Top New Jersey Parole Board officials acknowledge that admission of guilt by a person is not a condition for either a person’s release from prison on parole or a person remaining on parole once released from prison.
However, some N.J. State Parole Board employees are pushing to put Trenton, N.J., community activist Daryl Brooks back in prison for his failure to admit guilt.
This demand on Brooks by parole employees to admit guilt is the very admission top Parole Board officials said is not required for released parolees.
A top Parole Board executive, when responding to a Philadelphia Tribune inquiry in late June, responded “No” to a question about guilt admission as a parole release or continuance condition — a response affirmed by another top Board executive last week.
Brooks, a 6’5’’ man with an affable personality, maintains his innocence since his 1995 arrest on improbable sex assault charges, through his evidence-deficient 1998 trial, three-year imprisonment and during the during a decade on parole.
Yet, when Parole Board employees arrested Brooks this May, they charged him with violating conditions of his parole, citing his failure to admit guilt during counseling the Board forced him to undertake a few years ago despite years of infraction-free parole.
That arrest, curiously, occurred days after Brooks issued a press release that criticized failings in the Board’s forced counseling following Brooks’ observing how a sex offender who [allegedly] received little counseling-session treatment stalked some children in a park outside Trenton.
Brook’s May arrest forced him to spend his rent money on bail resulting in his eviction.
In bashing Brooks for parole violation Board personnel also barred him from the Internet.
That Internet ban shut down Brooks’ top-rated “Today’s News N.J.” blog.
That ban also blocks Brooks from searching for employment that now widely requires online submission of job applications.
“The possibility of going back to prison for a crime I didn’t do is terrible,” Brooks said during a recent interview. “It is like some parole people are out to destroy me. I feel this is a form of slavery.”
The Parole Board declined comment on Brooks’ case citing privacy regulations, one official said last week.
The Parole Board didn’t require admission of guilt when initially releasing Brooks from prison.
Brooks, who regularly campaigns against drug dealing, violence, mass incarceration and governmental corruption, enjoys far flung support from diverse entities including Occupy The Hood N.J. and the New Jersey Tea Party.
Rabbi Gordon Gellar of Margate, N.J., who possesses a law degree and has analyzed Brooks’ conviction, said Brooks’ case is a “gross example” of the justice system gone awry.
“It is ludicrous to demand a confession,” Gellar said.
Gellar, who worked for 12 years as a chaplain in a federal prison and respects the ideals of the American justice system, said Brooks’ case fits into America’s “dark history of injustice.”
Trenton, N.J., police and prosecutors claimed Daryl Brooks masturbated in public — nude from the waist down — while holding a bottle of brandy on April 19, 1995.
Those authorities found nothing fishy with many disturbing facts.
Brooks’ alleged crime took place in daylight on a busy street inside a then bustling North Trenton public housing project directly outside the window of a police mini-station.
Yet, no one saw this lewd act except two young girls — suspiciously the daughters of a drug dealer targeted by Brooks’ anti-drug activism.
That drug dealer’s daughters provided the only evidence producing Brooks’ jury verdict conviction.
Police couldn’t or didn’t produce any other eyewitnesses to Brooks’ act despite scores of people occupying the three dozen-plus apartments overlooking where Brooks reportedly masturbated at that housing project where Brooks, then a biblical college student, grew up.
Since Brooks regularly assailed Trenton political corruption before his arrest Rabbi Geller believes Brooks’ political enemies exploited that suspicious arrest to “shut him up” with incarceration which “ruined the life of a remarkable individual” by making him a life-long sex offender that blocks things like employment opportunities.
Brooks is not alone in enduring Kafkaesque predicaments from parole authorities.
Pennsylvania parole authorities, for example, have denied Philadelphia-convicted prisoner Wendell Caldwell parole nine times during his 25-year imprisonment allegedly telling Caldwell to finish his full 30-year sentence.
“I was told to max out for refusing to admit to a crime which I did not commit,” Caldwell recounted in an “Open Letter” sent to two critics of Pa.’s parole system that included a former Pa. governor.
“I have earned over 70 certificates for courses and programs … including college credits,” Caldwell stated in that letter. “I saved the life of a correctional officer during the worst prison riot in Pennsylvania history.”
That ex-governor, George M. Leader, co-authored an insightful critique of inefficient parole practices this year that included an account of Pa. parole authorities holding one inmate for 100 additional days after his parole due to that inmate’s inability to pay a $13.70 prison fine.
That “bureaucratic nightmare” cost Pennsylvania taxpayers nearly $10,000, the Leader critique stated.
Brooks said a Board contracted counselor from New Jersey’s University of Medicine and Dentistry ejected him from her counseling earlier this year following his refusal to admit guilt — an admission Brooks said parole agents told him he didn’t have to make.
Brooks supporter Harold Fleming, a retired mental health worker, criticizes the guilt admission demand.
“Here’s a good man trying to contribute to society.”
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
We are all keenly aware, as it has been drummed into our heads for a couple of years now, that the School District of Philadelphia is in financial crisis. We further understood that this deficit — more than $600 million and yet somehow still rising — would lead to painful cuts in programs and personnel.
