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Thursday, December 28, 2006

New York Daily News - Stanley Crouch - Stanley Crouch: Letting Saddam rot in jail is the best penalty

New York Daily News - Stanley Crouch - Stanley Crouch: Letting Saddam rot in jail is the best penalty:
Letting Saddam rot in jail is the best penalty



Last night I thought about Saddam Hussein as I was looking at Fritz Lang's 1931 film "M," about a child murderer who terrorizes a German city and even taunts the police with a note in which he promises to continue killing. When the murderer is finally captured, we do not see the trial.

The film ends with three mothers who have lost their daughters to the killer's knife; one of them warns the audience that nothing done to the murderer will bring back their daughters. All we can do is take better care of our children and try to protect them.

I think the same thing about the butcher of Iraq. He is beyond execution.

Ours is a world in which ruthless and brutal men often rise to the top and barricade themselves behind walls of murdered, mutilated and tortured bodies. The degree of pain they bring not only to their individual victims but to their families is both incalculable and far too horrible to ever erase or avenge - even by their deaths, fast or slow.

It was easier for me to identify with the parents of the murdered girls in "M" because I have a daughter and had already lived through the paranoia of imagining her kidnapped, molested and murdered. Still, it is impossible to imagine how the many who lost friends or relatives to the torture and mass murders ordered by Saddam live with the memories.

I will never forget Saddam puffing on a cigar and laughing as though he was being paid for it after having announced death sentences to members of the Iraq assembly, about half of whom were to be shot immediately. He had just taken power and had decided they were enemies of the state. Saddam was really enjoying himself as they gasped and begged for their lives. Their protestations made them even funnier targets of his sense of humor.

So what does one do with a man who demanded that so many die or experience torture under his reign? Should he be killed like his two sons, either of whom would have been an equally cold and monstrous successor? One can easily imagine either of them slithering through the many palaces erected in recognition of megalomania and cruelty.

Should Saddam be executed as slowly as possible or be swathed in white and stoned to death as we hear those savage ululations that have accompanied the deaths of so many in the Middle East?

Though a stoning death sounds fairly good, the pain felt by the guilty man would not come close to what he helped bring into the world. The former dictator of the Central Africa Republic, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, got what I think they all should get and seems the only thing close to justice.

Men who have had an inordinate amount of power and who have gleefully abused it in every way possible should be stripped of everything. They should be held in isolation, fed bland meals and allowed no more than an hour of exercise outside of their cells once a day. Then they would be wedged between their memories of omnipotence and the hard blues of their present circumstances.

Such people are beyond our revenge, but they are not beyond boredom and the thoughts of once having seemed to have it all. Removing their freedom is rough on them but I cannot imagine anything worse than taking away their power to terrify their populace and take from it whatever things might amuse them.

They need to provide us with some amusement, finally. If we smile when thinking of the rabid monster wasting away for the rest of his life, that's about as close as any of us will get to a feeling of satisfied revenge. Anything more is truly a fantasy.

Originally published on December 28, 2006

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

BBC NEWS | Americas | Edwards to launch presidency bid

BBC NEWS | Americas | Edwards to launch presidency bid

Edwards to launch presidency bid
John Edwards, the vice-presidential running mate to Democrat candidate John Kerry in 2004, is to announce a new run for the White House on Thursday.

Staff of Mr Edwards, who is currently on a visit to Louisiana, let slip his plans by accidentally launching his campaign website a day early.

The former senator, 53, is the third man to announce his bid for the Democrat nomination for 2008.

His website carried the logo "Tomorrow begins today" before being shut down.

Mr Edwards' adviser, Jennifer Palmieri, said: "Better a day earlier than a day late."

Mr Edwards will formally reveal his plans on Thursday as he visits the rebuilding efforts in New Orleans that have followed last year's Hurricane Katrina.

He joins outgoing Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich in the running for the Democrat nomination for 2008.

Mr Edwards has headed a University of North Carolina poverty research centre since the 2004 defeat.

Story from BBC NEWS:

The Black Hills Pioneer, Newspapers, South Dakota, SD

The Black Hills Pioneer, Newspapers, South Dakota, SD:
Burying the dead in Pflugerville
By Steve and Cokie Roberts, Black Hills Pioneer December 15, 2006
Email to a friend Voice your opinion
Cheektowaga, N.Y.; Thibodaux, La.; Pflugerville, Texas; Presque Isle, Maine; Westerville, Ohio; Marysville, Wash.; Redding, Calif.; Stokesdale, N.C.; Bapchule, Ariz.; Oxford, Ala.
These are the hometowns of 10 American troops killed recently in Iraq, 10 of almost 3,000 fatalities. And there will be many more. The good folks of Pflugerville and Westerville and Marysville no longer believe their sons and daughters are dying for a good reason, but President Bush seems in no mood to hear them.
Yes, he fired Don Rumsfeld. And yes, he will announce next year "a new way forward." But listen carefully. It's clear the president is not really interested in a "new way" at all. He still firmly believes that his old way is right, that the war was justified, that "victory" is the only way to keep Stokesdale safe.
His own words reflect no doubt or regret: "Iraq is a central component of defeating the extremists who want to establish a safe haven in the Middle East, extremists who would use their safe haven from which to attack the United States. This is really the calling of our time, that is, to defeat the extremists and radicals."
But the president has not only lost the "battle for hearts and minds" across the Arab world, he's lost it across the United States as well. The people of Bapchule and Oxford no longer believe his words or have confidence in his judgment, and that's his own fault. Virtually everything he has ever said to them about this disastrous war - from "Mission Accomplished" to "absolutely, we're winning" - has been wrong.
At one time, the American people might have shared his vision of a free, self-governing Iraq, but not any more. He has squandered their trust and betrayed their patriotism and the parents of Thibodaux and Cheektowaga no longer want to sacrifice their children to a lost cause.
The elections certainly showed that, and since his party's defeat, the president's standing has continued to deteriorate. In the latest CBS News poll, only 15 percent agree with him that America is winning the war, and even his closest supporters are jumping ship. Fewer than half of all Republicans, and only one-third of all conservatives, approve of the president's war strategy.
In a USA Today poll, three out of four Americans say Iraq is now engaged in a "civil war." How does the president convince parents in Redding and Presque Isle that it is worth American lives to keep Muslim sects, thousands of miles away, from slaughtering each other? The answer: he can't.
That's why Republicans who backed Bush through the elections are now turning against him. Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, who faces a tough campaign in 2008, broke ranks with an extraordinary speech: "I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way being blown up by the same bombs day after day. That is absurd. It may even be criminal."
Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska says the president "misunderstood, misread, misplanned and mismanaged our honorable intentions in Iraq with an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam."
But how can these critics exert any leverage over a president who is not running again and seems detached from reality? The hardliners in his own party - like Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney, who don't have to stand for office, or send their own children to war - are still telling Bush to ignore the "surrender monkeys," as one headline put it.
As for the Democrats, they're in a terrible bind. As the Baker-Hamilton commission demonstrated, the Bush Administration has made such a total mess that there is no such thing as a good option in Iraq. The panel's two main suggestions - negotiating with Iran and Syria and turning over security to Iraqi forces - have been widely derided as unrealistic, and with good reason. Neither one holds much promise of working. But then, nothing else does, either.
That's why the Democrats are lying low and insisting that "the ball is in the president's court." That might not be a courageous position but it's certainly an understandable one. This is Bush's War. He broke Iraq and now he owns it, not the Democrats.
The nation is facing an enormous tragedy. The current president can't or won't get out of Iraq, but staying means Pflugerville will keep burying its children. Only a new president will be able to stop the dying.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

And the Color of the Year Is ... - New York Times

And the Color of the Year Is ... - New York Times:
December 22, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

And the Color of the Year Is ...

I know that you should never generalize about global warming from your own weather, but as a longtime resident of Washington, D.C., it’s hard not to, considering that it’s been so balmy this winter season I’m half expecting the cherry blossoms to come out for Christmas. In fact, my wife was rummaging through her closet the other day and emerged to tell me she needed a whole new wardrobe — “a global warming wardrobe,” clothes that are summer weight but winter colors.

For this, and other reasons, had I been editing Time magazine I would not have opted for the “you” in YouTube as Person of the Year — although that was very clever. No, I’d have run an all-green Time cover under the headline, “Color of the Year.” Because I think that the most important thing to happen this past year was that living and thinking “green” — that is, mobilizing for the environmental/energy challenge we now face — hit Main Street.

