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Friday, March 25, 2005

Minority Report: The White House Thinks Black

Minority Retort: The White House Thinks Black: "Sunday, March 13, 2005
The White House Thinks Black

Stanley Crouch's piece in the LA Times shows how the Republican outreach into the black community can return the black community to its civil rights roots. In those days, the black leadership made a concscious effort to be non-partisan, knowing the problems of color transcended political parties. Today, Crouch, points out, the inheritors of that mantle are tied at the hip with the Democratic Party. He warns: 'If the civil rights establishment doesn't step away from its Democratic partisanship and make itself more open to the values of both political parties, its relevance will continue to erode.'"

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: We must take closer look at nuclear energy

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists -We must take closer look at nuclear energy

When any discussion of nuclear energy begins, the first image in most minds is a mushroom cloud, mass terror and mass destruction. Yet the facts seem to be quite different. After the partial meltdown of a reactor at Three Mile Island in 1979, psychiatrist Robert DuPont began investigating nuclear energy and was astonished to find how well-run these plants are and how poor a job has been done in getting the public to know the difference between energy used to generate electricity and nuclear weapons, which dominate the public fear in almost pathological terms.

The recent congressional vote for arctic drilling would not have been necessary if we had maintained a commitment to developing nuclear power as an energy source. Of course, in the wake of Three Mile Island, we had a number of setbacks that were unavoidable. One had to expect high levels of hysteria, finger-pointing and inevitable mistrust of industrial information - and with good reason. But we still have to get all of the hysteria and misinformation behind us so that we can seriously reconsider nuclear energy as one way of getting free of Middle Eastern dependence.

It is time to recognize what even France understands, which is that nuclear energy is the cleanest, safest and least expensive way to get beyond oil dependency. In our case, we also have hazardous things that happen to economically disadvantaged people through the emissions of coal burning.

We are due for a major reconstruction of our thinking about nuclear power. I do not mean that everyone is supposed to lie down and go to sleep, forgetting about everything on the basis of what some energy company says. But I expect our nation to grow up and move free of an irrational fear of technology. While we gobble up every new gadget, those fears take a rest, but we are quick to pick up those fears again whenever nuclear energy is brought up.

The facts are on the side of Indian Point, and we will better understand where we are when we look closely at those facts. We should not allow ourselves to be manipulated by those ideologues who pretend to hate big oil and the destruction of the environment but are not willing to consider an alternative that has proven itself the world over.

Originally published on March 20, 2005

washingtonpost.com: China's Law On Taiwan Backfires

washingtonpost.com: China's Law On Taiwan Backfires: "washingtonpost.com
washingtonpost.com
China's Law On Taiwan Backfires
Anti-Secession Measure Hurts Efforts Abroad

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 24, 2005; Page A13

BEIJING, March 23 -- China has paid a price abroad for enacting its controversial anti-secession law, spoiling a strategy for relations with Taiwan, undercutting a drive to end Europe's arms embargo and reinforcing unease over the growth in Chinese military power.

Although the law did little more than codify long-standing policy, Taiwan and countries around the world have focused on the vow to use "non-peaceful means" to prevent Taiwanese independence. In the 10 days since the legislation passed, this focus has emphasized the image of a China willing to risk war across the Taiwan Strait, frustrating Chinese diplomatic efforts to depict the nation's rise as non-threatening.

In pushing forward with the law, President Hu Jintao and his government were weighing domestic considerations as well as foreign policy. Hu, who analysts say is still solidifying his power, was eager to be seen at home as a tough leader on the emotionally charged Taiwan issue. Work on the law began last fall, they noted, as Hu was taking over as military leader from former president Jiang Zemin.

Hu and other leaders have portrayed the new law as a needed check on Taiwan's independence activists -- including President Chen Shui-bian. Without the law to brake him, officials have said, Chen could take one step too many, producing a military conflict nobody wants.

When China began talking about the law last fall, the analysts recalled, Chen was announcing plans to make several changes regarded here as highly provocative. They included changing the name of state-owned enterprises to emphasize "Taiwan" instead of "Republic of China" and inserting the name "Taiwan" in official correspondence from the Foreign Ministry.

Against that background, the Chinese government professed surprise at the degree of negative international reaction to the law during meetings Sunday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, according to sources with knowledge of the talks. The State Department publicly criticized the law as unhelpful. While in Beijing, the sources said, Rice urged leaders to take conciliatory steps to improve the atmosphere soured by the new legislation.

President Bush and other U.S. leaders already were warning that China's fast-paced military modernization risked tipping the balance of power around Taiwan, putting the United States at greater peril if it intervened to defend the self-governing island. With the anti-secession law's threat of military force, those warnings gained urgency; they were repeated several times by Rice during her Asian tour.

Maintaining smooth relations with the United States has become a pillar of China's diplomacy. But the anti-secession law, by feeding the fears of those in Washington who see China as a military adversary, seemed to push relations in the opposite direction.

The threat of force undermined a similar campaign to portray China in neighboring Asian countries as a reliable neighbor whose peaceful rise is not to be feared. This effort, underway for several years, has gained wide acceptance, particularly in Southeast Asia, as China's booming economy and expanding trade give it greater influence in the region.

The image of a peacefully growing nation also was important in China's drive to gain a lifting of Europe's arms embargo. The Beijing government seemed to be on the verge of success despite U.S. opposition. But since the Taiwan law passed March 14, the atmosphere has changed: U.S. arguments have gained new force, and the consensus in Europe for lifting the ban has unraveled.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, said Tuesday that there should be no connection between the new law and the European arms embargo. But in European capitals, the link was already made.

The new law also clouded what had been a period of improving atmospherics between China and Taiwan, putting off indefinitely several proposals for better airline and commercial links.

Since a setback in Dec. 11 legislative elections, Chen had played down his most confrontational plans, including the name change for state enterprises. China and Taiwan then agreed on direct charter flights for Chinese New Year visits last month, and China had proposed talks about more flights this spring.

A Taiwan specialist in Beijing who was involved in drafting the anti-secession law said Hu's government had concluded from the Dec. 11 election results that many Taiwanese, even those who may support independence, were tiring of Chen's confrontational style, fearful that it could lead to war. As a result, he said, the government decided to cultivate a friendly image on the island, proposing direct cargo flights to help Taiwan's businesses and increased fruit and vegetable imports to help Taiwanese farms.

But the anti-secession law was working its way through the bureaucracy.