We’ve watched helplessly as extracurricular activities, sports, art and music fell one by one to the budget axe. We sat on our hands through the first few rounds of layoffs, even while some favored private contractors (and a few administrators) gorged shamelessly at the public trough District officials swore had run dry.
The money coming in never quite equaled the money going out, and virtually none of it ever made its way to the communities, the schools and the students who needed it most. Long-suffering parents, taxpayers and stakeholders endured each indignity, assured that tighter fiscal controls and better oversight would pave the way for better days ahead. Of course, we were given those assurances by the same band of gypsies who stole the money in the first place, but that’s another story for another time.
My roundabout point here is someone is going to have to draw a line somewhere.
Effective Dec. 31, 141 District employees — including 47 nurses, 28 secretaries, 18 non-teaching assistants and others — will lose their jobs in the latest game of musical chairs the District calls “belt tightening measures.”
If you don’t think that’s a big deal, you’re mistaken. As a product of the Philadelphia public schools, and as one who spent significant portions of those years in the nurse’s office, taking away school nurses is easily the most shortsighted, band-aid-on-a-bullet-wound budgetary move yet devised.
True, I had more sprains, broken bones, contusions, concussions, scrapes, bumps, bruises and boo-boos than most — but still, fewer than others. Multiple sports activities, plus a teenager’s natural penchant for stupid human tricks and boneheaded stunts often resulted in a trip to the nurse’s office. Having a trained, qualified health care professional in every school is not a luxury — it is the right of every child and parent in the system.
If school nurses were essential back in the ’70s, they are irreplaceable today, when so many more students have so many more problems requiring medical attention. The number of kids who are asthmatic has skyrocketed since those old days, not to mention the numbers of students on various medications, which must be dispensed and monitored during school hours.
Imagine what happens when a child gets sick — I mean really sick — and no one is trained on what to do. Imagine what happens when the parents then sue the school district for negligence, and probably win. How much money will we have saved from pink slipping the school nurses then?
You might as well remove all the handrails and banisters from the stairwells in every school and sell them as scrap iron for ten cents a pound. Then you can brag about pulling in a couple of thousand bucks in savings — while personal injury attorneys station themselves at the bottom of the stairs offering a fat payday for each turned ankle.
It was a school nurse who first recommended that my eyesight be re-tested in elementary school. She was right, and I’ve been wearing glasses ever since. How many other kids with hearing loss, vision problems and a host of other ailments owe that initial diagnosis to a caring school nurse? And the converse question: How many will now go unnoticed, undiagnosed and untreated when those nurses are gone?
We’re not just talking about taking away band instruments or after school clubs here (although that would be bad enough). A school nurse can, and has, made the difference in certain life-saving situations, by providing a trained eye when every second counts.
It’s hard to imagine the back-and-forth among school administrators that day when the conversation turned to the subject of getting rid of school nurses. What bothers me more than whoever made the idiotic recommendation in the first place is that everyone else in the room didn’t shout it down as the exercise in stupidity that it clearly is.
The lawsuits alone will bankrupt the system so fast their heads will spin.
Next brilliant idea: Since new cars aren’t selling very well, perhaps auto manufacturers can save some money by eliminating unnecessary gadgets — like brakes, air bags and seat belts.
That should save a few bucks, right?
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.
What a disgusting spectacle!
Mobs of mad (as in insane) shoppers violently surging through shopping malls from Staten Island to Seattle to snatch-up expensive Air Jordan sneakers.
Mob members — overwhelmingly Black in composition — punched, kicked, trampled and pepper-sprayed each other while pursuing their perverse right to pay a small fortune for shoes that supposedly make a fashion statement but brings little improvement to their daily lives beyond intangible emotional satisfaction.
At a Philly suburb, Burlington County, N.J. mall witnesses told news reporters that men threatened gunfire to bolster their efforts to “get their pair.”
Yes, a willingness to shoot someone to eliminate a shoe purchase competitor — a willingness to shoot someone — not to secure a full-time job or snatch a jackpot Mega-Millions lotto ticket but blasting a human being for a pair of shoes that will surely soil when worn regularly which is necessary for making that fashion statement.
Needless to say many racists raging around cyberspace exploited this disgusting spectacle rightly ranting about the stupidity of predominately poor Blacks fighting to spend scarce money on overpriced sneakers.
Typical of racists, their criticisms contained no reference to the larger context of consumerism gone wild in America — mindless spending of the kind that one London newspaper account about Black Friday Christmas shopping frenzy termed an “orgy.”
Let’s not forget that post-Thanksgiving shoppers scratched and clawed each other for items to buy with one Los Angeles area shopper using pepper spray to secure an X-Box for his purchase and shoppers in a Little Rock, Arkansas Wal-Mart physically battling each other over waffle makers selling for $2 bucks each.
And we shouldn’t forget another salient point.
