Friday, August 26, 2011

Eric Cantor: No Federal Earthquake Disaster Aid Without Spending Cuts

Is there an end to the stupid? It's a rhetorical question, don't answer. Eric Cantor's remarks about federal aid and Tuesday's earthquake centered in his district transcend stupid and go straight to dense.

“There is an appropriate federal role in incidents like this,” Cantor said. That role? The bare minimum. According to Cantor, Congress’s traditional practice of providing disaster relief without strings attached — a policy its followed for years — is going way beyond the call of duty. If Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) asks for federal aid, Cantor insists that the relief be offset elsewhere in the federal budget:

The next step will be for Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) to decide whether to make an appeal for federal aid, Cantor said. The House Majority Leader would support such an effort but would look to offset the cost elsewhere in the federal budget.

But that's not the worst of what he said. It's quite similar to what he said after Joplin, MO was devastated by a tornado. No, the real stupid came after the initial selfish, heartless, disgusting, cynical denial of federal aid.

While touring the damage in his district, Cantor surmised, “Obviously, the problem is that people in Virginia don’t have earthquake insurance.” As the Insurance Information Institute notes, “earthquakes are not covered under standard U.S. homeowners or business insurance policies, although supplemental coverage is usually available.” So, for Cantor, the problem here is that Virginians didn’t have the foresight to predict an exceedingly rare natural disaster and pay out of their own pocket in advance.

Until last Tuesday, the largest earthquake to hit that region was a 3.2 magnitude quake in 2010. Buildings along that corridor are not built to be earthquake-safe. This is because earthquakes are rare. If one were to buy supplemental disaster insurance, it would more likely be insurance to cover damage due to hurricanes, not earthquakes, assuming any insurer would actually sell earthquake insurance in a non-earthquake zone where buildings are not built to withstand earthquakes.

How stupid is this? We all know Cantor is the insurance and financial industry golden boy, but I'd be embarrassed to have bought and paid for such a stupid politician if I were his keepers. What's next? Denying federal aid to people in Hawaii for not buying insurance against blizzards?

Even as Hurricane Irene bears down on the East Coast – Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has already declared a state of emergency in Virginia – Cantor is also refusing to pay for hurricane disaster relief unless Congress cuts spending elsewhere. When asked about paying for potential hurricane damage by TPM, Cantor spokesperson Laena Fallon responded, “as you know, Eric has consistently said that additional funds for federal disaster relief ought to be offset with spending cuts.”

Monday, August 22, 2011

Man Murders His Wife, Says a Black Man Did It

By Dr. Boyce Watkins, Your Black World.
August 22, 2011

Kashif Parvaiz didn’t have a good relationship with his wife, Nazish Noorani. In fact, the marriage had deteriorated so badly that divorce wasn’t enough. Instead, he wanted to see his wife dead.

So, Kashif took matters into his own hands, setting up a murder-for-hire situation that left his wife’s dead body in the street. Reaching for every angle he could find, Kashif first used America’s anti-Muslim sentiment to his advantage, telling police that the assailants had called him a “terrorist” as they killed his spouse.

In addition to the first lie, Parvaiz also used the prototypical media-driven blueprint for the kind of men who might choose to kill an innocent woman for no reason: He said that they were African American. While he initially stated that the three assailants were of mixed race, he eventually changed his story, stating that they were all black.

To the credit of the Boontown police, they weren’t going for it. They were initially suspicious because Nazish had sent her brother a text message stating that she “can’t talk to him cuz he abuses me … I’m so tired of this. … Someday U will find me dead, but it’s cuz of Kashi … he wants to kill me.”

Parvaiz’s decision to kill his wife and lie about it is similar to that of Charles Stuart, a Boston man who murdered his pregnant wife in 1989 and said that an African American committed the crime. This led to a city-wide manhunt in which scores of black men were harassed by police. Susan Smith, a South Carolina woman, killed both of her children and also said that a black man did it.

The Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi, says that Parvaiz plotted with a woman, Antoinette Stephen, to commit the murder. He said “there is obviously a relationship” between Stephen and Parvaiz. “I am not saying it is a physical relationship,” he said. “I am not saying it is a girlfriend-boyfriend relationship.”

After telling Stephen about the trouble in his marriage, Parvaiz received a text from her stating that she would “think of something.”She also said, “You hang in there. Freedom is just around ur corner.”

Situations like this one are clearly disturbing, particularly to people of color. There are thousands of black people who’ve been incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit, in many cases because they were the most convenient suspect. I spoke just yesterday to a friend about a young man who was falsely accused of murder. His struggling family mortgaged their home and spent $30,000 on his legal defense, only to have the jury deliberate just five minutes to find him not guilty. Unfortunately, there are too many other cases where the man could not raise thousands of dollars for a legal defense, and there is no financial recourse for those who’ve gone broke trying to defend themselves.

One has to also give the police force credit for thoroughly investigating the crime and not believing the simplest story that was presented to them. This is a reminder that there are good law enforcement officials across America who are determined to do the right thing. At the same time, we must stop and consider how many cases there have been in which the public nature of a crime has led officers to go into the community to arrest an innocent black man with a criminal record, knowing that he won’t have the ability to defend himself.