For so many years the term “green” could never scale. It was trapped in a corner by its opponents, who defined it as “liberal,” “tree-hugging,” “girly-man,” “unpatriotic,” “vaguely French.”

No more. We reached a tipping point this year — where living, acting, designing, investing and manufacturing green came to be understood by a critical mass of citizens, entrepreneurs and officials as the most patriotic, capitalistic, geopolitical, healthy and competitive thing they could do. Hence my own motto: “Green is the new red, white and blue.”

How did we get here? It was a combination of factors: Katrina, Al Gore’s terrific movie, the growing awareness that our gas guzzlers are financing the terrorists, preachers and rogue regimes we’re fighting, the real profits that major companies like G.E. and DuPont are making by going green, and the fact that even the Pentagon has given birth to “Green Hawks,” who are obsessed with powering our army with less energy.

The most telling sign was the last election, when “being green became pragmatic,” said the Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg. “No one thought that running an ad on alternative energy was something for an elite target audience anymore. The only debate we had was whether it was one of the three things a candidate should talk about or the only thing.”

And now, Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has earned its black eyes for labor practices. But the world’s biggest retailer lately has gotten the green bug — in part to improve its image, but also because it has found that being more energy efficient is highly profitable for itself and its customers.

Wal-Mart has opened two green stores where it is experimenting with alternative building materials, lighting, power systems and designs, the best of which it plans to spread to all its outlets. I just visited the one in McKinney, Tex. From the big wind turbine in the parking lot and solar panels on key walls, which provide 15 percent of the store’s electricity, to the cooking oil from fried chicken that is recycled in its bio-boiler and heats the store in winter, to the shift to L.E.D lights in all exterior signs and grocery and freezer cases — which last longer and sharply reduce heat and therefore the air-conditioning bill — you know you’re not in your parents’ Wal-Mart.

Other big companies are now sending teams to inspect the green Wal-Marts, and customers are asking the manager how they can adopt these innovations at home.

“When I started having people stop me in the aisles and say, ‘How do I do that?’ or ‘Can I do that?’ that’s when we really started realizing that this isn’t just a small thing, this can be really large and can be very rewarding to the planet,” said the store’s manager, Brent Allen.

Hey, the more energy-saving bulbs Wal-Mart sells, the more innovation it triggers, the more prices go down. That’s how you get scale. And scale is everything if you want to change the world, but to achieve scale you have to make sure that green energy sources — biofuels, clean coal, and solar, wind and nuclear power — can be delivered as cheaply as oil, gas and dirty coal. That will require a gasoline or carbon tax to keep the price of fossil fuels up so investors in green-tech will not get undercut while they drive innovation forward and prices down. The U.S. Congress has to stop running from this fact.

Because while our embrace of green has finally reached a tipping point, the tipping point on climate change and species loss is also fast approaching, if it’s not already here. There’s no time to lose. “People see an endangered species every day now when they look in the mirror,” said the environmentalist Rob Watson. “It is not about the whales anymore.”

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Is Obama the new 'black'? - Los Angeles Times

Is Obama the new 'black'? - Los Angeles Times:

Gregory Rodriguez:

Is Obama the new 'black'?

The possible presidential candidacy of the biracial senator has sparked an illuminating debate on race.

December 17, 2006

WE KNOW this: Barack Obama is a rising star. He's a powerful speaker and a gifted writer. He is the only African American serving in the U.S. Senate. But is he black?

That's what New York Daily News columnist Stanley Crouch asked last month, and his answer was decidedly "no." No, Crouch wasn't just employing the old "blacker than thou" canard. Nor was he concerned with the fact that Obama was raised by his white mother. Rather, he was treating blackness not just as a racial (shared biology) identity but as an ethnic (shared historical experience) one. And isn't that what the switch of terms from "black" to "African American" was all about?

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Think back to the late 1980s, when the Rev. Jesse Jackson became the most prominent black to call for the adoption of the term African American. "Just as we were called colored, but were not that," he said, "and then Negro, but not that, to be called black is just as baseless…. Every ethnic group in this country has a reference to some land base, some historical cultural base. African Americans have hit that level of maturity." The problem, of course, is that most black Americans are descendants of slaves who had their African cultural heritage brutally stripped from them.

What Crouch is arguing is that what the majority of black Americans share is their ancestors' experience as human chattel, brought to these shores in the grips of chains. Slavery and segregation not only forged a rigid racial line between black and white but created a shared ethnic experience. For Crouch, the fact that Obama's father — whom Obama met only once — was a black Kenyan who came to the U.S. to study at Harvard and the University of Hawaii removes him from the traditional black American narrative.

Author and essayist Debra Dickerson agrees. She believes that much of Obama's popularity among whites stems from the fact that his family wasn't part of the slave experience and therefore elicits no feelings of historical guilt. "The swooning from white people is a paroxysm of self-congratulation," she said. But Dickerson also thinks that Obama's thoughtful embrace of his African lineage has the potential to broaden the definition of what it means to be black in the United States. Indeed, the possibility of an Obama campaign for the presidency has already sparked an unusual — and potentially illuminating — debate about race.

It's true that in our country, blackness is not a choice but rather something thrust on people who have any hint of African lineage. Traditionally, anyone with "one drop of African blood" has been considered black. But in recent decades, more children of black-white unions are choosing to buck the "one-drop rule" and call themselves biracial.

But in this respect, Obama is a traditionalist. He clearly chooses a black identity, but he does so even as he embraces his Midwestern Anglo roots. In other words, rather than straddling two identities or creating a new mixed one, he prefers to place himself within a single category and then expand it. In his lyrical yet interminable 1995 memoir, "Dreams From My Father," Obama tells of his journey toward accepting his absent father's legacy and coming to terms with his feelings of alienation from both sides of his family tree. Ultimately rejecting old-fashioned racial nationalism and narrow notions of authenticity, Obama encourages Americans to accept their messy racial inheritance. And though he admits that his personal story bears little resemblance to that of most African American families, he chose to graft his own personal story onto theirs.

The one-drop rule was developed to protect slavery and to maintain segregation. By defining all mixed children as black and compelling them to live in black communities, the rule enabled whites to believe in the fantasy of their own racial purity. By extension, blacks also came to embrace rigid notions of their relative purity from whiteness.

BUT LOOK closely at the historical record and you'll find that plenty of prominent black political figures were at least half white, including Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. In addition to his African ancestry, W.E.B. Du Bois could trace his roots back to France and the Netherlands. During Reconstruction, all but three of the 23 blacks in the House and Senate were some mixture of black and white. The list goes on.

The difference between now and then, of course, is the element of choice. Barack Obama does not remind Americans of the racial divide or of the chains that first created it. Instead, he points to an alternative history that Americans have never been able to achieve. "Symbolically, Obama's parentage is the founding couple that America never accepted," said Werner Sollors, who teaches African American literature at Harvard.

Crouch is right: Obama does not remind us of this nation's original sin. But he does remind us of an opportunity that we as a nation are continually missing.

Critic of Oprah really insulted all black people

Critic of Oprah really insulted all black people:

Posted on Mon, Dec. 11, 2006
IN MY OPINION

Critic of Oprah really insulted all black people


lpitts@MiamiHerald.com

The rappers are mad at Oprah again.

Just one rapper, actually: the gentleman who calls himself 50 Cent, but whose 1994 mug shot identifies him as prisoner No. 94R6378: Jackson, Curtis. Mr. Cent -- ''Fiddy'' to the cognoscenti -- was one of a trio of rappers (Ice Cube and Ludacris were the others) who lambasted the Queen of All Media last summer for being insufficiently willing to promote hip-hop. Now, Mr. Cent renews the attack.

In an interview in Elle magazine(!), he charges Winfrey with being not black enough. Winfrey, he says, ''started out with black women's views but has been catering to middle-aged white American women for so long that she's become one herself.'' He also calls her an ''Oreo,'' which, for those not fluent in black-on-black insult, means black on the outside, white on the inside.

Mr. Cent, should it not be painfully obvious from the foregoing, is an idiot. Worse, he's an idiot with a painfully transparent need for approval from the woman he has spent so much energy denigrating. I'll leave it to the mental-health community to explain what that means. I'm here only to make one point:

It's not easy being O.