That violent consumerism evident in sneaker wars is another branch of the amassing-possessions tree that includes those top tiered financial types (a/k/a fraudsters) who wrecked the economic system by their orgy of exploiting get-rich-quick schemes like credit default swaps and mortgage-backed securities.
Those schemes accelerated the economic damage arising from the regular tax avoidance and insider-trading misconduct among the wealthy.
Is this rioting over sneakers and the rich paying-off politicians to prevent higher taxes on the (often ill-gotten) fortunes creeping indicators of what the Global Europe Anticipation Bulletin warned a few weeks ago of America becoming ungovernable?
That mid-December assessment from the think-tank behind the GEAB stated that the “already insolvent” United States “will become ungovernable bringing about for Americans and those who depend on the United States violent and destructive economic, financial, monetary, geopolitical and social shocks.”
The GEAB predicts that the impact of global systemic crisis on the U.S. during the four year period between 2012 and 2016 “will radically transform the country’s institutional system, its social fabric and its economic and financial weight.”
Despite the larger context of consumerism excesses and U.S. empire collapse the spectacle from mobs of Black folks battling over paying nearly $200 dollars for sneakers contains particularly disturbing aspects.
Disturbing aspects arise from facts like it’s virtually impossible to consistently assemble hundreds of Black folks to address ills crushing their lives like unemployment.
Unemployment in Black communities is larger in scope and longer lasting in duration than in all other sectors of American society.
Where are those ready-&-willing to demonstrate against the structural joblessness that created economic Depression in Back communities long before America’s Recession of the past few years?
Why is it so hard to find unemployed persons possessed with vigor to protest their conditions comparable to that sneaker-purchase-zeal?
There are enough unemployed Back folks in and around Washington, D.C. alone to pack Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to Capitol Hill daily to demand that the president push for targeted jobs creations initiatives and the recalcitrant Republicans controlling Congress approve such initiatives.
Where’s the sneaker-purchase enthusiasm to protest against a menacing facet of the prison-industrial-complex where private prison operators provide state legislators with campaign contributions and lobbying largess to enact favorable measures.
Those measures include actions like transferring prisons from state government to private control, passing harsher sentences for non-violent offenses and provisions for keeping people in prison longer — all measures that benefit the financial bottom-lines of for-profit prison operators.
Blacks and other non-whites provide the “raw material” the private prison industry needs.
A new form of slavery is how many rightly reference this renewed mass imprisonment push — interestingly coinciding with decreases in crime rates.
However, the U.S. Constitution permits slavery for prisoners. The post-Civil War amendments eliminating slavery allowed slavery “as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”
A Forbes.com article in November about the private prison operator Corrections Corporation of America carried the headline — “Still Locking Up Fat Profits.”
The CCA that operates 60 facilities in 19 states and D.C. made $433.5 million in profits during the past year according to the Forbes.com article, up ten million from the year before.
With politicians controlling employment and penal policies, where are the Black masses protesting what a report issued in December by the NAACP and NAACP Legal Defense Fund declared is “a coordinated and comprehensive assault … against our voting rights.”
During 2011, that report stated, 14 states approved over two dozen measures designed to restrict or limit access to ballots — blatant anti-democracy onslaughts by Republicans against minorities, the elderly and students who often vote for Democrats.
Those sneaker-snatchers need to focus their attention on the feet of exploitation systemically planted in their backsides.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
The very first mention of Philadelphia in the national news for 2012 was not very encouraging. We actually made number one in a significant statistical category, but it’s nothing to write home about. Residents of the City of Brotherly Love murder each other more often than anyone else in America’s ten largest cities.
Heck, the mayor of Washington, D.C. is already bragging about losing the “murder capital” status to Philly, and using it to push his public safety agenda. When the numbers were announced last Friday, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray called a press conference, where he crowed, “The days when the District was known as the nations ‘Murder Capital’ are long behind us, and the plans we are announcing today will enable our police to continue this progress.”
There were 324 homicides in Philadelphia last year, up from 306 in 2010. Sure, that’s down from 2007’s high water mark of 391, but 324 murders in one year is ridiculous no matter how you parse the numbers.
As if to drive that point home for the nonbelievers, already there were six murders in 2012, and we’re only a couple of days into the new year.
About 85 percent of those murdered were young Black men, almost the exact percentage of the murderers themselves. Simply put, young Philadelphians are so hopeless and filled with shortsighted desperation that they’ve engaged in what could well be the first case of self-inflicted genocide in human history.
Our young men are willfully doing what nearly a hundred years of Ku Klux Klan raids could not do — what the night riders, cross burners and skinheads have only dreamed of in their wildest fantasies: the slow, deliberate extermination of the Black race.
Think about it for a minute. For every murder, there are two Black men taken out of the picture: the victim, who was deprived of life itself, and the killer, who is then deprived of any chance at a productive life by rotting in prison for dozens of years. Two sets of children are deprived of their fathers. How many of those children will then grow up in poverty and despair, repeating the same cycle of victim/perpetrator for yet another generation?
Fortunately, these facts are not foreign to the powers that be. In his second inaugural speech Monday morning, Mayor Michael Nutter called the phenomenon of young Black boys murdering each other “the epidemic not sufficiently talked about.”