Since its passage, Taiwan has halted action on the initiatives, which Chen qualified as "petty" in the face of what his Democratic Progressive Party called a trigger for war in the new law. Chen's group also has announced plans for a million-man march Saturday to dramatize Taiwanese anger at the law. Opinion polls on the island, meanwhile, indicate increased support for the president's views.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The New York Times > Opinion > That Scalia Charm

The New York Times > Opinion > That Scalia Charm: "March 21, 2005
March 21, 2005
That Scalia Charm

Some court-watchers say Justice Antonin Scalia is on a "charm offensive" to become the next chief justice. Then he must have been taking the day off when he gave a speech last week and lashed out at the Supreme Court's recent ruling striking down the death penalty for juveniles, and at the idea of a "living Constitution." There is nothing charming about his view that judges have no business considering the constitutionality of aspects of the death penalty, or that the Constitution should be frozen in time.

Justice Scalia dissented bitterly in this month's juvenile death penalty case. Reasonable minds may ask, as he did, whether the majority opinion relied too heavily on the norms of international law in deciding what punishment does not meet modern standards of decency. But Justice Scalia disagreed not merely with the majority's conclusion that offenders cannot be executed for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18, but with the very fact that the court was even considering the question. "By what conceivable warrant can nine lawyers presume to be the authoritative conscience of the nation?" he asked.

In his speech last week at the Woodrow Wilson Center, he continued on the same theme. He attacked the idea of a "living Constitution," one that evolves with modern sensibilities, which the Supreme Court has long recognized in its jurisprudence, and of "evolving notions of decency," a standard the court uses to interpret the Eighth Amendment prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishments" in cases like those involving the death penalty.

In drafting the Constitution, and particularly the Bill of Rights, the Founders chose to use broad phrases that necessarily require interpretation. Since its landmark 1803 ruling in Marbury v. Madison, the court has held that it is the final word on the Constitution's meaning. In the recent juvenile death penalty case, the court was doing its job of determining what one such phrase, "cruel and unusual punishment," means today.

The implications of Justice Scalia's remarks are sweeping. Many of the most central principles of American constitutional law - from the right to a court-appointed lawyer to the right to buy contraception - have emerged from the court's evolving sense of the meaning of constitutional clauses. Justice Scalia seems to be suggesting that many, or perhaps all, of these rights should exist only at the whim of legislatures.

Justice Scalia may believe that by repeating his radical views enough times, the nation will grow accustomed to them. But his approach would mean throwing out much of the nation's existing constitutional law, and depriving Americans of basic rights. Justice Scalia's campaign to be the next chief justice, if it is that, is a timely reminder of why he would be a disastrous choice for the job.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: New Signs on the Arab Street

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: New Signs on the Arab Street

The New York Times
March 13, 2005
OP-ED COLUMNIST
New Signs on the Arab Street
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

From Baghdad to Beirut, the Middle East has seen a series of unprecedented popular demonstrations for democracy. There were, however, two street protests in December that got virtually no coverage, but were just as important, if not more. One took place in the Egyptian Nile Delta town of Mahalla and the other in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya. Both of these raucous Egyptian demonstrations, which involved marches, strikes, denunciations of the government and appeals to Parliament, were triggered by President Hosni Mubarak's decision to sign the first substantial trade agreement with Israel since Camp David. That decision brought Egyptian workers from both areas into the streets. They were furious. They were enraged. Why?

They were not included in the new trade deal with Israel.

Now, that's a new Middle East. On Dec. 14, Egypt, Israel and the U.S. signed an accord setting up three Qualified Industrial Zones (Q.I.Z.'s) in Egypt. The deal stipulated the following: Any Egyptian company operating in one of these Q.I.Z.'s that imports from an Israeli company at least 11.7 percent of the parts, materials or services that go into the Egyptian company's final product can then export that finished product to the U.S. duty free. This is a big deal for Egypt, which, unlike Jordan and Israel, does not have a free-trade treaty with the U.S. As part of the accord, the U.S. named Greater Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said the three Q.I.Z.'s. It had to be limited to only three municipalities so that the U.S. would not be swamped with Egyptian exports - hence the protests from the two big Egyptian manufacturing centers that were left out.

According to Rashid Mohamed Rashid, Egypt's impressive new minister of foreign trade, 397 Egyptian companies have already signed up to participate in the Q.I.Z. program, most of them small and medium-size firms. Many of these Egyptian companies have already gone to Israel to forge deals with Israeli suppliers or started work with Israeli partners to identify export markets in the U.S. Some Israeli companies are setting up shop in the Egyptian Q.I.Z.'s to provide services right on the spot.

There are a lot of messages in this bottle. One is that if you create a real opportunity for Israeli and Egyptian businesses to interact profitably, not only will Egyptians ignore the protests of the old Nasserites who want to boycott Israel, they will seize the opportunity and protest mightily if they are kept out.

Another message: This "Baghdad spring" will not blossom into sustainable democracy in any of these Arab states without a broader middle class and civil society institutions to support it. For too long, U.S. foreign policy was based on buying stability in the Arab world by supporting dictators, who destroyed all the independent press, political parties, unions, real private sector and civil society in their countries - everything except the mosque. Iraq is the starkest example of this, which is why democratization there will take time.

Looking at Eastern Europe on the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall, said Emanuele Ottolenghi, a lecturer on the Middle East at Oxford, "we could have predicted which countries would have an easy transition to democracy and which ones not." Countries like Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states, which had a history of liberal institutions and free markets that had been suppressed by communism, quickly flourished. Others farther east, which did not have such institutions in their past and were starting from scratch - Bulgaria, Romania and the former Soviet republics - have struggled since the fall of the wall.

The same will be true in the Middle East, where democracy will not just spring up because autocrats fall down. It will arise only if these countries develop, among other things, export-oriented private sectors, which can be the foundation for a vibrant middle class that is not dependent upon the state for contracts and has a vital interest in an open economy, a free press and its own political parties. The development of such a private sector was crucial in democratizing Taiwan and South Korea.

That is why, beyond Iraq, America's priorities should be to sign a free-trade agreement with Egypt - which would help foster an export-oriented private sector there just when President Mubarak has signaled an end to 50 years of military rule - and get Syria out of Lebanon, which would free the dynamic private sector that already exists there, but has been stifled by Syria. Free Lebanon and free Egypt's economy and they will change the rest of the Middle East for us - for free.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Taipei Times - archives > Taiwan's fate difficult to predict

Taipei Times - archives

By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎

Thursday, Mar 10, 2005,Page 8

`The two men's agreement ... was an important step, but like all agreements under these circumstances, is sufficiently ambiguous to allow flexible interpretation if needed in the future.'

In today's world, globalization is seen primarily as a process of economic integration, which inevitably will be linked to closer political and security integration as well. But the cross-strait relationship has been challenging that conventional wisdom.