Yeah, I know: Cry me a river. And $1.5 billion (the reported size of Winfrey's fortune) buys a lot of Kleenex.

FAMOUS AND BLACK

I'm not trying to engage your sympathy for the most powerful woman (sorry, Hillary, beg pardon, Condi) in America. I'm only trying to say it's a hard trick to manage, being both famous and black. Or, at least, famous to the degree that Oprah Winfrey is -- i.e., to the degree that you are recognized as readily in white homes as in black.

To reach that level of renown is to find yourself pulled between competing expectations. On the one side, they praise you for ''transcending race'' -- whatever that means -- and they get resentful if you remind them of the ways you are not like them. On the other side, they are alert to any sign that you have Forgotten Where You Came From, and they will call you out if they think you're suffering racial amnesia.

I've always thought Oprah Winfrey handled those competing pulls with a rare grace. She produces programming (The Legends Ball) that celebrates the passages of great black women, she promotes black authors (full disclosure: I was once one of them), she speaks out on racial issues, she makes a movie (Beloved) on the horror of slavery, she builds a school in South Africa -- and yet, somehow, white women don't fear her, still love her. Even when she rebukes them for racial insensitivity.

I remember when one of those women, intending a compliment, told Winfrey she didn't think of her as black. And Oprah said, Whoa. Black, she explained, gently, but emphatically, is exactly what she is. And her predominantly white audience, as I recall, cheered. That's a minor miracle.

BLACK EXPERIENCES DIFFER

Granted, I watch daytime television infrequently. So maybe in those dozens of Oprah shows I haven't seen, Winfrey proves herself the black man hater and white woman worshipper that black critics often depict. But you'll forgive me if I doubt. You'll forgive me if I suspect that the Oprahs I haven't seen track pretty closely to the ones I have: celebrity interviews, pop psychology and self-actualization strategies for women of a certain age and station in life.

It's hard for me to understand what's wrong with that, or inherently ''not black'' about it. 50 Cent makes the mistake a lot of white people do: assuming that there is but one monolithic black experience and that it is street, poor and hard-core.

Which doesn't insult just Oprah Winfrey. It insults all of us because it denies a simple fact: Black is many things. That's something Mr. Cent should consider next time he's holed up in his mansion in Farmington, Conn. (median income $67,000, black population 1.5 percent), writing rhymes about how hard life is for poor black folks on mean streets.

The N-word, by any spelling, is still hateful

The N-word, by any spelling, is still hateful:
Posted on Mon, Dec. 04, 2006
IN MY OPINION

The N-word, by any spelling, is still hateful


lpitts@MiamiHerald.com

The N-word has had few friends better than comedian Paul Mooney.

Put aside that the word was long a staple of his act. Put aside the promotional pamphlet he once sent out that screamed the word in big, fat type. Consider instead what he told anyone who argued that blacks should stop using the word. He replied that he said it a hundred times every morning. ``It keeps my teeth white.''

Last week, the selfsame Paul Mooney joined the Rev. Jesse Jackson and California Rep. Maxine Waters in a news conference asking black folks to stop using the N-word. In other news, there are unconfirmed reports of pigs flying above Times Square.

Mooney says he was ''cured'' of his N-word addiction by Michael Richards' infamous meltdown last month at the Laugh Factory. I tend to think he's not the only one. From strangers online to my neighbor down the street, everywhere I turn lately, I find black folk debating the stubborn insistence some of us have on using this word.

Which leaves me as much vexed as pleased. More power to them for belatedly getting religion. Still, are you telling me that nearly 20 years after hip-hop made that word unavoidable, it takes some white TV actor losing his mind to make black folks see what should have been obvious all along?

A FORM OF SELF-HATRED

I mean, what do we learn from Richards' rant that we should not have known already from Snoop Dogg or Ice Cube? That the word is ugly? That it is hateful? That it demeans, denigrates, diminishes and denies? Anyone with the barest historical memory already knew these things. So where was black outrage when black rappers began putting that word into the minds and mouths of black children? When we -- African Americans -- began hating ourselves to a beat?

And if I hear one more Negro offer a pseudo-intellectual justification for that self-loathing, I will not be responsible for my actions afterward. Don't give me the 'it means something different because we spell it with an `a' on the end'' speech. Spare me the ''it doesn't mean black, it means a bad person of any race'' load of bull.

And for mercy sake, don't subject me to the addled argument profferred by John Ridley in December's Esquire. He says that, as whites feel no particular solidarity with their impoverished racial brethren in Appalachia, it is time for ''ascended blacks'' to bid farewell to, as he puts it, ``niggers.''

Don't tell me any of that, because it quails in the face of historical fact. We are talking about the word that was used as Gus Clarke's back was split open with a whip and salt was rubbed into the wounds. The word that was used when Mary Turner's baby was cut from her womb with a knife and stomped to death in its birth cries. The word that was used when James Byrd was tied to the back of a pickup truck and dragged until his body was torn to pieces.

NO DIFFERENCE

To the people who did these things, it did not matter how it was spelled. They knew precisely what race they were referring to. And they saw no difference between ''ascended blacks'' and any other kind. Nor should that last surprise us. In the calculus of race, I am not my brother's keeper. I am my brother. Individuality is the first casualty of bigotry.

Black people, like other Americans, tend to flee from the burdens and demands of history. History, ours especially, hurts too much.

But what Michael Richards taught, and what blacks may be learning belatedly, is that history doesn't care. Not about your feelings, not about your rationalizations, not about your subtleties of spelling.

Because they don't realize that, some blacks, Paul Mooney prominent among them, seem surprised to learn that this word still hates us. That it always has and always will.

And if Richards is the catalyst that finally forces them to understand this, there's only one thing I can say to him:

Thank you.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Revisiting Putin’s Soul - New York Times

Revisiting Putin’s Soul - New York Times:
December 4, 2006
Editorial

Revisiting Putin’s Soul

The fatal poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London, along with all the other suspicious murders and attempted murders of Kremlin critics in recent months, poses fundamental questions about Russia, and how the West should treat it.

Since most of these crimes remain unsolved, we can only speculate about who is behind them. We would certainly prefer not to suspect that anyone connected to President Vladimir Putin is involved, even if the attacks have the hallmarks of professional assassinations. The West needs a good relationship with Russia and its cooperation in containing nuclear proliferation and fighting terrorism. No one wants to return to the time when Russia was seen as an enemy.

Yet the recent events — a Russian defector is killed by a radioactive element, a Russian economic reformer suddenly is sickened in Ireland, a crusading Russian reporter is shot down in her doorway — cannot simply be dismissed as unrelated occurrences, as Mr. Putin would prefer.

What is indisputable is that a culture of lawlessness is spreading throughout Russia, and Mr. Putin has done little to stop it. On the contrary, he has weakened Russia’s democracy by stuffing his administration with shadowy fellow veterans of the old K.G.B. and by fanning Russians’ deep-seated feelings of insecurity and mistrust of the outside world.

Under the guise of restoring Russian honor, Mr. Putin’s government is quashing the freedoms won by the post-Soviet press, judiciary and legislature. Government critics have been branded “enemies of Russia” on lists that circulate openly in government circles. The Kremlin claims to see American wiles behind every real or perceived setback.

The West has no choice but to continue dealing with Russia, and with Mr. Putin. But when Kremlin critics are attacked or murdered, the West must demand a full, transparent investigation and punishment for the criminals — no matter who they are. It is time to let Mr. Putin know that we are looking hard into his soul, and we don’t like what we see.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

How to Fight Poverty: 8 Programs That Work - New York Times

How to Fight Poverty: 8 Programs That Work - New York Times:
November 16, 2006
Talking Points

How to Fight Poverty: 8 Programs That Work

Ask Americans whether they want to spend taxpayer money to educate girls abroad, and 80 percent say yes. Do they want to give food and medical assistance in poor countries? Eighty four percent do. Prevent and treat AIDS? That’s 79 percent.

But ask them whether they favor foreign aid, and only a bare majority does.

This disconnect occurs because a lot of Americans are concerned about how foreign aid is spent. Most Americans think Washington should help the needy abroad. But they worry the money will be wasted.

