni Reunion 2013

A.S. Staley High Class of 1952

A.S. Staley High Class of 1952

Staff Reports,

President Margaret Mathis welcomed the Staleyites to celebrate the memory of their historic alma mater. She notes the class of 1940 began the first reunion in the 1980’s. The reunion theme is “Embracing Our Past”.

There was a reunion dinner and dance on Saturday evening August 31, 2013 at 6:00 PM at the Clarence Jordan Center. The keynote speaker was Mary Patterson Murray, president emeritus for the General Missionary Baptist Convention (GMBC) of Georgia, Inc. She is the aunt of the late Wallace Patterson who was the distributor of the Americus Sumter Observer newspaper.

A scholarship was awarded to Imar Brianna Boyd for 2013. She is the daughter of Georgia Boyd of Americus and Gregory Boyd of Columbus, GA.

On Sunday morning at the Glover Center, the keynote speaker was Earnest Aaron Williams originally from Preston, GA. He currently resides in Decatur, Ga.

The officers are:

  • Margaret Helen Smith Mathis President ’57
  • Juanita Green Thomas, ’54 Vice President
  • Juanita Harris Jones, ’57 Secretary
  • George Glover, ’56 Treasure
  • Lewis Melvin Lowe, ’45 Past President

Three Blacks Ask DA for the Dr. Busman D.U.I. Ruling

Dr. Michael Busman School Board Member

Dr. Michael Busman School Board Member

Plez Hardin District Attorney

Plez Hardin District Attorney

Staff Reports,

God’s Army for the Advancement of All People (GAAAP) reported this month that the organization has reviewed three D.U.I. cases; one Black female and two Black males.

GAAAP president, Rev. Mathis K. Wright, Jr. stated that after the cases were reviewed it was determined that all three cases were very similar to the D.U.I. case of Dr. Michael Busman. Dr. Busman was arrested for D.U.I. by the Georgia State
Patrol, but refused to take the D.U.I. tests and his driver’s license was not suspended; as required by Georgia law.

District Attorney, Plez Hardin provided Busman with a nolle prose which dismissed the D.U.I. charge; and the Order was signed by then State Court Judge Russ Barnes.

Wright said that he and his organization reported Hardin to the Justice Department, State Attorney General, Sam Olen and the Georgia Bar Association.

The results were that Hardin had prosecutorial discretion and had not violated his oath of office and was not practicing selective prosecution. However, if someone with the same or similar D.U.I. charge could ask for a nolle prose and if Hardin denies them, then Hardin could probably be pursued for selective prosecution and oath of office violation.

Wright said that the requests had been made by the three claimants for nolle prose for their alleged D.U.I.’s.

We do not advocate driving while being intoxicated under any circumstances. We do however advocate equal justice for all offenders, added Wright.