Nutter is brainstorming with city, state and federal law enforcement agencies to come up with a strategy for combating handgun violence. Handguns are the weapons of choice for urban killing, used in more than four out of five of last year’s 324 Philadelphia murders.
The devil, as always, is in the details.
Any solution will require an entire sea change, a paradigm shift on two fronts: first, laws must be changed or amended to specifically target people who have no business with guns.
Not as easy as it sounds, given that anywhere outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, you’ll be hard pressed to find even a handful of state legislators willing to talk about gun control. Our local leaders have tried for years to implement common sense controls in Philadelphia, only to be shouted down by the rural gun nuts that hate Philadelphia anyway, and don’t much care if Black folk shoot each other until the cows come home.
The second hurdle, sadly, is internal. There are those among us — decent, enlightened, aware Black people — who bristle immediately at any notion that part of the blame lies squarely on our kids and what influences them. This is a mistake, because burying our heads in the sand won’t help them. They need to understand that their future (and ours) lies in their hands, and that future is determined by whether they’re carrying a book — or carrying a gun.
Sure, you can blame the white man for manufacturing all those guns, and legislators for allowing the guns to proliferate in the Black community — but while that’s true, we have to admit, at least to ourselves, that it isn’t the whole story.
White men are not driving in from the suburbs to gun down our children every weekend in our communities. State legislators are not shooting up bars, nightclubs, bowling alleys and house parties in Black neighborhoods.
Our children are doing that. The mayor was right when he correctly identified it as an epidemic. And it’s up to us — all of us — to stop it.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.
Give a “cut-above” credit to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey for quietly traveling to barber shops in numerous neighborhoods around the city to talk with customers, engaging in conservations about community perceptions of police.
The Commissioner taking his time to listen — getting earfuls from folks sharing their complaints and kudos — is smart policing. This is the type of initiative needed to move the phrase “community partnership” from a politically popular cliché to an effective crime fighting practice.
Commissioner Ramsey and Mayor Nutter both know about and care about doing something about the biggest crime related problem confronting Philadelphia: the outrageous levels of murders.
The victims of those murders are disproportionately young Black males as are the perpetrators.
As Philadelphia Tribune City Editor Daryl Gale perceptively noted in a commentary last week, “young Philadelphians are so hopeless and filled with shortsighted desperation that they’ve engaged in what could well be the first case of self-inflicted genocide in human history.”
The 324 murders recorded in Philadelphia last year produced the unenviable distinction of ranking Philly as #1 in murder rates among America’s ten largest cities…more than New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston.
And before the smoke of New Year’s Eve fireworks dissipated the smoke of gunfire besmirched the dawning of 2012 with another spate of homicides around Philly.
Mayor Nutter, during his inauguration speech last week for his second term, described this murderous behavior among some (and certainly not all) young Black men as “a local and national epidemic not sufficiently talked about, much less tackled.”
Mayor Nutter went beyond the standard “we’re going to put more police on our streets — 120 new officers on foot patrol by summer this year” by promising to “continue to build partnerships with the community through community policing and Philly Rising.” Let’s hope that 2012 is truly the year for new commitment and new thinking in City Hall about engagement with “community” in crafting and implementing crime reduction strategies.
One of the biggest failings in Philadelphia regarding crime reduction is the failure of City Hall to effectively work with community groups that daily work in the trenches with those impacted by crime and those apart of destructive criminal behavior.
As one community activist noted during an interview last week, “There’s been a disconnect between police and community initiatives. The City has to work in partnership with communities. There are groups out there working on violence reduction that never get credit.”
While politicians and police officials talk about partnerships with communities you rarely see community groups included in press conferences where City Hall pats itself on the back by announcing reductions in murder rates and/or decreases in crime generally.
Community based violence reduction efforts already confront uphill battles on the front lines from those they are trying to impact who feel these efforts have little influence among the power-brokers in City Hall and Center City corporate suites that hold real sway over matters involving employment, education and criminal justice policies.
City Hall brushing aside these efforts — deliberately or inadvertently — reinforces the perception of powerlessness of those efforts in the minds of people those efforts are trying to reach. Community groups are getting ready to launch a new violence reduction initiative captioned “Live and Let Live” — phrasing that tactically addresses a prime trigger for much of the conflicts leading to fatal violence: arguments over perceptions of someone not “respecting” someone.
The Mayor, City Council, corporate and civic leaders need to back these kinds of community initiatives, not just with making the easy endorsements but with resources inclusive of providing money.
Mayor Nutter deserves credit for declaring during his inauguration speech his willingness to “extend a hand” to persons ready to “put guns down.” Nutter said, “We must show them that if you put the gun down we’ll work with you to put a book in your hands, to put some work and a job in your hands, to put a paycheck in your hands.”
To transform the mayor’s sincere rhetoric into reality City Hall has to stop shooting itself in the foot with counter-productive practices like the Police Department’s Stop-&-Frisk campaign and the sweet-heart Project Labor Agreement Nutter announced late last year for trade unions with a history of racial discrimination.