There are too many stories about taxpayer funds winding up in the Swiss bank accounts of dictators, financing dams and highways that never get built or paying exorbitant salaries to American consultants. Americans also wonder when they hear about how miserable life in some countries continues to be: why doesn’t foreign aid seem to be doing any good?

One reason is that not much money goes to combating that misery.

When pollsters ask people in the United States to guess how much their government spends on foreign aid, the median response is 25 percent of the federal budget – and Americans think that it should be 10 percent. The real number is less than 1 percent. And only a tiny percentage of that goes to fight poverty.

That percentage was even smaller during the Cold War, when a large chunk of American foreign aid went into dictators’ pockets or to their helicopter fleets. Its purpose was not to help people, but to buy friends.

But even today, 39 percent of the State Department's foreign aid budget goes to military aid, supporting congenial governments like Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan, and to fighting drugs.

Of the money that is marked for development – to help poor countries get richer – a lot goes to programs to help a nation’s central bank become more independent or to train congressional staff. This is important work, but it does not fight poverty. And a lot of what remains goes to help people in emergencies – feeding the hungry after crop failures, or rebuilding after a tsunami.

Not much is left for preventing crop failures in the first place. President Bush has proposed to give $23.7 billion in aid grants to poor countries in 2007. But even by the most generous calculations, only $3.7 billion is actually anti-poverty aid.

If antipoverty efforts do not help as much as Americans would like, one reason is that their government is spending far less than they think it is. This is unfortunate because there are programs out there with a proven track record of working — of lifting poor people out of poverty, and keeping them out — some run by governments, some by charity groups, and a few by businesses.

Here are some particularly effective ones.

I. The Gold Standard: Universal Vaccination

Universal vaccination is cost-effective foreign aid at its best. It is so successful, so widely considered essential, that many people today do not realize that it began only 20 years ago.

When Unicef and the World Health Organization started a global effort to vaccinate children against common childhood diseases in 1985, they were met with widespread skepticism. Vaccination rates for children in many countries were appalling – only 20 percent of the world's children in 1980 had gotten their third shot of D.P.T. (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) on time, the conventional measure of vaccine coverage.

But the program has had stunning success. By 1990, 75 percent of children had completed their D.P.T. shots on time. Bangladesh went from 9 percent D.P.T. completion in 1987 to 98 percent five years later. Worldwide, children were being immunized against polio and measles as well.

The logistics are heroic. Wars are routinely halted for inoculation campaigns. Entire countries get vaccinated in two days. Measles vaccines are successfully kept cold during day-long journeys by bicycle and canoe.

A full course of immunization, including everything in the supply chain, costs only $30. In the last 20 years this campaign has saved 20 million lives. It has given hundreds of millions of children a better start.

In the 1990s, however, the world’s attention turned to other problems, and vaccination rates slipped backwards. Bangladesh fell back to 66 percent in 1999. Every year 27 million children — a quarter of the world’s children — go unvaccinated against the basic diseases. Two to three million of these children die. Even for those who survive, these diseases can be crushing, forcing children to drop out of school, and parents to spend time and money they cannot afford on doctors and care for their sick children.

The challenge today is two-fold: to improve basic vaccine coverage, and to put new vaccines into global use. Vaccines now exist to protect children against common diarrheal and pneumococcal killers, against hepatitis B and a common influenza. But they are mainly in use in wealthy countries. Soon there may be a malaria vaccine as well. All these must become part of the universal vaccine package.

Help has come from an organization launched in 2000, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization. Financed by governments, organizations such as the World Bank and Unicef and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, GAVI gives poor countries money to improve their infrastructure and logistics – and then gives them more if they actually achieve improved vaccination rates. It also helps assure a predictable market for new vaccines, which encourages drug makers to produce them in large quantities. It has helped expand both basic and new vaccine coverage – because of GAVI, for example, 90 million children have been immunized against hepatitis B(pdf).

Immunization became a victim of its success, but close attention and new partnerships are now reviving vaccines. It is a lesson that eternal vigilance is needed, even to protect a program that became venerable practically overnight.

II. Give Poor People an Ownership Stake

Look around the edges of any large third world city and you will see vast settlements built by the residents themselves. Migrants from the countryside claim empty plots in nighttime land invasions, put up a blanket with a pole or a cardboard roof and begin stockpiling bricks. Their livelihoods are similarly jerry-rigged. A man will nail together a booth, at which he can sit and repair his neighbors’ shoes. A woman will open a window to the street to turn her living room into a mini-bodega, selling cooking oil and rice.

Most people surveying these kingdoms of dust and hope see only poverty. But Hernando de Soto saw something else – untapped wealth. Mr. De Soto, a Peruvian economist, realized that the world’s poor own trillions of dollars’ worth of assets. But their houses, plots of land and businesses lacked formal title – and so could not be used to do all the things that people in wealthy countries do to turn a little money into a lot of money.

Without title, people can not sell stakes in their businesses, use their homes as collateral for loans, buy insurance, or form limited liability corporations to reduce their personal risk. They cannot get credit in banks. They do not improve their businesses because their investment may suddenly vanish at any moment. They must spend money and time bribing the police to keep from being kicked off their land. In many cases they cannot even get electricity and telephone service.

Mr. De Soto’s crusade, which has now marched to El Salvador, Egypt, Mexico, Honduras, Tanzania, El Salvador, the Philippines, Haiti, Albania and elsewhere, attempts to turn these dead assets into living capital. All countries, of course, have ways to register property. But in most poor nations, they involve so much red tape that they are essentially useless for the poor. Mr. De Soto had tried an experiment in Peru – he established a two-sewing machine garment factory in a Lima slum and hired five college students to get all the necessary permits to legalize it. He claims it took them 289 days and cost them 31 times the average monthly minimum wage.

Mr. De Soto likes to say that when he walks through the rice fields in Bali, a different dog barks whenever he crosses from one farm to another. The dogs recognize the assets under their masters’ control. But the legal system does not.

To change this, Mr. De Soto founded an organization in Lima called the Institute for Liberty and Democracy. It carries out research on the informal sector. But the governments of Peru and El Salvador have also hired the I.L.D. to run registries that give poor people simple, quick ways to get title for their land, homes and businesses. It also helps them use those titles productively. In other countries, I.L.D. is helping governments design such agencies or train government officials to do this work.

The I.L.D.’s work in Peru means that legalizing a business can now be done in a day, by visiting a single desk. The cost dropped from $1,200 to $174. The group says that between 1990 and 1995, 300,000 titles were registered in urban Lima (pdf), and the value of the underlying land doubled by 1998. Hundreds of thousands of new businesses have been legalized. Poor people saved millions in administrative costs, and Peru raised millions of dollars in new taxes.

Getting title, of course, does not mean that poor people can necessarily turn it into higher incomes. To use newly legal assets, the poor must still contend with banks that won't lend to them, and courts that require bribes and put up other hurdles. Tackling these issues may help solve one of the most vexing drawbacks of globalization and the market economy – in much of the third world, they have tended to benefit only the wealthiest. But establishing property rights is a necessary first step.

III. Microcredit: The 62-Cent Solution

In 1976, a Bangladeshi economist named Muhammad Yunus came upon a group of 42 artisans – but perhaps the more appropriate word is “slaves.” They made crafts such as chair seats, and used materials lent to them each day at exorbitant rates of interest by the buyer of their work. They were forever in debt, unable to turn enough profit to buy their materials in advance at market prices. Mr. Yunus gave the group a loan from his pocket that averaged 62 cents per person. With that, they bought their freedom.

Twenty years later, the Grameen Bank, the organization Mr. Yunus founded, has lent small sums of money to 6.7 million people in Bangladesh, almost all of them women, many of whom had never before touched money. It offers savings, insurance, home mortgages, pension funds, scholarships, credit for families to buy fertilizer, build latrines or dig wells, and a program of no-interest loans for beggars, so they can offer candy or dried chiles for sale as they go house to house.

Microcredit now reaches nearly 100 million clients in more than 100 countries. The World Bank has found that microcredit accounted for 40 percent of the entire reduction in moderate poverty in rural Bangladesh —and that it had an even bigger impact on extremely poor borrowers.

Microcredit raises an entire village’s standard of living – even non-borrowers’ lives improve. (Lending to men, by contrast, proved not to affect poverty at all.) Studies of microcredit programs all over the world show that it produces higher incomes and better-fed children, and improves a family’s ability to survive illness or drought.