The growing economic ties between Taiwan and China, for example, have brought the sides closer together, but the political and security relationship has seen them drift further apart. Still, in both Washington and Taiwan, recent events have reawakened the conventional wisdom on globalization's political effects. That may turn out to be true. But by overhyping a warming of political as well as economic relations between the two sides, we may be too quickly avoiding reality.

The first transfer of power in Taiwan's government in 2000 was, inevitably, a difficult transition. The new governing party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had insufficient talent for running a government and inherited a bureaucracy that was, like the previous government, virtually indistinguishable from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). It faced in the KMT an opposition party that had no experience being in the opposition, and saw its major objective as not just to defeat the new governing party, but to destroy it.

This situation clearly -- and predictably -- led to many errors. By the end of that first term, there were still many laws from the previous authoritarian government to be changed, many rules and traditions still to be addressed, a reluctance to fully utilize the bureaucracy, and a lack of effective communication with the people of Taiwan and with foreign governments. Taking all this into consideration, the conventional wisdom on the effects of globalization may yet be correct.

This overlooks -- or perhaps deliberately avoids -- the progress that have been made in this period despite the errors and the obstacles which Taiwan faces. The government has effectively encouraged a much greater involvement by voters not only through political parties but in the growth of non-governmental organization (NGO) involvement in political, civil and cultural matters.

Despite the political slogans and sensationalist media on all sides, ethnic differences have diminished, helped in great measure by the rise of new, born-in-Taiwan generations. And though this might not make China happy, there has been a much greater consensus on what the people want as Taiwan's identity. This is demonstrated both in countless polls and in the rapidly-closing gap between the major political parties on the identity issue.

It was clear, after the presidential elections in both the US and Taiwan, and the legislative elections in Taiwan resulted in little change; that another four-year delay in progress on the economy, cross-strait relations, and domestic welfare was unacceptable to the voters. Thus, we see the recent effort by the DPP to experiment in cooperation with opposition parties.

The most logical cooperation for the DPP would probably be with the KMT, which has both considerable expertise in governance, and also now a majority of "local" members (including not only native Taiwanese, but young Mainlanders as well) whose preferences, especially on sovereignty issues, are very close to those of the DPP. For the time being, however, the KMT is in the midst of choosing new leadership.

Deciding now on a cooperative arrangement with the third-largest party, the People First Party (PFP), had advantages in timing for the governing party, and in bolstering the PFP, which had suffered a setback in the legislative elections. The meeting between President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) brought considerable anguish for members of both the governing and opposition parties. The two men's agreement at the meeting was an important step, but like all agreements under these circumstances, is sufficiently ambiguous to allow flexible interpretation if needed in the future.

Though ambiguity is not exactly unknown in Washington, it's not given its due when used by others elsewhere. Likewise, media hype coming from Taiwan also seems to be taken more seriously. Neither ambiguity or media hype can be ignored, but both should be weighed realistically. The US, rightly in this case, probably sees this as a domestic issue and one that might even reduce cross-strait tensions.

To see this as a result of the legislative elections which were a serious setback for the governing party and a popular rejection of the path the government was taking on the identity issue. In this view, the momentum is now moving back to the middle ground. That's not impossible, but it's much too soon to come to that conclusion.

The legislative elections were important, and they clearly made it necessary for the governing party to shift gears to address changed circumstances. But there are other factors that will have an important influence on where Taiwan will go from here. The "anti-secession" law that China is now preparing to approve has already had a negative influence on the Taiwanese public. It is still uncertain how Taiwan will react when the law is approved, and what tensions will result.

Another important factor will be the KMT's decision on its next chairman. The KMT is no longer the governing party, and though it may not have the clout it once had in the legislature (the PFP will not automatically side with the KMT on some issues as a result of its arrangement with the DPP), it can do considerable harm in blocking the government's legislative wish list.

But the additional 12 legislative seats the KMT gained in the last election has also increased the number of "local" members. That means there isn't a wide chasm between the majority of members and the governing party on identity issues. There is little difference on the issue of unification with China. Some KMT members are even close to the DPP's pro-independence stance.

Despite pressure from Taiwanese business interests or China's new "anti-secession" law, Taiwan will continue pressing for international recognition as a country. If the momentum and the direction that might have been caused by the legislative election materializes, it is not likely to be a sharp turn.

Nat Bellocchi is the former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan and is now a special adviser to the Liberty Times Group. The views expressed in this article are his own.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: The World According to Bolton

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: The World According to Bolton

The New York Times
March 9, 2005
EDITORIAL
The World According to Bolton

On Monday, President Bush nominated John Bolton, an outspoken critic of multinational institutions and a former Jesse Helms protégé, to be the representative to the United Nations. We won't make the case that this is a terrible choice at a critical time. We can let Mr. Bolton do it for us by examining how things might look if he had his way:

The United States could resolve international disputes after vigorous debate with ... itself. In an interview in 2000 on National Public Radio, Mr. Bolton told Juan Williams, "If I were redoing the Security Council today, I'd have one permanent member because that's the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world."

"And that one member would be, John Bolton?" Mr. Williams queried.

"The United States," Mr. Bolton replied.

America could stop worrying about China ... In 1999, when he was senior vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, Mr. Bolton wrote a column in The Weekly Standard advocating that the United States just go ahead and give Taiwan diplomatic recognition, despite the fact that this purely symbolic gesture was a point on which China had repeatedly threatened to go to war. He made this argument: "Diplomatic recognition of Taiwan would be just the kind of demonstration of U.S. leadership that the region needs and that many of its people hope for. ... The notion that China would actually respond with force is a fantasy, albeit one the Communist leaders welcome and encourage in the West."

... and North Korea. In 1999, Mr. Bolton told The Los Angeles Times: "A sounder U.S. policy would start by making it clear to the North that we are indifferent to whether we ever have 'normal' diplomatic relations with it, and that achieving that goal is entirely in their interests, not ours. We should also make clear that diplomatic normalization with the U.S. is only going to come when North Korea becomes a normal country."

U.N. dues? What U.N. dues? In 1997, Mr. Bolton wrote in a column in The Wall Street Journal that the United States isn't legally bound to pay its United Nations dues. "Treaties are 'law' only for U.S. domestic purposes," he said. "In their international operations, treaties are simply 'political' obligations."

And forget about the International Criminal Court. In 2000, Mr. Bolton told the House International Relations Committee: "Support for the International Criminal Court concept is based largely on emotional appeals to an abstract ideal of an international judicial system unsupported by any meaningful evidence and running contrary to sound principles of international crisis resolution."