America is no post-racial society.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World coalition.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Perry Claims Federal Stimulus ‘Didn’t Create Any Jobs,’ Ignoring The 50,000 It Created In Texas

By Marie Diamond and Travis Waldron

ThinkProgress filed this report from Pembroke, New Hampshire

New GOP presidential contender Gov. Rick Perry (TX) continues to get a free pass from the press for his stimulus hypocrisy on the campaign trail. Last week the governor claimed that the Recovery Act signed by President Obama had “failed” — conveniently forgetting that he accepted more stimulus money than any other state besides California, and used the funds to close 97 percent of Texas’ massive budget deficit.

The Houston Chronicle reported that as of July 2010, federal stimulus funds created or saved 47,700 jobs in the Lone Star State. Yet today during a question-and-answer session in Pembroke, New Hampshire, Perry once again feigned ignorance of the indispenable benefits his state received from stimulus money. In fact, he claimed that the stimulus “didn’t create any jobs, as far as I can tell”:

QUESTION: If the stimulus plan didn’t work, then what do you think would help for unemployment?

PERRY: He asked, “If the stimulus didn’t work” – and the stimulus did not work, obviously all it did was create more debt in this country. It didn’t create any jobs, as far as I can tell, except for maybe those federal regulators that were increased.

So far, Texas has used $17.4 billion in federal stimulus money to keep schools open, ensure Medicaid coverage for children, and put more people to work on infrastructure projects. About half of that was spent on “shovel ready” projects — “things we would not have done with our own money,” says a senior budget analyst for the Center for Public Policy Priorities. Texas benefited disproportionately from the stimulus, using it to balance its budget two years in a row.

Ironically, Perry once aggressively pursued the federal aid he now denounces to pander to the far-right base. According to Time Magazine, in 2003, “lobbyists under Perry’s direction went to Capitol Hill to lobby the Republican Congress for more than a billion dollars” in stimulus-type funds. Over several years this lobbying campaign won funds for programs “Perry now says he opposes as fiscally irresponsible intrusions on state responsibilities.”

Texas received $4.3 billion in stimulus funds for Medicaid and $3.25 billion for public education. Without the generosity of the federal government Perry now decries, Texas would have had to lay off 565 caseworkers who investigate child abuse. Stimulus-funded child care and job training programs would also have ended. In short, Texans would have been much harder hit by the recession if the Recovery Act hadn’t been there to cushion the blow.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Facing Ninth Deployment, Army Ranger Kills Himself. 'No Way' That God Would Forgive Him For What He'd Seen, Done, He Told Wife

By Susie Madrak

The people who should be worried about going to hell are the bastards who sent these soldiers over there for no good reason, and then refuse to pay for the help they need when they come back:

JOINT BASE LEWIS MCCHORD, Wash. - A soldier's widow says his fellow Army Rangers wouldn't do anything to help him before he took his own life - after eight deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army found Staff Sgt. Jared Hagemann's body at a training area of Joint Base Lewis McChord a few weeks ago. A spokesman for the base tells KOMO News that the nature of the death is still undetermined. But Staff Sgt. Hagemann's widow says her husband took his own life - and it didn't need to happen.

"It was just horrible. And he would just cry," says Ashley Hagemann. Ashley says her husband Jared tried to come to grips with what he'd seen and done on his eight deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. "And there's no way that any God would forgive him - that he was going to hell," says Ashley. "He couldn't live with that any more."

More U.S. soldiers and veterans have died from suicide than from combat wounds over the past two years.

And as a special way of thanking those who served, Texas Republicans want to make it harder for young, homeless and traumatized veterans to vote.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Russell Brand: Don't Let People In Power Tear Apart The Values That Hold Communities Together

By Susie Madrak

I always thought of British comedian-actor Russell Brand as an amusing, mindless twit, but between this and the recent eulogy he penned for Amy Winehouse, I see he's actually a thoughtful writer. This is part of the piece he just wrote for the Guardian about the London riots:

Politicians don't represent the interests of people who don't vote. They barely care about the people who do vote. They look after the corporations who get them elected. Cameron only spoke out against News International when it became evident to us, US, the people, not to him (like Rose West, "He must've known") that the newspapers Murdoch controlled were happy to desecrate the dead in the pursuit of another exploitative, distracting story.

Why am I surprised that these young people behave destructively, "mindlessly", motivated only by self-interest? How should we describe the actions of the city bankers who brought our economy to its knees in 2010? Altruistic? Mindful? Kind? But then again, they do wear suits, so they deserve to be bailed out, perhaps that's why not one of them has been imprisoned. And they got away with a lot more than a few f**king pairs of trainers.

These young people have no sense of community because they haven't been given one. They have no stake in society because Cameron's mentor Margaret Thatcher told us there's no such thing.

If we don't want our young people to tear apart our communities then don't let people in power tear apart the values that hold our communities together.

As you have by now surely noticed, I don't know enough about politics to ponder a solution and my hands are sticky with blood money from representing corporate interests through film, television and commercials, venerating, through my endorsements and celebrity, products and a lifestyle that contributes to the alienation of an increasingly dissatisfied underclass. But I know, as we all intuitively know, the solution is all around us and it isn't political, it is spiritual. Gandhi said: "Be the change you want to see in the world."