To many people, the name Grameen is synonymous with microcredit. But the Grameen Bank is not even the largest microcredit lender in Bangladesh – that is the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee. Nor were Mr. Yunus’s 62 cent loans the first – the earliest documented microloan took place in 1973, in Recife, Brazil, lent by Accion International , a group that has now lent over $10 billion.

But what Mr. Yunus and Grameen did – why they are sharing the 2006 Nobel Prize for Peace -- was show how an idea helping a few hundred people could be expanded to help millions. Grameen has also struck the proper balance – it is sustainable and profitable, with $600 million in savings from borrowers as capital. At the same time, it has never forgotten that its mission is to fight poverty, not maximize profit. It charges interest rates far lower than other commercial microlenders.

Grameen developed a model now in use globally. Although it is a bank, in many ways it is the opposite of a bank. Traditional banks in poor countries do not lend to the poor — administrative costs are too high, and the poor were thought to be bad risks. Normal banks stick close to business districts, require collateral, and lend mainly to men.

Grameen turned this on its head. Instead of collateral, Grameen depends on social pressure to guarantee loans. Women form borrowing groups of five, and must pay back their loans regularly for others in the group to be able to get one; borrowers must pledge to eliminate dowry, eat vegetables, have small families and educate their children — requirements not likely to be found at conventional banks.

It has been a decade since Grameen Bank accepted any donations or took loans. But hundreds of newer microfinance groups still look for donors. Accion International, for example, creates new microfinance institutions in 22 countries, which stop needing help once they become profitable. It also trains traditional banks in how to lend to the poor.

Microcredit started as an antipoverty program, but continues as a business. That is one reason it has grown and grown while other forms of aid fight for governments’ dollars and attention.

IV. Bribe the Poor

In 1995, the Mexican peso crashed and the economy contracted by 6 percent. At the time, Santiago Levy, the deputy finance minister, realized that the country’s antipoverty programs were going to fail its poor. The programs were a hodgepodge of food subsidies, adopted in response to powerful food producers. They were inefficient because they targeted foods everyone ate, rich and poor. Some even targeted foods the poor don’t eat, such as bread – poor Mexicans eat tortillas.

Mr. Levy saw a looming disaster – but also an opportunity to build political support for an antipoverty program that worked. Stealthily, he organized a pilot project to test a new idea in Campeche, far away from the capital so it would draw little notice. He began a program to pay poor mothers to keep their children in school and take their kids to the health clinic. He compared the results to poverty figures in a group of similar villages without the program. It was a great success. Data in hand, he persuaded President Ernesto Zedillo to phase in the new program and phase out the food subsidies.

Oportunidades, formerly called Progresa, is now embraced by all parties in Mexico and, with financing from the World Bank, is helping virtually every poor family. It not only focuses antipoverty spending on those who really need it, it does so in a way that encourages families to break the cycle of poverty for their children.

The average family in Oportunidades gets $35 a month – about a quarter of the rural family income. Families with many children in school can get up to $153 a month, a ceiling imposed to avoid providing incentive to have more children.

From the beginning, Oportunidades built in rigorous evaluation. Those studies have shown that it does focus its help on Mexico’s poorest people, and that the money is producing good results. Children are bigger and healthier. Oportunidades has also cut child labor and led to more schooling – in rural areas, for example, the number of children starting high school increased 85 percent. Moreover, by paying women, Oportunidades has augmented their power inside the family without increasing domestic violence.

There are fashions in foreign aid, and Oportunidades is hot. The World Bank sings its praises (pdf). So far 25 countries have adopted some version. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg just announced he is looking for donors to finance a pilot program to test whether New Yorkers, too, can be bribed out of poverty.

V. Link Up the Villages

When Shenggen Fan, now 45, was growing up in a village in China, it could take two days to get to Shanghai by motorboat and then bus. It took him an hour to walk to high school. Farmers grew only products they could eat or sell to their neighbors.

Now when he lands in Shanghai, he can drive to his family’s home in three hours. The high school is a 10-minute bike ride from his house. Farmers now buy animal feed and fertilizer from trucks visiting the village, and sell other visitors the cereals, watermelons and pigs they raise. The village has grown much more prosperous.

What has changed? Roads. Dirt trails were first replaced with all-weather roads made of broken bricks mixed with dirt, with drainage. Then the road to town was paved.

Almost everything people need to be able to live decently requires a road. A good dirt road with ditches is fine, or one built by villagers themselves with local stones or locally-made bricks. It just needs to be a road that allows a farmer to push his products to market in a hand cart, and that lets buses and trucks get from the village to the main trunk roads. The villagers themselves can maintain it.

Roads allow farmers to market their products, and bring in fertilizer and seeds. They let rural residents take non-farming jobs in nearby towns. Sick people can get to the hospital in time. Roads make it easier for the government to bring in water and electricity. Children can get to school faster, which means more will go. “With roads, people travel out and bring in new knowledge,” says Mr. Fan. “They change their behavior. Roads are a window to the outside world. In extreme cases, roads are life-saving – in the Ethiopian famine of 1984 and 1985, thousands of people died because they could not be reached by food aid.”

Today Mr. Fan is a Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington. The studies he and his colleagues have done on how poor governments should spend their money show that building small feeder roads is one of the single most effective ways to fight poverty (pdf). In India, it would be the single most effective antipoverty program, the group concluded. Feeder roads would also be among the best ways to spend money in Africa and China.

Rural roads are not glamorous. Government officials want to build highways, not feeder roads. China, for example, has expanded its national highway system by 44 percent a year since 1988. But rural roads have expanded only 3 percent a year. In Africa, fewer than 10 percent of feeder roads are currently passable during the rainy season, effectively cutting off villages for months at a time.

Thirty years ago, the World Bank concentrated on infrastructure. But many of its projects to build dams, highways and electrical plants were plagued with corruption and waste, or ended up hurting poor people. Building infrastructure, including roads, got a bad name. What's needed today is the infrastructure equivalent of microcredit – small projects for villagers that are a necessary first step out of poverty.

VI. Target the Decision-Makers

Suppose you are a parent in rural India, or parts of Africa, or China. You are poor. School is available for your children. But you may have to pay school fees, and you must buy uniforms and books. The nearest school is in the next village – a dangerous walk for a young girl.

Besides, you need your daughter at home to fetch water and take care of her younger siblings. You know that education is important – but it is your sons who will support you when you are old, while your daughters will become part of their husbands’ families. Your decision is easy – the boys, and only the boys, go to school.

Gene Sperling, formerly President Clinton’s national economic advisor, now at the Council on Foreign Relations, likes to talk about the central paradox in girls’ education: Going to school is good for girls. Educated girls make more money. They are more productive farmers and have smaller, healthier, better-educated families of their own. They are even less likely to catch the AIDS virus. Educating girls is also great policy for a nation. Closing the educational gender gap boosts economic growth.

But educating girls is not necessarily good for parents – and they make the decisions. Most poor people in the world live in societies in which the girl marries into her husband’s family. Educating a daughter, these cultures say, is like watering a neighbor’s garden. Parents will send their girls to school only if the costs are very low.

That’s one reason why far fewer girls than boys go to school. Of children in primary school today, 150 million will drop out before they finish – two thirds of them girls. In Africa, the majority of girls do not finish primary school.

School is often very expensive. School fees in some countries, such as the Congo, are more than the national per capita income. When Tanzania abolished school fees in January, 2002, school attendance doubled overnight – and most of the new students were girls. There are other costs. Parents must buy books and uniforms. When Kenya tried abolishing fees for uniforms, books and school construction in some places, students stayed in school 15 percent longer.

The other cost to parents is the lost value of the girls’ work at home. To solve this problem, many countries now pay families to send children, especially girls, to school. It is a central feature of Oportunidades-style cash payments, for example. Bangladesh's government provides 15 to 20 kilograms of grain, mainly wheat, per month to families of poor boys and girls if they maintain 85 percent attendance in primary school. The government also pays a stipend to all girls in rural areas in grades 6 through 10, covering the cost of tuition, exams, books, supplies, uniforms, transportation and even kerosene for lamps to study by. The girls must keep up minimum grades, attend classes and not get married until out of school. This program has boosted girls’ enrollment from 27 percent to 60 percent.