We certainly look forward to Mr. Bolton's confirmation hearings, and, after that, his performance at the United Nations, where he will undoubtedly do a fine job continuing the Bush administration's charm offensive with the rest of the world.

Which leaves us wondering what Mr. Bush's next nomination will be. Donald Rumsfeld to negotiate a new set of Geneva Conventions? Martha Stewart to run the Securities and Exchange Commission? Kenneth Lay for energy secretary?

Monday, March 07, 2005

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: Hope in the Land of Dashed Hopes

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: Hope in the Land of Dashed Hopes

EDITORIAL
Hope in the Land of Dashed Hopes

For more than 40 years, the epitome of wasted potential and squandered opportunity in Africa has been Nigeria. From the time it gained independence from Britain in 1960, that behemoth of 137 million people has seemed to do its level best to fritter away every natural advantage. Given the second-highest proven oil reserves in Africa, Nigerian officials spent oil income on lavish estates in Europe instead of decent schools and water systems back home. The country that produced the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka and arguably Africa's best author, Chinua Achebe, was better known for the cruel, thieving dictator Sani Abacha.

Now, "Nigeria is changing," says Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the country's finance minister. She suggested thinking of America and the West as the parent and Nigeria as the child: "If your child has been doing bad things - drug abuse or alcohol - and they come to you and say, 'My mother, I want to change; please help me,' would you say, 'No'? Would you say, 'You are hopeless; you can't change'?"

It's a tough question for anyone who has ever been assaulted at the airport in Lagos just trying to enter Nigeria, or hit up for a bribe by Nigerian government officials, or struck dumb at the sight of orphaned children drinking dirty water on the street. But if America and the developed world are serious about their stated intent to tackle poverty, most of which is in Africa, then they cannot ignore the home of 20 percent of sub-Saharan Africa's people.

Hard as it is to believe, there are hopeful signs in Nigeria. The Nigerians, through two, albeit flawed, democratic elections, have given themselves a reformist government with the right intentions. President Olusegun Obasanjo has taken up the mantle of anticorruption - or, at least, slightly reduced corruption. He established an Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, whose chairman, Alhaji Nuhu Ribadu, at risk to his life, has been terrifying current and former officials with his investigations. Already, two rear admirals have been convicted of helping to steal 11,000 barrels of oil. Some 130 customs officials have been fired.

Bunkering, the quaint term Nigerians use to describe outright stealing of crude oil by members of the armed forces or the government, has been reduced to a mere 20,000 barrels a day from 100,000 barrels a day, according to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. And finally - this should please all of us who have received e-mail supposedly from Idi Amin's son or Charles Taylor's wife offering untold riches if we'd only provide our checking account numbers - three purported e-mail crime leaders have been arrested.

Beyond the fight against corruption, Nigeria has made huge strides in promoting regional security. Nigerian peacekeepers are in Liberia, Sudan and Sierra Leone. Last month, when Togo installed the son of the country's longtime strongman as president, it was Nigeria's Mr. Obasanjo who led the fight that ultimately forced Faure Gnassingbé to step down. We can't help but notice the difference between Mr. Obasanjo and the leader of black Africa's other regional power, South Africa. Thabo Mbeki has largely thrown up his hands in the struggle to force Zimbabwe to hold honest elections that could rid it of the odious despot Robert Mugabe.

What's missing is for America to take Nigeria more seriously, to do much more than simply treat the country as a gas station. The United States has made some strides with H.I.V.-AIDS treatment in Nigeria, but that should be expanded to include prevention as well. The country isn't anywhere close to qualifying for aid under President Bush's Millennium Challenge Account, which ties money to good governance. But that approach, while worthy, condemns the 80 million Nigerians who subsist on barely anything. America should supplement the Challenge Account program with something that encourages countries like Nigeria to press ahead with reforms, and find ways - perhaps through private aid groups - to funnel money to the desperately poor. Nigeria is too big to ignore. If it doesn't succeed, it's hard to imagine that the rest of Africa has much of a chance.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The New York Times > Business > Your Money > Economic View: Who Wins in a New Social Security?

The New York Times > Business > March 6, 2005
ECONOMIC VIEW
Who Wins in a New Social Security?
By EDUARDO PORTER

SOCIAL SECURITY may have done more to help the poor than any other government program in American history. Established in 1935 with the explicit objective of protecting the elderly from poverty, it has relied on a heavily skewed benefit formula that pays lower-income workers a higher share of their wages than those at the top of the earnings ladder.

The results? According to government figures, old-age poverty has dropped from about 50 percent in the 1930's to around 10 percent today. Most of the credit goes to Social Security.

Yet as President Bush sets out to reconstruct Social Security, by allowing workers to divert some of their payroll taxes into personal accounts, crucial questions remain unanswered: Would a new system retain the traditional approach of redistributing income from the more affluent to those in need? Or should personal accounts - framed by Mr. Bush as a step toward an "ownership society" - usher in a system in which workers keep what they actually save?

The president argues that workers can get a better return on their payroll taxes if they invest them themselves. Regardless of the truth of that assertion, Social Security has not been a simple retirement savings plan but an instrument of social policy, using part of the taxes paid by some groups to shore up the benefits of others.

Any changes made to the system will inevitably shift this distributional mix, and that troubles some members of Congress. "Social Security is a central strand in our social safety net," said Senator Gordon H. Smith, Republican of Oregon, the chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. "I believe its progressive nature has to be preserved," he said, adding that he would hold his vote "in abeyance" until "we address these progressive issues."

Social Security uses taxes from the rich to bolster the retirement income of the poor through a benefit scale that now replaces about 60 percent of preretirement earnings for low-income workers but only 30 percent for the workers in the highest earning band.

But the program has a multitude of other objectives, moving money every which way. An essential reason for the decline in old-age poverty, for example, is that older generations - which paid lower payroll taxes - have received transfers from younger generations, who have paid higher taxes to get the same or even lower levels of benefits.

Social Security aims to protect women who stay out of the work force to raise children, offering spousal and survivor benefits that depend on the earnings of the working spouse. And the program's disability insurance favors workers in tougher jobs, mainly at the lower end of the income spectrum.

Social Security's income redistribution includes some unintended quirks. Survivor benefits are regressive, favoring people whose spouses were high earners. And the nation's changing demographics have created a patchwork of winners and losers that, to some extent, has overridden the system's original purpose of favoring the poor.

That's because Social Security is more generous to people who have more time to collect benefits, like women, who are expected to live three years longer than men, on average, after retirement, and whites, who, after reaching 65, are expected to live a year and a half longer than blacks.