Stop-&-Frisk is infused with racial profiling mainly targeting Black and Latino males. This dragnet policing alienates people who the police need for cooperation in identifying criminals. Commissioner Ramsey bemoaned the lack of community cooperation in solving murders and the impact that has on lower rates of solving murders yet some of that lack of cooperation comes from adverse reactions to offensive policing.
As law professor Sherrilyn Ifill noted in a short essay posted recently on The Root there are “unintended consequences” from the Stop-&-Frisks in New York City that like Philadelphia overwhelmingly targets non-whites. “Fostering a relationship of hostility with the city’s Black and Latino male population is not only wrong; it’s also not smart policing,” Ifill wrote noting disincentives like discouraging providing police with crime solving tips.
Last June the Nutter Administration entered a legal settlement to reform Stop-&-Frisk yet months later the mayor committed city-funded construction jobs exclusively to discriminatory building trade unions, the types of jobs needed for that “hand-up” referenced in his inauguration speech.
The time is ripe for real engagement with communities.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
Teen bullying cases have gotten a lot of press lately. Adults, apparently oblivious for years to the harassment and physical violence perpetrated by young people on one another, have jumped on the bandwagon — producing everything from public service announcements to school lesson plans highlighting the dangers of bullying.
From the poor kid hanging from a fence by his jacket last year in Upper Darby, courtesy of his classmates; to the little old lady harangued to the point of tears on a school bus in Greece, N.Y., images of teens behaving badly have captured the spotlight — which is a good thing.
But one particularly damaging form of bullying is unique to the African-American community — and one; generally speaking, we’d rather not talk about.
It’s the “acting white,” or “not Black enough” charge — heard from Black children (and some adults) in neighborhoods all over America. Worst of all, it is used not to mock supposedly “white” speech patterns, music, or style of dress, but to decry intelligence itself.
Our kids have somehow been taught to believe that striving for academic excellence — studying, getting good grades, even the ability to speak, read and write the language — is the sole purview of white folks, and that if you’re Black and trying to better yourself through education, you’re certainly not cool — or even worse, a sellout.
Let’s not just gloss over this. Think about it for a minute. If intelligence is uncool, and getting good grades or speaking English without mumbling undecipherable gibberish is acting white, what then, is genuine Blackness?
What, I ask you, could be more pernicious, more insidious, more damaging to the minds and souls of Black kids than the notion that if they’re smart, they’re not really Black? What could hurt them worse, long term, than the idea that if they study hard and try to get ahead in school, they’re somehow a traitor to their race?
I can’t think of a single thing. And to see and hear this mindset manifest itself through the words and actions of our young people is truly heartbreaking.
Consider 18-year-old African-American Logan West of Connecticut, the newly crowned Miss Teen USA 2012. The cause she has decided to champion, because for some unknown reason beauty queens must always champion a cause, is bullying. And the reason she chose this cause? You guessed it. She was teased, mocked, harassed, beaten, and even stabbed with umbrellas from middle school through high school for “not acting her skin color.”
A few years ago I hosted a weekly radio talk show on WURD 900 AM. One week my co-hosts and I invited outstanding Black academic scholars from several Philly high schools on the program. These were the kids who did all the right things — worked hard, earned straight A’s and college scholarship opportunities, and volunteered in their communities.
They each told a sad, harrowing tale of having to hide their intelligence from their peers. They didn’t raise their hand in class to answer a question, pretended not to know the answer when called upon, and hid their report cards from their classmates. They told stories of the anger and hostility heaped upon them by their peers for simply being smart, and of the beatings and harassment they faced for “acting white” — as though intelligence and academic achievement are reserved for white folks.
I remember that show vividly, mostly for the sad resignation in the faces and the voices of those young people. I also remember it for the calls we got after they left. Some callers, more than a few, in fact — all but called the kids liars, denying that any such twisted mindset was pervasive among our young people.
I noticed the same thing when reading the comments section accompanying the Logan West story online — Black folk, supposedly reasonable adults, writing to say Black kids don’t act that way, and West probably made the whole bullying story up for media attention.
She didn’t — and its time to get our heads out of the sand. That level of denial is not helpful — in fact, denying the mindset’s existence is part of the reason it’s been allowed to flourish.
Education is not the enemy — it is the one sure way up and out of poverty. The ability to read, write and speak English is not the sole domain of the white man — it is how Black people ace the interview and get the job.
Whoever convinced our young people otherwise — now, that’s the enemy.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.
Back when I was in the military, Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” was pretty much required reading. Commanders quoted from the book freely and often, and everyone, down to us lowly deck swabbies, were supposed to understand its metaphors and hidden meanings.
An all-time favorite passage was, “Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.”
Translation: A well-planned strategy of deployment, mapped out to the smallest detail, is as much a guarantor of success as a hastily formed plan is a guarantor of failure.
Every smart military commander knows this. Smart politicians know it too. In fact, you’ll often hear politicians quote Sun Tzu, although few of them seem to understand the practical modern day applications.