Bangladesh is also home to the schools run by BRAC, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee. BRAC's community schools have doubled the completion rates of government schools by overcoming the hidden obstacles to educating girls.. BRAC runs more than 30,000 schools for poor students, many in places where the nearest government school is far away. Teachers are women – often local high school graduates given training by BRAC. These features reassure parents that their daughters will be safe on the way to school and while in class. School schedules work around harvests and allow girls to be home during peak chore times. BRAC schools are run in close consultation with parents and do everything possible to help parents give their daughters the gift of learning.

VII. A Green Revolution for Africa

What was probably the single most effective antipoverty program in world history began in northern Mexico in the 1940s. Test plots showed that new varieties of dwarf wheat resisted many plant pests and diseases, and doubled or tripled the usual yields. Similar improvements followed in corn and rice. The Rockefeller and Ford Foundations spread the seeds to India and Pakistan, and parts of Asia, Latin America and North Africa, along with irrigation techniques, pesticides and fertilizer.

The Green Revolution is not yet over – productivity continues to increase, and even faster than in the early days. It has prevented famine and brought improvements in income, health and survival to hundreds of millions of people.

But few of them are in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa’s farmers get less than half the amount of grain per acre that Asian farmers get. From 1980 to 2000, India’s agricultural yields rose 28 percent. Africa’s dropped by 7 percent.

A Green Revolution for Africa is a challenge. Africa’s climate is much more varied than south Asia’s, so what crops need varies from place to place. Africa’s infrastructure is worse than India’s was, the soil is more degraded and AIDS is killing off the continent’s labor force.

But while a single Green Revolution benefiting all of Africa may not be possible, a patchwork of Green Revolutions is. Indeed, this is happening.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is working with 78 villages across Africa to help them improve crop yields, part of a demonstration project trying to attack several different causes of poverty at once. Each village gets help with crops, clean water, nutrition, schools and health, for a total cost of no more than $110 per person per year. The Millennium Village project hopes to show that conquering poverty is possible for very little money. In agriculture, the project provides appropriate seeds and fertilizers to farmers who pledge to contribute part of their surplus to local schools for their lunch program. The subsidies diminish as farmers become able to buy the seeds and fertilizers themselves, and after three years the farmers are on their own.

Even after just one year, success has been notable. Farmers are growing a minimum of 3.5 times as much grain as before, with one village in Rwanda increasing its output 62-fold.

Can this be done on a large scale? The evidence says yes.

Ethiopia – a country once emblematic of crop failure and hunger – has doubled food production in the last 10 years and the government says it will double again by 2010. Malawi’s harvest this year was double that of last year. Ethiopia’s strategy was to provide farmers with better seed, more fertilizer, and hundreds of extension agents to spread good techniques. Malawi began to pick up 75 percent of the cost of farmers’ fertilizer and seed. Many farmers are now able to feed their families and sell surplus crops for the first time. Part of the advance has been luck – good rains. But success today will give farmers a cushion and better tools for withstanding the next drought.

The initial costs of improving crop yields is daunting for many governments in Africa. But if the Millennium Villages and countries like Ethiopia and Malawi can show success, they will make a strong case that farmers mainly need a one-time boost and that the benefits are great for Africa’s poorest and most vulnerable to drought.

VIII. Hold the Patient’s Hand

Tuberculosis is curable. Millions of people alive today can personally attest to the power of antibiotics. A simple course of four antibiotics, which costs as little as $11, can now vanquish a dreaded killer.

So why do nearly 2 million people a year still die of it? Because these antibiotics must be taken daily for six to nine months. That means that the local health clinic must have a steady supply. Patients must continue to take the full course even though they stop coughing, and the medicine causes nasty side effects. TB strikes mostly the poor, especially those living in crowded conditions. Many of them are migrants, who may be lost to the health system when they move.

If they don't finish the course, terrible things can happen. Patients stay sick, but now with a form of TB resistant to the basic drugs. Medicines that can cure this form of TB can cost $10,000, and the course of treatment is two years. Because of poor adherence, resistance has reached the point where some forms of TB are incurable. South Africa is battling an outbreak of this extremely resistant TB, and no doubt many other places are as well – they just don’t know it yet.

The solution is a strategy invented in Tanzania in the 1970s and now in use all over the world, called DOTS, for Directly Observed Treatment, Short-course.

DOTS has several components – among them good supply management and diagnosis – but what is key is what it is named for. Someone becomes a pill pal, with the job of watching the patient swallow the medicines. This can be a neighbor, a family member, or a community health worker.

DOTS is now widespread – it covers about 60 percent of the world’s diagnosed TB cases. It greatly improves the chance of cure. DOTS gives patients a social incentive to take their pills. But sometimes other layers of incentive are necessary as well. In her book “Millions Saved ,” Ruth Levine, the director of programs at the Center for Global Development in Washington, writes about China’s TB program. In 1990, TB in China was the leading cause of death in adults, killing 360,000 people that year. The next year, China switched to DOTS.

China found a way to make DOTS even more effective – by relying on the market. With help from the World Bank, China’s government pays village health workers to find TB patients, get them to the lab for periodic sputum checks, and see them through the full treatment course. The pill pal gets a bonus, too, as does the health center. China’s TB cure rate went from 52 percent to 95 percent, which prevents 30,000 TB deaths per year. Rates of resistant TB are far lower in the parts of China where DOTS is used.

DOTS is one of the most cost-effective health programs around. Each cure costs just $100, and brings a return of $60 for every dollar spent. It works because the drugs are cheap and it relies on community workers instead of doctors. The DOTS strategy recognizes that the promise of being cured is not always enough to change the way people behave. It uses social – and occasionally monetary – incentives to get the community and the patient working towards health.

These are not the only good programs. There are many more out there – family planning, provision of small amounts of nutrients such as Vitamin A, agroforestry to restore the fertility of soil, to name a few. But the above eight are some of the best.

A few common threads link these eight programs.

Many of them rely on the market. Microcredit and property legalization help poor people to start businesses. Other programs pay people for desired behavior.

Another common element is a focus on women and girls, who tend to be poorest of the poor and use help more efficiently than men.

A lot of these programs got their start when one individual looked at a familiar landscape in a fresh way.

The most important things these programs share, however, is that they work -- and with more money they could be working on a grander scale. Financing them, and others like them, is the kind of foreign aid Americans say they want, and should have.

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New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: The hate factory

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: The hate factory:
The hate factory

N-word outburst adds to the denigration
that passes as entertainment


When "Seinfeld" comedian Michael Richards lost his cool and began a racist rant at some noisy customers in a Hollywood comedy club, it seemed to surprise a number of people. It shouldn't. What is actually surprising is that it has taken this long for some airhead made famous by a very popular but insipid television series to flip out within the context of today's minstrel entertainments.

Naturally, a lawyer representing the affronted audience members did not feel that it was enough for Richards to apologize on television; he still needs to pay them some money for what they had to suffer at his hands.

The question, however, is what exactly did the patrons suffer?

What they actually suffered, if anything, was an unintended caricature of a redneck in heated rage, expressing conventional disdain for black people. Richards said that 50 years ago, the black members of the noisy group of comedy club customers would have been hanged, and stabbed in the backside with a pitchfork. Before leaving the stage, Richards reminded the assembled that when it was all over, he would still be wealthy and the black people would still be, well, N-words.

The painfully unfunny comedian Paul Rodriguez performed on the same stage that evening and told the press that if one uses the N-word and is not African-American, a lot of explaining will have to be made.

In the interest of equality, no black comedian should get a pass when using insulting and denigrating words in the middle of an act. It all seems very simple to me. We do not need to accept the conventions of insult and denigration that have been established by black comedians and rappers.

And I do not feel that there should be a freedom of speech issue raised either. Nor do I feel that any laws need to be passed.

This was another moment to question what the ongoing vulgarization of our popular culture has actually come to mean. Two groups - women and black people - are disdainfully addressed and demeaned constantly. Only one has made any protest against being the constant butt of overstated vulgarity. White women have stood up against the misogyny in popular entertainment, but black people have not had much to say about the denigration.

Rap producers and others in the business of selling anything that gives a little spice to the minstrel content of our popular culture have been known to claim that the N-word has become a common means of expression and has taken on a universal understanding through rap. We can now be treated to young people of all ethnic groups referring to each other when using the word.