Calculations by C. Eugene Steuerle and Adam Carasso of the Urban Institute offer this contrast: A 65-year-old single man who retires this year after a career in which he earned an average of $36,500 a year, in 2005 dollars, will get $164,000 in retirement benefits over the rest of his life, on average, based on his expected life span of 81.1 years. That is about $8,000 less than he would receive if he invested his payroll taxes at a 2 percent rate of return, after inflation.

But a single woman with a similar earnings profile can expect to receive $206,000 - or $28,000 more than she would get by investing the contributions at the same 2 percent rate, merely because she is likely to live longer.

Because the poor and the less educated tend to have lower life expectancies, they sometimes end up getting a worse return on their payroll taxes. According to projections by Mr. Steuerle, Mr. Carasso and Lee Cohen of the Social Security Administration, a male high-school dropout who retired over the past decade will receive retirement benefits equivalent to his lifetime payroll taxes invested at a 2.7 percent annual rate of return, after accounting for inflation. But for a college graduate, the implicit rate of return on his payroll taxes is 3.2 percent, because he is expected to live seven years longer.

What would Social Security reform do to all of this? Personal accounts, in which people invested their own money for their own retirement, would not redistribute wealth by themselves.

If poor or uneducated workers were allowed to take their stash as a lump sum, though, dying younger would be less of a financial loss. And depending on how Social Security is brought back into long-term financial balance, the distribution of benefits could be reconfigured substantially.

CUTTING benefits by raising the retirement age, the choice of Social Security's reformers in 1983, would penalize poorer workers with shorter life spans. But the system could be skewed to transfer more income to the poor. In a report last year, the Government Accountability Office analyzed a plan designed to restore the system's solvency. It included carving out savings accounts, as Mr. Bush suggests, combined with indexing of benefits to inflation instead of to wages and providing low-income retirees a minimum pension of 120 percent of the poverty line. The G.A.O. found that such a system would redistribute more income from high earners to low earners than Social Security does today.

The G.A.O.'s exercise also underscored how changes in the system could undermine Social Security's original goal of protecting the elderly from poverty. Bringing Social Security to long-term solvency without raising contributions would require cutting benefits. Even if personal accounts earned a 4.6 percent annual rate of return over a worker's career - President Bush's central assumption - overall benefits for the bottom fifth of wage earners would be 4 percent lower than their benefits under the current system.

The New York Times > New York Region > As Clinton Wins G.O.P. Friends, Her Rivals' Task Toughens

The New York Times > New York Region >March 6, 2005
As Clinton Wins G.O.P. Friends, Her Rivals' Task Toughens
By RAYMOND HERNANDEZ

The intimate gathering at a private home in Corning, N.Y., was pretty typical for an upstate fund-raiser featuring Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton: dozens of donors clustered in the terrace, listening to her speak, as they sipped wine and nibbled on hors d'oeuvres.

But one thing made the event unusual: The host was a prominent Republican businessman whose brother Amo Houghton was the popular nine-term Republican congressman from the area who, it turns out, gives Mrs. Clinton, a Democrat, an "A-plus" for the job she is doing.

His brother James, chairman of Corning Inc., agreed. "When I introduced Hillary, I told the crowd that the last time a Houghton had a fund-raiser for a Democrat was about 1812," he said.

With her 2006 re-election campaign approaching, New York Republican leaders vow to rally party loyalists in a broad effort to topple Mrs. Clinton, who has long engendered deep antipathy on the right.

But as the fund-raiser last year in the heavily Republican town of Corning illustrated, the party may have a bit of a problem on its hands.

In the four years since taking office, Mrs. Clinton has managed to cultivate a bipartisan, above-the-fray image that has made her a surprisingly welcome figure in some New York Republican circles, even as she remains exceedingly popular with her liberal base.

A recent poll by The New York Times, for example, showed that Mrs. Clinton's popularity had sharply improved among Republicans voters surveyed, with 49 percent saying they approved of the job she was doing, compared with 37 percent who expressed similar sentiments in October 2002.

But perhaps nothing demonstrates her improved standing with the opposition as much as the close ties she has forged with many leading Republican officials in the state, who say that they have been pleasantly surprised by what they describe as the nuts-and-bolts pragmatism of her style.

Only five years ago, for example, Representative Thomas M. Reynolds of Buffalo mocked Mrs. Clinton as a "a tourist who has lost her way," alluding to the fact that she had not lived in New York before deciding to run for the Senate.

But these days, Mr. Reynolds, a Republican who is frequently mentioned as a possible candidate for speaker of the House, says he considers Ms. Clinton an ally in his effort to deliver aid to western New York.

In fact, he said that his work with Mrs. Clinton had prompted the local newspaper in his district to call them the "odd couple."

"I like Senator Clinton," said Mr. Reynolds, a friend and adviser to Gov. George E. Pataki. "I've found that when she says she will take on a job with me, she does it."

But surely Mr. Reynolds wants a Republican to take Mrs. Clinton's seat, no? "New York is a big blue state," he responded, referring to the states with large Democratic voter enrollment. "I will work with whoever the electorate puts in those positions."

Nobody expects top Republicans like Mr. Reynolds to cross party lines and endorse Mrs. Clinton. But some political strategists say the Republican Party will have a hard time making a strong case against her, since she will be able to point to the positive reviews she has gotten from her Republican colleagues over the year.

"It certainly helps to neutralize the attacks against her," said Lee M. Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

The emerging view of Mrs. Clinton among leading New York Republicans would have been unimaginable four years ago, when her political rivals cast her as a carpetbagger who had no real interest in New York beyond seeing it as a springboard to the presidency.

Political analysts say that Mrs. Clinton's improved standing reflects her meticulous efforts to win over critics - as well as the tendency among politicians to look past party differences and find common interests once in office.

But these strategists also say that the unusually open support she is enjoying among Republicans highlights a lack of party discipline that has been plaguing the New York Republican Party in recent years.

Mr. Miringoff said that many rank-and-file Republicans apparently felt they had less to lose in bucking the party leadership than in straining relations with a highly popular United States senator.

"It's a party that is really hurting," Mr. Miringoff said, referring to Republicans. "And so self-interest and self-preservation are taking over."

The Republicans giving Mrs. Clinton high marks include Representative John M. McHugh, who represents New York's economically beleaguered North Country, a politically conservative region that Mrs. Clinton visits frequently.

In an interview, the congressman said that Mrs. Clinton had been helpful to him from her seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee in steering money to Fort Drum, an Army base in Watertown that provides an economic lift to the area.