President Barack Obama understands.
In fact, I’m going to give the brother his just due. Obama is the smartest man in Washington, bar none. He just ran rings around the Republican leadership, beat them to a pulp at their own game, and left them confused and wondering what to do next. On the deficit, the GOP’s core issue and dog whistle talking point, Obama just pulled off what could be the greatest smackdown in congressional budget history.
Start putting the pieces together, and watch the man’s genius at work.
That bitter fight a few months ago over raising the debt ceiling triggered the formation of the debt supercommittee, six Republicans and six Democrats whose job would be to cut through the gridlock and figure out a way to cut $1.2 trillion from the national debt.
As you recall, the GOP threatened to hold the entire government hostage over the raising of the debt ceiling, a routine formality afforded without much debate to every president in modern history. In fact, those same Republicans had no objection to raising the ceiling under Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush seven times.
See, it all goes back to the GOP’s core strategy, as outlined more than two years ago by Sen. Mitch McConnell and others: to make sure that Barack Obama is a one-term president. Not to make America a better country, not to serve their constituents to the best of their abilities, but to do everything in their power to nullify Obama’s initiatives and policies, no matter how worthy or necessary.
Knowing that, Obama would have to know the supercommittee would crash and burn through their deadline this week without having accomplished a single thing. They were, predictably, handcuffed by the deadlock they willfully created.
So what happens, and how does that benefit the president?
Now, those spending cuts the GOP were dead set against go into effect automatically in January 2013, after next year’s elections for president, and for congress. That means large cuts to the defense budget, but no cuts at all to Medicare and Social Security, the Democrats’ bread and butter. And as a bonus, also in January 2013, the federal tax rate shifts back to the rates during the Clinton era, before Bush’s millionaire tax loopholes.
By banking on the GOP’s hatred of him, and by betting on their willingness to act against their own interests, he got what he wanted without much sacrifice on his part. Knowing their blind allegiance to a pinhead demagogue named Grover Norquist and a no-taxes-forever pledge he made them sign, Obama watched while the GOP members of the supercommittee backed themselves, and their party, into an uncomfortable corner.
They were now, like it or not, the party of the one percent. While they have always been the unflinching champions of greedy bankers and corporations, they were forced, maybe for the first time, to admit it in front of the nation.
By publicly defending the very thieves who sank our economy in the first place, and by demanding that the middle class, not the richest one percent of Americans, shoulder the burden of fixing that economy — the GOP has put themselves right where the president wants them — shooting blindly in every direction.
Couple that with the pitiful collection of dullards and maniacs they’ve decided are their best chance of beating Obama next fall, and you can see how the president must have seen this coming eight or ten moves ago, and like a chess grand master, skillfully maneuvered his opponent into a position of vulnerability.
He fooled the entire leadership of the Republican Party. They will never give him credit for it, but he made them all look foolish, and gave himself another leg up on his re-election campaign.
I’ll give him credit, though. Barack Obama is the smartest man in Washington.
I’ve known state Rep. Rosita Youngblood for a number of years, and as a matter of full disclosure, I once did some writing for one of her re-election campaigns. She is a thoughtful, good-natured woman whose sweet exterior hides a tough-as-nails street politician who can take it — and dish it out — with the best of them.
Which is why I wasn’t surprised this week to find that she’s still doing battle with her colleagues in the legislature over a patch of rugged land on the Pennsylvania–Maryland border known officially as Negro Mountain.
If you’ve never heard of Negro Mountain, don’t feel bad — neither had Youngblood until her granddaughter showed it to her in a school textbook in 2007. The legislator was horrified, and swore then and there to do everything in her power to get the name changed. She’s been fighting that fight ever since. She keeps introducing the bill, and it keeps getting thrown back at her.
You’d think that particular piece of legislation would be a no-brainer. Who could possibly object to a more appropriate, less offensive name for the highest peak in Pennsylvania? Your fellow Pennsylvanians, that’s who. And their elected representatives have put up obstacles and roadblocks to Youngblood’s cause every step of the way.
“It just shows the mindset of many Pennsylvanians,” a frustrated Youngblood told me this week. “They’re just resistant to change of any kind.”
Particularly galling to Youngblood is their excuse for resistance to changing the name: that it was already changed to Negro Mountain years ago, replacing the far more offensive original name. (I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two don’t count.)
Negro Mountain was named for a man named Nemesis, a Black frontiersman who saved white settlers from attack at the cost of his own life in 1756 during the French and Indian War. If the original intention was to honor the man and his sacrifice, Youngblood argues, then what’s wrong with renaming it Nemesis Mountain?
If the name Negro Mountain alarms you, get ready for a real shock: In the U.S. today, there are 757 places with Negro in the name, many of which, like Negro Mountain, were changed to the more acceptable “Negro” from you-know-what. There are also 35 “Spooks,” 30 “Spades,” 14 “Sambos,” at least seven “Darkeys,” and according to the U.S. Geological Service, too many “Coons” to count. There’s a Darkey Springs, Tennessee; a Pickaninny Buttes, California; a Dead Negro Draw in Texas — and just for diversity, a Jewtown, Georgia.