In this simple sentiment we can find hope, as we can in the efforts of those cleaning up the debris and ash in bonhomous, broom-wielding posses. If we want to live in a society where people feel included, we must include them, where they feel represented, we must represent them and where they feel love and compassion for their communities then we, the members of that community, must find love and compassion for them.

As we sweep away the mistakes made in the selfish, nocturnal darkness we must ensure that, amidst the broken glass and sadness, we don't sweep away the youth lost amongst the shards in the shadows cast by the new dawn.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Putting an Antebellum Myth to Rest

Op-Ed Contributor
Published: August 1, 2011
Princeton, N.J.

WAS slavery an idyllic world of stable families headed by married parents? The recent controversy over “The Marriage Vow,” a document endorsed by the Republican presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, might seem like just another example of how racial politics and historical ignorance are perennial features of the election cycle.

The vow, which included the assertion that “a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President,” was amended after the outrage it stirred.

However, this was not a harmless gaffe; it represents a resurfacing of a pro-slavery view of “family values” that was prevalent in the decades before the Civil War. The resurrection of this idea has particular resonance now, because it was 150 years ago, soon after the war began, that the government started to respect the dignity of slave families. Slaves did not live in independent “households”; they lived under the auspices of masters who controlled the terms of their most intimate relationships.

Back in 1860, marriage was a civil right and a legal contract, available only to free people. Male slaves had no paternal rights and female slaves were recognized as mothers only to the extent that their status doomed their children’s fate to servitude in perpetuity. To be sure, most slaves did all that they could to protect, sustain and nurture their loved ones. Freedom and the love of family are the most abiding themes that dominate the hundreds of published narratives written by former slaves.

Though slaves could not marry legally, they were allowed to do so by custom with the permission of their owners — and most did. But the wedding vows they recited promised not “until death do us part,” but “until distance” — or, as one black minister bluntly put it, “the white man” — “do us part.” And couples were not entitled to live under the same roof, as each spouse could have a different owner, miles apart. All slaves dealt with the threat of forcible separation; untold numbers experienced it first-hand.

Among the best-known of these stories is that of Henry “Box” Brown, who mailed himself from Richmond, Va., to Philadelphia in 1849 to escape slavery. “No slave husband has any certainty whatever of being able to retain his wife a single hour; neither has any wife any more certainty of her husband,” Brown wrote in his narrative of his escape. “Their fondest affection may be utterly disregarded, and their devoted attachment cruelly ignored at any moment a brutal slave-holder may think fit.”

He had been married for 12 months and was the father of an infant when his wife was sold to a nearby planter. After 12 more years of long-distance marriage, his wife and children were sold out of state, sundering their family.

Slave marriages were not granted out of the goodness of “ole massa’s” heart. Rather, they were used as tools to keep slaves in line and to increase profits. Many slaves were forced to marry people they did not choose or to copulate like farm animals — with masters, overseers and fellow slaves.

Abolitionists and ex-slaves publicized excruciating details like these, but the world view of pro-slavery apologists like James Henry Hammond, a senator from South Carolina, could not make sense of motivations like Brown’s. “I believe there are more families among our slaves, who have lived and died together without losing a single member from their circle, except by the process of nature,” than in most modern societies, Hammond claimed. Under the tutelage of warm and loving white patriarchs like himself, slave families enjoyed “constant, uninterrupted communion.”

Hammond’s self-serving fantasy world gave way to reality during the Civil War, as slaves escaped in droves to follow in the footsteps of Union Army soldiers. Although President Abraham Lincoln had promised that he would not interfere with slavery in states where it already existed, he and his military commanders were faced with the unforeseen determination of fugitives seeking refuge, freedom and opportunities to aid the war against their masters. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler developed a policy of treating slaves as “contrabands” of war, inadvertently opening the door for many more to flee. In early August 1861, Congress passed the First Confiscation Act, which authorized the army to seize all property, including slaves, used by the rebellious states in the war effort.

“Contrabands” became the first beneficiaries of a government appeal to military officers, clergymen and missionaries to marry couples “under the flag.” The Army produced marriage certificates for fugitive slave couples solemnizing their marriages, and giving legitimacy to their children for the first time. But it was not until after slavery was abolished that marriage could be secured as a civil right. Despite resistance from erstwhile Confederates, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which extended the right to make contracts, including the right to marry, to all former slaves.

Why does the ugly resuscitation of the myth of the happy slave family matter? Because it is part of a broad and deliberate amnesia, like the misleading assertion by Sarah Palin that the founders were antislavery and the skipping of the “three-fifths” clause during a Republican reading of the Constitution on the House floor. The oft-repeated historical fictions about black families only prove how politically useful and resilient they continue to be in a so-called post-racial society. Refusing to be honest about how racial inequality has burdened our shared history and continues to shape our society will not get us to that post-racial vision.

Tera W. Hunter, a professor of history and African-American studies at Princeton, is the author of “To ’Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors After the Civil War.”