"Our other senators have been helpful," he said, referring to the work Mrs. Clinton's predecessors have done on behalf of Fort Drum. "But they have not had the advantage of being on the authorizing committee."

As for the 2006 Senate race, he did not sound particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of campaigning against Mrs. Clinton. "We share constituents," explained Mr. McHugh, "and, frankly, the challenges are big enough without erecting artificial partisan barriers."

Another Republican, Representative Peter T. King of Nassau County, struck a similar note in recent interview. He described Mrs. Clinton as a celebrity senator who is willing to take a subordinate role on an issue she cares about, rather than allowing her involvement to become a distraction.

For instance, Mr. King recalled an occasion when Mrs. Clinton suggested that he find another senator to be a co-sponsor of legislation that would benefit New York, because she figured that her presence on the bill would fire up the opposition. "There are very few politicians in public life who have the composure to step back, knowing that they will win in the end," he said.

Mr. King also said that Mrs. Clinton had been anything but the liberal extremist that her conservative critics accused her of being. "I'm not going to vote for her and probably disagree with her on 70 percent of the issues," he said. "But I think that too many Republicans who criticize Hillary Clinton sound like Michael Moore criticizing George Bush."

The New York Times > Washington > Black Churches Struggle Over Their Role in Politics

The New York Times > Washington > rch 6, 2005
Black Churches Struggle Over Their Role in Politics
By NEELA BANERJEE

A tug of war is under way inside black churches over who speaks for African-Americans and what role to play in politics, spurred by conservative black clergy members who are looking to align themselves more closely with President Bush.

The struggle, mainly among black Protestants, is taking place in pulpits, church conventions, on op-ed pages and on the airwaves, and the president himself began his second term with a meeting in the White House with black clergy members and civic leaders who supported his re-election.

Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., the pastor of the Hope Christian Church in College Park, Md., is part of a new breed of leaders who have warmed to the Republican stand on social values. He paraphrases Newt Gingrich as he stumps the country to promote a "Black Contract With America on Moral Values," whose top priorities include opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion.

"Historically when societies have gone off kilter, there has been rampant same-sex marriage," Mr. Jackson said in an interview. "What tends to happen is that people tend to devalue the institution of marriage as a whole. People start rearing kids without two parents, and the black community already has this incredibly alarming and, if I may say, this shameful number of babies being born without fathers."

He said he hoped to collect a million signatures of support this year.

Efforts like Mr. Jackson's have brought a sharp reaction from other black ministers, who bridle at putting their energies into fighting same-sex marriage.

"Oppression is oppression is oppression," said the Rev. Kelvin Calloway, pastor of the Second A.M.E. Church in Los Angeles. "Just because we're not the ones who are being oppressed now, do we not stand with those oppressed now? That is the biblical mandate. That's what Jesus is all about."

At the heart of the debate, church leaders say, is whether to stay focused primarily on issues like job creation, education, affirmative action, prison reform and health care, which have drawn blacks closer to the Democratic Party, or whether to put more emphasis on issues of personal morality, like opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, which would place them deeper in the Republican camp.

"I think there is a movement among African-American evangelicals who are extremely concerned about issues of family and abortion, and our leadership has to do something about that," said the Rev. Herbert H. Lusk II of Philadelphia, who was one of the ministers who met with President Bush in January.

Most black ministers have long been aligned with the Democrats, and Senators John Kerry and John Edwards spent Sundays in black churches in the last weeks of the campaign to get out the black vote.

But the White House has been reaching out to sympathetic black clergy members - through its stand on social issues, its effort to give religious groups more of a role in providing federally financed social services and ideas like Mr. Bush's proposed initiative to counter gang violence, a concern of some black ministers who support him, like the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers of Dorchester, Mass.

Although only 11 percent of black voters cast ballots for Mr. Bush, according to surveys of voters leaving the polls, conservatives point out that it was still an increase from the 8 percent in 2000, and Republicans seek to expand those numbers.

Some black ministers say the Republicans will not make headway. Asked if issues like same-sex marriage will galvanize African-Americans, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said, "Well, they didn't make the Top 10 with Moses, and Jesus didn't make mention of them." Still, looking to bolster their own political power, the leaders of four black Baptist conventions representing 15 million parishioners met in January to fashion their first united stand in almost a century on social and economic issues and to bury past differences.

At the end of their four-day session, the ministers called for an end to the war in Iraq and withdrawal of American troops. They declared their opposition to the confirmation of Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general. They stated their opposition to making the president's tax cuts permanent, and warned that reductions in spending on children's health care programs would be "immoral."

They say they are trying to counter the growing influence of white evangelicals in national politics. "They have a strong voice now in national politics, and it would seem they are the only voice," the Rev. Dr. William J. Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention USA, said of white evangelicals. "And the challenge to us is to be a voice that is soundly biblically based and that doesn't provide a blanket sanction to government policy as others have done. This is a dangerous time when white evangelicals dictate government policy."

But they also raise questions about the conservatives in their own ranks, accusing them of being seduced by Mr. Bush's "faith-based initiatives" program to funnel federal monies to church-run social service programs and asking how much sway they really have.

"Where did this come from?" said the Rev. Madison Shockley, pastor of the Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, Calif., who with Mr. Calloway wrote an opinion article in The Los Angeles Times in response to the "Black Contract With America." "It came from Bush and the Christian right, and the carrot is faith-based money."

Some conservative black ministers say, however, that they finally feel as if they have a political home. The Rev. O'Neal Dozier, pastor of the Worldwide Christian Church Center in Pompano Beach, Fla., said that for years he had struggled to organize a local ecumenical group of ministers concerned about issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. Now, attendance at these meetings has risen considerably, and Mr. Dozier expects 200 ministers, black and white, at the next gathering in April.

"I don't think the old guard is that strong now. We're in south Florida and south Florida is heavily Democratic, yet the pastors I see are beginning to change, and as a result of them changing, it is going to change their flock," said Mr. Dozier, who also attended the January meeting with Mr. Bush. "Every social change has to start from the pulpit."

White evangelicals are also participating in the discussion. Ministers like the Rev. Lou Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, an organization of 43,000 churches, are organizing black ministers in major cities around issues of sexuality. "We're looking for African-American clergy members who have local authority, and we're getting them to hold a summit on marriage, just one issue," Mr. Sheldon said.

Even longtime friends are being pulled in opposite directions. Dr. Shaw and Mr. Lusk, for instance, have much in common.

Dr. Shaw leads the country's largest black denomination, the National Baptist Convention USA, of which Mr. Lusk and his congregation are members. The churches where each has preached for decades are 20 minutes apart in Philadelphia, and each man preaches politics.