I rattled off those names and numbers to Youngblood, and I could hear her anger rising over the phone.
“This is ridiculous,” she growled. “What century are we living in? In my mind, there’s no justification for this blatant disrespect — none. They always fall back on ‘tradition’ when you call them out on it, but any tradition that disrespects and demeans an entire group of people is not a tradition worth holding on to.”
Her uphill battle against her rural colleagues over this is made even steeper by circumstance: The chair of the house committee overseeing any possible name change is Butler County Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a man so vile I’m ashamed to share a first name with him.
You may recall a couple of years back when Metcalfe held a fundraising carnival for his redneck contributors and supplied life-size targets of President Obama for the toothless yahoos to shoot at with live ammunition. Yeah, that Daryl Metcalfe. How sensitive do you think he’ll be to the cause of changing the name of Negro Mountain? Heck, we’ll be lucky if he doesn’t try to change it back to the original name — you know, for the sake of tradition.
None of that, though, deters Rosita Youngblood. She keeps advancing the bills, and advocating for the name change — through six years, two governors and a house divided against her, she keeps pushing. For her, honoring Nemesis the man is equally important as changing the name of the mountain. Lately, she said, the state is simply not acknowledging the name at all — as if ignoring a mountain could make the controversy go away.
“I’m going to stay on top of this, no matter what,” she said. “We should honor Nemesis, an important figure in our state’s history. That mountain should bear his name, not his skin color.”
She’s right, and the reason — the only reason — to object to changing the name to Nemesis Mountain is obvious, and has nothing to do with tradition.
Daryl Gale is the city editor of the Philadelphia Tribune.
LONDON — This seminal 9/11 event embraced an essence of freedom sparking outrage around the world.
This event erupted exactly one year before the devastating 9/11/01 attacks in America where terrorists struck out at several targets, including the iconic Twin Towers in New York City.
Those terrorist attacks provoked a punitive military response from the U.S. government that decimated the freedom of life for millions from Iraq to Afghanistan while also driving the federal government deep into trillion-dollar debt that’s exacerbated multiple miseries for Americans.
On September 11, 2000, a woman from the African nation of Sudan escaped from slavery…yes, the bought-and-sold brand of slavery most people thought died well over a century ago.
Mende Nazer, from the Nuba Mountains in southern Sudan, fled to freedom from her then place of enslavement — the home of a Sudanese diplomat located in a posh section of London.
Nazer’s story —from being captured as a child by raiders in her rural village through to a captivity compounded by regular physical and sexual abuse — became the subject of news articles, an asylum campaign, a book, a television documentary and a play.
That play, “Slave: A Question of Freedom,” premiered in London last Thursday evening with a gripping performance in a venue on the banks of the Thames River and before a packed audience that included Nazer.
Throughout the performance, Nazer sobbed, often uncontrollably.
Nazer sat next to the play’s director and co-author, Caroline Clegg, who kept a comforting arm around Nazer all the while.
Nazer, during an interview after the play with the host of a London internet radio show, said seeing the play evokes her reliving all of the horrors of the dread she experienced.
“Why I cry is the play is so real…it tells my story. Every time I see it my emotions come over me,” Nazer said during that interview, which aired two days after the premier on the “Saturday Breakfast” show on Colorfulradio.com.
“People have to get aware of what is going on around the world and get involved,” Nazer told the “Breakfast” show’s host, Richard Phillips, about modern day slavery.
Phillips, whose on-air name is Toby Kell-Ogg, expressed utter amazement about the scourge of ongoing slavery. “This thing of slavery is staggering.”
The play’s director, Clegg, in remarks following the premier and during her interview with Phillips, said she thought slavery was an outrage of the distant past until she read the book on Nazer’s plight and plunged into five years of researching the subject.
“I found out that (slavery) is a big industry and a dirty secret,” Clegg said.
“We have got to end this in our lifetime,” Clegg said, citing statistics from experts who contend modern slavery exceeds the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Modern slavery spans sex-slaves from Asian and Eastern European countries to child trafficking in India and West Africa and labor-slavery on agricultural estates in Brazil — a truly worldwide offense hardly limited to the Sudan of Nazer’s circumstance.
The London-based Anti-Slavery International organization estimates that “at any one time” 5,000 people are trafficked in the United Kingdom.
“While some are forced into prostitution, increasing numbers are forced to work in construction, domestic work, cleaning, the restaurant trade, care, on farms and in factories,” the organization’s website states.
Forms of slavery, according Anti-Slavery International, include persons that are “bought and sold as property” plus persons who are “owned and controlled” by their employers.
“There are places in the world where parents living in dire poverty will sell their children,” Clegg said during the “Breakfast” show interview.
“People come to the U.K. as domestic workers recruited in India and Thailand. When they get here their employers take away their passports and they become stateless, vulnerable because they can’t flee.
Nazer experienced having her passport snatched while held in the London home of the Sudanese diplomat after she began questioning her circumstance.