Does that prove anything? I think not. When Richard Pryor first made liberal use of the N-word, he could not have imagined what emerged in the wake of his performances. But when Pryor himself took a position against minstrel updates, no one listened to him. He had passed out the right of irresponsibility and could not take it back.

So what remains before us is the issue of coming to terms with a popular culture in which the N-word, bitches and hos have become no more than condiments in a particularly unappetizing meal. We need not ban their use, but we do need to face the fact that we have been hustled far more often than not.

Originally published on November 23, 2006

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Blue Note To Release Strayhorn's Lush Life Documentary :: eJazzNews.com : The Number One Jazz News Resource On The Net :: Jazz News Daily

Blue Note To Release Strayhorn's Lush Life Documentary :: eJazzNews.com : The Number One Jazz News Resource On The Net :: Jazz News Daily: Blue Note To Release Strayhorn's Lush Life Documentary
Posted by: editoron Friday, November 17, 2006 - 08:07 AM
BLUE NOTE RECORDS TO RELEASE BILLY STRAYHORN: LUSH LIFE, COMPANION SOUNDTRACK TO PBS/INDEPENDENT LENS DOCUMENTARY, FEATURING NEW PERFORMANCES OF STRAYHORN COMPOSITIONS BY BILL CHARLAP, ELVIS COSTELLO, HANK JONES, JOE LOVANO & DIANNE REEVES
Album To Be Released January 23, Film To Air On PBS February 6


On January 23, 2007, Blue Note Records will release the companion soundtrack to Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life, a 90-minute documentary film about the pioneering African-American composer, arranger and pianist. The film will present Strayhorn's fascinating life as it has never been told before, showcasing his talent and passions, as well as taking a hard look at his complex relationship with Duke Ellington and illuminating the issues that prevented Strayhorn from receiving the full recognition he deserved. It will debut nationally as part of PBS's Independent Lens series, on February 6, 2007.

Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life, the soundtrack, will feature 15 Strayhorn compositions performed by several of today's jazz stars including Blue Note artists Bill Charlap, Joe Lovano, and Dianne Reeves, as well as piano legend Hank Jones and special guest Elvis Costello. These vibrant new performances are also captured visually and featured throughout the film.


Strayhorn's 29-year collaboration with Ellington produced a body of work that has no rival in originality and range--from unforgettable popular songs and jazz compositions to orchestral suites and theatrical scores.


From the opening track, Bill Charlap's sparkling solo piano version of “Fantastic Rhythm,” an early composition from a Cole Porter-style musical revue of the same name written in 1935, the vitality of Strayhorn's timeless music is evident. The following performances display the remarkable breadth and depth of his writing as well, with compositions that span more than 30 years. Charlap also offers a solo piano version of one of Strayhorn's early classical works, “Valse,” and on one of the album's highlights joins the legendary pianist Hank Jones for a spirited four-hands rendition of “Tonk” (which was originally performed four-hands by Strayhorn and Ellington).


Jones also makes several more appearances, including a showcase solo piano performance of “Satin Doll,” and as part of a quartet with saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist George Mraz and drummer Paul Motian. Lovano's blustery tenor leads the quartet through jaunty takes on “Rain Check” and “Johnny Come Lately,” and gives achingly beautiful readings of two Strayhorn ballads, the Debussy-inspired “Chelsea Bridge” and “Lotus Blossom.”


Lovano and Charlap also lend support to special guest vocalist Elvis Costello on one of the most striking performances on the album, a haunting version of Strayhorn's final composition “Blood Count,” which was written from a hospital bed shortly before he died in 1967. Here the tune is given lyrics penned by Costello and retitled “My Flame Burns Blue.”


Vocalist Dianne Reeves, who also plays the most prominent musical role in the film, performs six songs on the album, including some of Strayhorn's most defining works such as “Lush Life,” rendered here as a stunning duet with guitarist Russell Malone, and quartet versions of “Something to Live For,” “Day Dream,” “My Little Brown Book,” and the lesser-known “The Flowers Die of Love” and “So This Is Love.”

Opinion - Stanley Crouch: Ed Bradley lived up to his high hopes - sacbee.com

Opinion - Stanley Crouch: Ed Bradley lived up to his high hopes - sacbee.com:

Stanley Crouch: Ed Bradley lived up to his high hopes

By Stanley Crouch -

Published 12:00 am PST Saturday, November 18, 2006
Story appeared in EDITORIALS section, Page B7

Print | | Comments (0)

Ed Bradley died last week at age 65, and his passing drew a great deal of attention because he had been in the eye of the American public for a quarter-century. His work on "60 Minutes" made him one of the most highly regarded professionals in television. Both Bradley and the Sunday-evening show managed to maintain viewers while remaining separate from the medium's inclination to the superficial, the stupid and the overstated.

It was because of that separation that Bradley was so important in our time, which has come to distinguish itself by the descent into a vulgar combination of crude materialism supported by narcissistic self-obsession that would not have been imaginable when this black guy first kept turning up week after week. His extraordinary range of reporting was so rich in quality -- and the human depth that makes all quality possible -- that Bradley could not be dismissed as just another example of liberal guilt. He had been done no special favors because of his skin tone. Clearly, he was one of those superb individuals got where he was because of his talent and his belief in the possibility of upward mobility.

Bradley grew up impoverished in West Philadelphia and was told by one of his teachers at a Catholic school for the underprivileged that any one of the students in class could become whatever he wanted. He loved to point out that there he was, sitting and listening, having neither a pot to fill nor a window to throw it out of, but taking his teacher's word. He lived his life accordingly.

In our time, celebrity is almost always connected to wealth and popularity, not accomplishment. Bradley was fortunate to have grown up in an era that might have been much more overtly racist, but people of his caliber were not oppressed by the kind of mediocre dreams that come from the world of hip-hop and a mass culture in which one can be paid inordinate amounts of money for candid photographs taken of unknowing movie or pop-music stars.

Bradley benefited from the tough and unsentimental background that taught him there was a compensation for the fact that the world might not be fair and one might be cheated out of something he should win or something he should own. If one learned something, that information was his or hers for life. That could be why Bradley believed his teacher at Catholic school.

That belief led him to become a disc jockey, to report on the war in Vietnam from the ground, three years among the bullets, the grenades, the killed, the wounded, the maimed and the devastated countryside. Like all reporters who have bedded down in the mouth of death, Bradley understood the universals of courage, cowardice, competence and ineptitude. He learned that bullets and bad luck play no favorites in terms of color, religion, class or nationality.

That realization undergirded the quality that he brought to all that he did, as a professional and as a man in the world. The result is that he seemed to be as respected by a mass murderer like Timothy McVeigh as he was by Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest athlete of his generation.

That was made possible by Bradley's upbringing, which supplied him with more than the paralytic cynicism of those who supposedly know all too well or all too much. He was also protected from the spiritual squalor, the ignorance and the putrid dreams of our debased popular culture.

Ed Bradley was a great individual, and whatever our culture does, it needs to nurture the cultural elements that fuel the drive of those who wish for more than a high position in the gutter.

Opinion - Stanley Crouch: Ed Bradley lived up to his high hopes - sacbee.com

Opinion - Stanley Crouch: Ed Bradley lived up to his high hopes - sacbee.com:

Stanley Crouch: Ed Bradley lived up to his high hopes

By Stanley Crouch -

Published 12:00 am PST Saturday, November 18, 2006
Story appeared in EDITORIALS section, Page B7

Print | | Comments (0)

Ed Bradley died last week at age 65, and his passing drew a great deal of attention because he had been in the eye of the American public for a quarter-century. His work on "60 Minutes" made him one of the most highly regarded professionals in television. Both Bradley and the Sunday-evening show managed to maintain viewers while remaining separate from the medium's inclination to the superficial, the stupid and the overstated.

It was because of that separation that Bradley was so important in our time, which has come to distinguish itself by the descent into a vulgar combination of crude materialism supported by narcissistic self-obsession that would not have been imaginable when this black guy first kept turning up week after week. His extraordinary range of reporting was so rich in quality -- and the human depth that makes all quality possible -- that Bradley could not be dismissed as just another example of liberal guilt. He had been done no special favors because of his skin tone. Clearly, he was one of those superb individuals got where he was because of his talent and his belief in the possibility of upward mobility.