At his White Rock Baptist Church, Dr. Shaw has spoken out against a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. He says he does not believe that the Bible permits such unions, but he pointedly rejects a government ban on them.

"My position on same-sex marriage is not that it is the sole determinant on moral issues," Dr. Shaw said. "Marriage is threatened more by adultery, and we don't have a constitutional ban on that. Alcohol is a threat to the stability of family, and we don't have a constitutional ban on that."

From his own pulpit, Mr. Lusk moves in the opposite direction. In services before Valentine's Day at his Greater Exodus Baptist Church, Mr. Lusk invited worshipers to a Sweethearts Dinner. But he cautioned them from attending with sweethearts of the same sex. "We're living in perilous times," Mr. Lusk said. "We're living in a time when the preachers we looked to are confused, when they're getting their sociology mixed up with their theology."

Mr. Lusk says that the differing priorities of politically liberal and conservative clergy members do not have to fracture the black community. He sees himself, he said, as a bridge between the National Baptist Convention and the White House.

"You don't square these things," Mr. Lusk said about the agendas of liberal and conservative black evangelicals. "You just agree to disagree without being disagreeable."

"The Klan in Memphis when I was a boy denied me the right to think what I wanted," he added. "We shouldn't get to a time in our lives when our own people deny us the same right to think. I think Dr. Shaw and other leaders understand that."

Friday, March 04, 2005

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Triumph of Ossie Davis

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Triumph of Ossie Davis: "Triumph of Ossie Davis
Triumph of Ossie Davis

Actor fought to live artfully, creatively and honorably

Ossie Davis, who died last week at 87, could easily be considered either the dean or the grand old man of black American actors. Almost everyone knew his features and could recognize his voice, even if his name did not immediately come to mind. The public had seen him a good number of times, usually in an older part that demanded an avuncular humor, dignity or seasoned fire.

He was, it seemed, always there, but, of course, he was not always there.

Davis was a man who had chosen his path and who stuck to it, no matter the difficulties it presented.

Born in Georgia the same year as Dizzy Gillespie, 1917, Davis was part of a profession quite limited by the racial conventions he encountered in his early years as an actor.

Davis was not allowed the freedom of expression he witnessed in the music of the many jazz singers and instrumentalists whom he met when drawn north to Harlem just before the beginning of World War II.

At that time, America was just coming out of the Great Depression, but was not fully done with its stereotypes of black people as ne'er-do-wells, peasants-as-dumb-as-rocks, and urban dancing fools who were all feet and hips.

Those times were not too kind to Negroes with artistic ambitions in the world of acting, which meant that the second tier of community theaters and second-rate vehicles were offered most.

In the face of those formidable limitations, Davis did well for himself. He worked the "chitlin circuit" of community theater in the first part of his career. But he did not stop there, nor was he stopped by others.

He crossed over into television and film. There he developed a personal style, one that most often sidestepped the stereotypes of the era, as the minstrel tradition largely shriveled away (though it was reborn in reverse during the blaxploitation era of the black gangster and pimp films of the 1970s; and holds a high position in contemporary rap videos).

He brought forward personalities who actually seemed as real as the white characters in the integrated roles that came his way. Davis' great contribution, when all is said and done, is that he made a national treasure of an Afro-American who was culturally marinated in the South.

It was not an easy thing to do because any ethnic type can be limited by the expectations of outsiders as well as the conventions the group itself uses to the point of tedium.

Ossie Davis went far beyond that at his best and, with Ruby Dee, his wife of more than 50 years, he showed the world what a man and a woman can do in the face of terrible limitations.

They can make art whenever they have the chance.

Originally published on February 6, 2005

Thursday, March 03, 2005

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: New debate over black identity

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: New debate over black identity: "New debate over
black identity
New debate over
black identity

Confusion over Africa and its relationship to black people in this country may be coming to a head very soon.

We now find that more Africans than ever are immigrating to the U.S. and that their presence may dramatically change the discussion on affirmative action.

Over the years, affirmative action has become a free-for-all grab bag that anyone who is not white - or not male! - can use as a precedent for special treatment by the government or the job market, especially where public funds are distributed. That is not, however, how affirmative action was conceived, rightly or wrongly.

Almost a decade ago, I attended a conference called by then-Vice President Al Gore, in which many people spoke on issues of color and ethnicity. One of the most important was Richard Goodwin, who had been involved with affirmative action when it was conceived.

Goodwin said affirmative action had been applied in a number of cases that were not part of the original mission, which was to address the fact that only one group in America had spent more than 200 years enslaved and that its descendants deserved some consideration because of that. It was not intended for people from India, from Africa, from Latin America, from Asia, the Caribbean and so on.

To many, this is a jarring argument because, during the intellectually fuzzy 1960s, black nationalism took such a strong position that there was an aggressive argument for black people to deny their American experience and reach out for Third World identification. Black Americans were supposedly displaced Africans whose identity had been hidden from them.

The impact of this thinking is directly behind the problems that black Americans, especially those in what is called the underclass, face with growing emigration from Africa. Now the threat is coming from their African cousins - not from their brothers and sisters. Actual Africans, hot with immigrant ambition, could now become another "model minority" and displace black American low achievers.

As actual "African-Americans," they could take advantage of affirmative action, which would make even more obvious the limitations suffered by those in the black underclass who are not motivated.

Affirmative action will continue to be discussed, but the debate over American identity is just beginning.

It will be revealing to see just how soon black Americans begin to realize that their American experience is unique and has little to do with the limited subject of color alone.

When black Americans actually throw away sentimentality about Africa and begin to assert their historical identity as Americans and elevate their aspirations along the lines of drive we find common among immigrants, we will see our country improve remarkably.

Originally published on February 24, 2005

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Taking back the music

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Taking back the music: "Taking back the music
Taking back the music

When Bill and Camille Cosby donated $20 million to the historically black Spelman College in 1988, consternation went through the black community because the size of the check was so shocking. No one, even Bill Cosby himself, could have imagined that within two decades the young black women at Spelman would spark what is easily the most important American cultural movement in this new century.

In April of last year, under the leadership of Asha Jennings, who now attends New York University as a law major, the Spelman women gave voice to the fact that they had had enough of the dehumanizing images of black women in rap. They went after the rapper Nelly, who was scheduled to appear on campus, for the images in his "Tip-Drill" video.

Nelly hid under his bed and chose to stay away from that female ire. Maybe it would blow away. It did not.