To heighten Nazer’s isolation and dependence, her captors falsely claimed that London was an extremely dangerous city where even a walk on the street presented life threatening risk. They barred her from leaving the house alone.
“Slave: A Question of Freedom” tells the story of Nazer. It was adapted by Clegg (and Kevin Fegan) from the book written about Nazer by a British journalist who aided Nazer’s fight for freedom.
The play begins with Nazer’s childhood life in the Nuba Mountains through to her capture before then focusing on her captivity in Khartoum (Sudan’s capital) and London, and her post-escape struggle for freedom.
Incredibly, the British government rejected Nazer’s first request for asylum on the odious assertion that slavery didn’t constitute persecution.
A campaign for Nazer’s freedom that included the assistance of members of Britain’s Parliament forced a government reversal on asylum — but seemingly based on pragmatism not moral principal.
In part, the letter granting Nazer freedom stated: “In view of the widespread publication of her book” the government’s satisfied she’d “face difficulties…were she to be returned to Sudan.”
A few years after receiving asylum Nazer returned to the Nuba Mountains, reuniting briefly with her remaining family. However, she entered through rebel territory, fearing government retribution if she flew into Khartoum.
Nazer currently lives in Britain, although Clegg told a Philadelphia Tribune reporter that Nazer plans to eventually move to the United States.
“If I made a difference, all of you can,” Nazer said.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
Like most of you, I’ve been grinding my teeth at each new austerity measure enacted by our governor, Tom Corbett. The man is on a mission — an escalating series of reverse-Robin Hood maneuvers designed to take from the poor (and the elderly, and the school kids, and immigrants, and … well, everyone) and give the proceeds to his rich friends and contributors.
The mega-rich gas drillers raping our natural resources upstate at Marcellus Shale get a pass — no fees or taxes — while the state’s school systems go under and state colleges get by on far less than they need. The governor’s reasoning here is that if we don’t give away the store to the drillers, they’ll pick up their equipment and move to neighboring New York or West Virginia.
Marcellus Shale represents perhaps the largest pocket of natural gas anywhere in the country, and a cash cow for decades for those drillers, their investors and the peripheral businesses that stand to benefit. Other states with exploitable natural resources — Texas and Alaska come to mind — charge a pretty penny to those corporations for the privilege. Those states then use the windfall to pay for things like schools, roads, and maybe even the lowering of property taxes.
This is not a crushing burden on those companies. With the vast amounts of money to be made, those state taxes and fees amount to a small drop in a very large bucket. But here in Pennsylvania, not only do corporations eat free, Corbett has gleefully ignored the environmental and human costs, gutting regulations that would at least keep those corporations from poisoning our air and water for generations.
He’s cut off the money to public schools, made college an unreachable goal for thousands of Pennsylvania families, sat on his hands as Attorney General even with the full knowledge of Jerry Sandusky’s heinous crimes at Penn State, and given us the new voter ID law, the most insidious violation of citizens’ basic rights and dignity since “Colored Only” water fountains.
For these, and a thousand other reasons, there’s only one recourse left for those of us who wish to live in a free commonwealth that lives up to our state constitution: Impeach Tom Corbett.
Yes, impeach him. Storm the castle with pitchforks and torches and throw the bum out on his ear.
Turns out, though, that I’m not the first to come up with this idea. Type “Impeach Corbett” into your favorite Web browser, and you’ll be as surprised as I was. Several petitions to oust Corbett can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Change.org and ipetitions.com. The Internet is bursting with Pennsylvania residents who’ve had the idea for months — some who started their petition drives not long after he took office.
Is success just a matter of the number of signatures collected? Frankly, no.
Unlike states whose constitutions allow for a popular recall vote, like the one mounted earlier this year in Wisconsin to recall Gov. Scott Walker, Pennsylvania depends upon its legislature, specifically the House, to present articles of impeachment.
Because of the Republican legislative majority, there’s probably little chance of getting articles of impeachment through the House, let alone an actual up or down vote. That fact, however, should not stop us from trying.
If enough Democrats in the House are courageous enough to take up the banner, it is possible that even the threat of impeachment will be enough to punish, harass and embarrass the governor into doing the right thing — especially since that embarrassment would come in the middle of an important election season.
Corbett has laid waste to the commonwealth’s constitution, the very document he swore to defend. He has time and again violated present law and common decency in his ongoing effort to make sure his cronies and contributors get fat while the rest of Pennsylvania starves to death.
So how about it, progressive House members? Will you continue to roll over, keeping silent while Corbett and his GOP minions shred your constituents’ state-guaranteed safety net, gut the education treasury in favor of school vouchers and poison our environment?
It will only take a few of you. Get your legislative aides to compile a list of Corbett’s most egregious constitutional violations, and they are myriad — and prepare the articles of impeachment.
Make your colleagues across the aisle defend the indefensible, while hitching their careers and political futures to a callous, partisan hatchet man. Make Corbett look the old folks and school children in the eye while he cuts their throats.
Even if we fail to ultimately impeach him, it will be an effort well spent.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.