Bradley grew up impoverished in West Philadelphia and was told by one of his teachers at a Catholic school for the underprivileged that any one of the students in class could become whatever he wanted. He loved to point out that there he was, sitting and listening, having neither a pot to fill nor a window to throw it out of, but taking his teacher's word. He lived his life accordingly.

In our time, celebrity is almost always connected to wealth and popularity, not accomplishment. Bradley was fortunate to have grown up in an era that might have been much more overtly racist, but people of his caliber were not oppressed by the kind of mediocre dreams that come from the world of hip-hop and a mass culture in which one can be paid inordinate amounts of money for candid photographs taken of unknowing movie or pop-music stars.

Bradley benefited from the tough and unsentimental background that taught him there was a compensation for the fact that the world might not be fair and one might be cheated out of something he should win or something he should own. If one learned something, that information was his or hers for life. That could be why Bradley believed his teacher at Catholic school.

That belief led him to become a disc jockey, to report on the war in Vietnam from the ground, three years among the bullets, the grenades, the killed, the wounded, the maimed and the devastated countryside. Like all reporters who have bedded down in the mouth of death, Bradley understood the universals of courage, cowardice, competence and ineptitude. He learned that bullets and bad luck play no favorites in terms of color, religion, class or nationality.

That realization undergirded the quality that he brought to all that he did, as a professional and as a man in the world. The result is that he seemed to be as respected by a mass murderer like Timothy McVeigh as he was by Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest athlete of his generation.

That was made possible by Bradley's upbringing, which supplied him with more than the paralytic cynicism of those who supposedly know all too well or all too much. He was also protected from the spiritual squalor, the ignorance and the putrid dreams of our debased popular culture.

Ed Bradley was a great individual, and whatever our culture does, it needs to nurture the cultural elements that fuel the drive of those who wish for more than a high position in the gutter.

New York Daily News - Home - Stanley Crouch: Memo to young black men: Please grow up

New York Daily News - Home - Stanley Crouch: Memo to young black men: Please grow up:
Memo to young black men: Please grow up



Last week, I was in a studio in midtown where a popular program for black youths was being filmed. I found myself surrounded by black men, ages 18 to 35, and I was appalled.

As a father with a daughter nearly 30 years old who has never been close to marrying anyone, I was once more struck by what my offspring describes as "a lack of suitable men." She has complained often about the adolescent tendencies of young black men, as will just about any young black woman when the subject comes up.

Those who believe that America is perpetually adolescent will point at the dominance of frat-boy attitudes among successful white men and will say of the black hip-hop generation, "So what? How could they not be adolescent? They are not surrounded by examples of celebrated maturity. The society worships movie stars, wealthy athletes and talk show hosts. These are not the wisest and most mature of people."

There is more than a little bit right about that. Our culture has been overwhelmed by the adolescent cult of rebellion that emerges in a particularly stunted way from the world of rock 'n' roll. That simpleminded sense of rebelling against authority descended even further when hip hop fell upon us from the bottom of the cultural slop bucket in which punk rock curdled.

Hip hop began as some sort of Afro protest doggerel and was very quickly taken over by the gangster rappers, who emphasized the crudest materialism in which the ultimate goal was money and it did not matter how one got it. The street thug, the gang member, the drug dealer and the pimp became icons of sensibility and success. Then the attitudes of pimps took a high position and the pornographic version of hip hop in which women become indistinguishable bitches and hos made a full-court press on the rap "aesthetic."

At the television studio, as I watched and listened to those young men, each of whom seemed to be auditioning for a lifelong part as a "man-child," I discussed this phenomenon with a black woman in her 40s who is a writer.

She had worked for rap magazines, magazines that had focused on black women and in black television. Her analysis was quite direct and could be profoundly true. Her profession and being the mother of a teenage daughter has made her pay close attention and forced her to give these issues a good deal of thought.

The way she understood it was that these young black men do not see growing up as having any advantages to it. One is either current or old-fashioned and outdated. The only success they think they can believe in is had by either athletes or rappers. Young black men. So they hold on to adolescence and adolescent ways as long as they can.

The writer also said, "I am sure many knew of Ed Bradley but they did not identify with him. He was too sophisticated. They identify with the overgrown boy, who is everywhere and who is getting over. He's got a lot of cash, plenty of girls, lots of jewelry, an expensive car. To them, that's the world. Or it's the world they want to be a part of."

So what can be done to make adulthood seem attractive to these young black men?

Good question.

From one end of the country to the other, adults sleep in the street for nights on end as though they are homeless in order to have choice places in line when PlayStations go on sale. That alone gives us more than an indication of how great a problem we find ourselves facing.

Originally published on November 20, 2006

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bandages and Bayonets - New York Times

Bandages and Bayonets - New York Times:

November 12, 2006

Op-Ed Columnist

Bandages and Bayonets

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

GOZ BEIDA, Chad

In diplomatic circles, the Sudanese government can be wonderfully polished as it scoffs at accusations of genocide and denounces calls for U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur.

In isolated villages, everything is more straightforward — like the men in Sudanese military uniforms who on Tuesday captured Abdullah Idris, a 27-year-old father of two, in the fields as he was farming. They tried to shoot him in the chest, but the gun misfired.

“So they beat him to the ground,” explained Osman Omar, a nephew of Mr. Abdullah who was one of several neighbors who recounted the events in the same way. “And then they used their bayonets to gouge out his eyes.”

Mr. Abdullah lay on his back on a hospital bed, his eye sockets swathed in bandages soaked in blood and pus. A sister sat on the floor beside him, crying; his wife and small children stood nearby, looking overwhelmed and bewildered. He was so traumatized in the incident that he has been unable to speak since, but he constantly reaches out to hold the hands of his family members.

Three men and two women were killed in that attack by the janjaweed, the militias of Arab nomads that have been slaughtering black African farmers for more than three years now. A 26-year-old woman was kidnapped, and nobody has seen her since.

The janjaweed even explained themselves to the people they were attacking. Survivors quoted them as shouting racial epithets against blacks and yelling, “We are going to kill you, and we are going to take your land.”

Mr. Abdullah’s eyes were gouged out as part of a wave of recent attacks here in southeastern Chad. Officials from the U.N. refugee agency counted at least 220 people killed in the last week in this area near Goz Beida.

We’re used to seeing brutal janjaweed attacks in Darfur itself and along the border with Chad, but now they have reached 60 miles and more inside Chad, and Chadian Arab groups are joining in the attacks on black African tribes.

As I write this on my laptop, I’ve just returned from a long drive through abandoned countryside. The village of Tamajour was still smoldering after being burned by janjaweed attackers two days earlier.

I finally found some residents of Tamajour, clustered around the hospital of Goz Beida. Abdelkarim Zakaria, a 25-year-old man, lay in a bed with two bullets lodged in his back. Friends had carried him more than 20 miles to the hospital to save his life.

Outside the hospital, two old women from Tamajour lay on the ground, suffering from terrible burns. The women were too feeble to flee, and they said that the janjaweed fighters set fire to their huts even though they knew the women were inside. One woman, Gida Zakaria, who said she thought she was about 70, had a back that was just an ulcerating mass of raw flesh.

After more than three years of such brutality, it seems incredibly inadequate for the international community simply to hand out bandages when old women are roasted in their huts and young men have their eyes gouged out. What we need isn’t more bandages, but the will to stand up to genocide.

A starting point would be to rush U.N. troops to Chad and the Central African Republic to prevent the cancer of genocide from completely upending these two countries. It’s incomprehensible that we’re allowing the madness of Darfur to spread inexorably into two more countries.

President Bush could visit Chad and the Central African Republic as a show of support to keep those two countries from collapsing — and he could invite Chinese leaders, who provide Sudan with the guns used for atrocities, to join him.

At the least, Mr. Bush could dispatch Condi Rice to Chad to show the U.S.’s support — then have her stop off in Cairo for meetings with Arab leaders on the crisis. The U.S. could also try targeted sanctions against Sudanese leaders, a no-fly zone to stop Sudanese jets from bombing civilians, and especially a major new effort to start a real peace process in Darfur, for ultimately only a peace agreement can end these horrors.

The most painful sight I’ve seen here isn’t Mr. Abdullah’s bloody face, but the expression of disgust on his children’s faces as they stare at him. You see that, and you can’t help feeling equal horror and disgust — at our shamefully weak international response, which allows this first genocide of the 21st century to drag on and on.