On Friday, Atlanta was set afire by the emotion and the hard thinking of black women. Spelman and Essence magazine presented a hip hop town meeting at the Cosby Academic Center Auditorium as part of their Take Back the Music campaign. The campaign is a response across generations that Essence has covered in its last two issues and will continue to address as long as necessary. One can easily see that many women find the overt hatred of females and the reductive, pornographic images of the worst hip hop quite disturbing.

The overflow audience filled three additional rooms. Michaela Angela Davis, an editor at Essence, was the moderator. The panelists were Tarshia Stanley, assistant professor of English at Spelman; Moya Bailey, Spelman senior; Kevin Powell, author and activist; Michael Lewellen, vice president of BET public relations; Brian Leach, vice president of A&R, TVT Records, and hip hop artist and actress MC Lyte.

The event lasted three hours. Said Davis: "It was most heated and most uncomfortable for those representing the companies. Lewellen and Leach received the most fire from the audience. These women are in pain and are confused. One woman asked, 'What did we do to make you all seemingly hate us so much?' There was a great silence, and a feeling of collective pain filled the air."

This mysogynistic and brutal turn in music is damaging the image of black American women to the point that they are approached outside of the U.S. like freelance prostitutes.

The Spelman women made their voices heard and have inspired thinking young men to fight the stereotypes and question the images. This is no less than an extension of the civil rights movement. But true change will only come when white females begin to identify with the dues their black sisters must pay as this hostility and exploitation continues to be splattered through radio and television. White women have to open up on white men, who buy four out of five rap recordings. Once they declare it uncool for white guys to support the dehumanization of black women, we will see much more than a sea change.

I'm an optimist. I think the tide is about to turn.

Originally published on February 28, 2005

New York Daily News - Crime File - Stanley Crouch: Hip hop rising on charts ... with a bullet

Hip hop rising on
charts ... with a bullet

It has always been said that you can't take certain people anywhere and then pretend to be surprised if they cause trouble. Gangster rappers are determined to prove that adage true, as we can surmise from the Monday night shooting of one of the members of the entourage that surrounds Curtis Jackson, known to friends and fans as 50 Cent.

The admitted ex-drug dealer's primary claim to authenticity is that he was shot nine times (more a commentary on the marksmanship of the shooter than on his durability). The profits from his "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" have amounted to $50 million, but trouble has followed the young man.

A few months ago there was a mysterious shootout between his bodyguards and unidentified assailants in a New Jersey parking lot.

As of Monday evening, 50 Cent was giving an interview in which he was, as usual, showing less than respect to East Coast rappers when a commotion broke out and bullets were fired from two guns, according to the NYPD. Kevin Reed, one of the bodyguards, was wounded and taken to St. Vincent's Medical Center. And it doesn't stop there, of course. Rapper and self-proclaimed loose woman Lil' Kim is now on trial for perjury concerning a shooting that occurred at the same place in 2001.

What all of this means is that the gangster, an element that never before made it into popular entertainment, is there now. The rock writers thought, at first, that it was all just bluff and show, no more dangerous than green hair and black lipstick, or any other wild posturing in a world where pretending to be bad was more important than actually being bad.

What was learned, however, is there is an element of truth in advertising when one enters the worst of hip hop.

The firing of pistols, the bullying, the violence and the murder are not fake. These people call themselves thugs and they are. They glamorize violence and they use it. They are at the bottom of the evolutionary scale and feel their money gives them the freedom to be just as bad as they want to be.

This is a threat to civilized standards and poses great danger to those naive kids who get too close.

The authorities can handle these thugs. It will not be the first time cops have faced gangsters, sent them to jail or tied tags on their toes when their enemies put them in the morgue.

But even more harmful are the pernicious images that are so common in rap. Coarse, dehumanizing words and videos filled with brutality are hugely profitable. Their misogyny expresses a hatred of black women that is truly appalling - and is now generating a backlash among leaders like Essence magazine's Michaela Angela Davis. These so-called rap artists and their co-conspirators in the recording industry are getting wealthy tearing at the fabric of society by demeaning women. That's a crime that, regrettably, is beyond the reach of the criminal justice system.

Originally published on March 2, 2005

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Archives: New York Daily News

Archives: New York Daily News: "TRUTH ABOUT MALCOLM X; [SPORTS FINAL Edition]
TRUTH ABOUT MALCOLM X; [SPORTS FINAL Edition]
STANLEY CROUCH. New York Daily News. New York, N.Y.
Copyright Daily News, L.P. Feb 21, 2005

Forty years ago today, Malcolm X was shot down in front of his family and an audience of followers at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. When he died, Malcolm X had been estranged from the Nation of Islam for about a year and had begun to call Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the cult, a liar, a fraud and a womanizer.

Those were mighty hot words to direct at the Nation of Islam, which was feared throughout the black community as a known gathering place for violent criminals of all sorts who had been converted in prison, the way Malcolm himself had. Before his ascent in the cult world of homemade Islam, Malcolm Little had been known as "Big Red," a street hustler with a big mouth, a cocaine habit and a willingness to get rowdy and wild if the occasion called for it.

Sent to prison for a series of burglaries, Malcolm turned to Islam, or a version of it, promoted as the "black man's true religion" which held the secrets to liberation from white domination and black self-hatred. A convert, he began the liberation by replacing his "slave name" with an Islamic name or an X.

Malcolm X appeared on the national scene in 1959, presented by the media as the face of what white racism had done to black people. He was a minister of hate who used fiery rhetoric to teach that the white man was a devil invented 6,000 years ago by a mad black scientist. White audiences were appalled or darkly amused by this cartoon version of Islam, but more than a few black Americans were influenced by the Nation of Islam and by its dominant mouthpiece - light-skinned, freckle-faced, red-haired Malcolm X, the voice of black rage incarnate.

Some Negroes left the Christian church, others changed their names. A number stopped eating pork and demanded beef barbecue, and a good many eventually stopped frying their hair and became more nationalistic and hostile to whites, in their own rhetoric and in the rhetoric they liked to hear.

Malcolm X proved how vulnerable Negroes were to hearing another Negro put some hard talk on the white man. The long heritage of silence, both in slavery and the redneck South, was so strong that speech became a much more important act than many realized. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized this, observing that many of those who went to hear Malcolm X were less impressed with his ideas than they were with the contemptuous way he spoke to white power.

Since his death, Malcolm X has been elevated from a heckler of the civil rights moment to a civil rights leader - which he never was - and many people now think that he was as important to his moment as King. He was not, and Malcolm X was well aware of this. But in our country, where liberal contempt for black people is boundless, we should not be surprised to see a minor figure lacquered with media "respect" and thrown in the lap of the black community, where he is passed off as a great hero.

scrouch@edit.nydailynews.com