The Stonecutter

copyright © 2009. Jerry Northington.  campaign website or on the blog.

Much may be made of what seems like permanent material when a stonecutter takes his tools and begins to work.  The stonecutter aiming to break off a piece of a larger stone block hits the stone time and time again with his mallet and chisel.  A final blow is struck and the stone breaks.  The stonecutter knows the final blow was not the one that broke the stone.  It was instead the accumulation of patient effort and many blows that led to the final changing of the stone.  So it is with a nation trying to restore itself in the name of liberty and justice for all.

Many steps must be taken to insure the proper outcome.  Some are already in progress with the administration’s order to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.  Detainees are humans who deserve the same rights and privileges as any other human being.  Under our system of laws a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.  If we are to restore our lost standing in the eyes of the world we must begin to give the detainees the same access to trial we ask for ourselves.  Those declared innocent must have their freedom restored.  Those found guilty of crimes may serve their appropriate punishment under our laws.

If we are to become again a nation of laws rather than a nation of rules put forth by people ignoring the law we have much work to do.  President Obama has already reversed many of the executive orders left in place by the last administration.  Rules promulgated without adequate public notice are being reviewed and changed as the days continue to pass by.  Like the stonecutter working at his task, the administration continues to strike one blow at a time in the name of justice and liberty.

We, the people, are the ones who will in the end be served best of all by a return to our founding principles.  We must continue to be patient, but we need not allow these days to be the best we will enjoy.  There is always a better nation right around the corner so long as we keep pushing for change and for real improvement.

Peace.

Quote of the week:

Violence is an admission that one’s ideals and goals cannot prevail on their own merits.

~ Edward M. Kennedy

“I Have a Dream”



Martin Luther King “I have a dream

copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

Today, while not the actual anniversary of Martin Luther King Junior’s birth date, is the occasion on which we commemorate the man who reminded all of us of our greatness.  Reverend King reflected; we are human beings.  When we are united, we can, and will accomplish grand feats.  We can overcome injustice, hatred, and abuses of a perceived power.  As a country, we need not continue on the path of prejudice.  A dream of opportunity for all can be realized if we work to right the wrongs of the past that, at the time of his speech, and today, still live.  In front of hundreds of thousands, Doctor Martin Luther King Junior cried out for an ethical, economic, and emotional equity.

The revered Reverend recounted a history that in nineteen hundred and sixty three haunted humanity.  In a nation founded on liberty and justice for all, for centuries, men, women, and children rose up on the back of slaves.  He recalled the Emancipation Proclamation, that was intended to set Black people free.  As Doctor King stood in the symbolic shadow of a President he characterized as a great American, Abraham Lincoln he reflected on the doctrine meant to end the discrimination that allows for such captivity.  There in Washington District of Columbia, on that hot August day, Martin Luther King spoke of his dream, and a promise not yet fulfilled.

The pledge, a former President committed to, was then, five score years after it was avowed, not honored.  Late in the twentieth century, Reverend King had seen in the streets of Alabama, understood, on the curvaceous slopes of California, on the red hills of Georgia, on every mound and molehill of Mississippi, in the Alleghenies of Pennsylvania, and on mighty mountains of New York, freedom had not rung for Black Americans.

Hence, this son, grandson of a Pastor knew; he, his Black brothers, sisters,  and all people could no longer remain silent,  Doctor King worked towards an end to segregation.  He endeavored to achieve enactments of Civil Rights laws.  He helped create a coalition of conscience.  The Reverend inspired many.  Yet, he felt a need to do more.  He had a dream.

On this summer day, unexpectedly, and advised against such high-minded rhetoric  Martin Luther King could not restrain himself.  He felt “the fierce urgency of now.”  Thus, he mounted the platform, built on the backs of his ancestors, slaves, and revealed a reality that for too long was not mentioned publicly.  The Reverend stood strong and spoke for the sons of former slaves, and their son, all of whom were stationed, by virtue of their race in an invisible bondage.  King proclaimed what these men, women, and children could not say; yet, what all knew to be true.  Racial discrimination, in the land of the free and home of the brave, flourished.  

On August 28, 1963, after years of nonviolent protest, ample requests for racial equality, a cessation to prejudice, “Martin,” as those close to him called him, addressed an audience of many colors.  He acknowledged, the veracity, that we, as people, are one.  Humans, every one, are joined to the other.  As he looked out onto the Washington Mall, Civil Rights leader King recognized that some, whose skin was not dark, who may not have experienced the bigotry their brethren had, still understood the dream as he did.  

We must work together.  On that afternoon, many persons whose complexion was pink and pale, expressed they were willing.  “(W)hite brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.  They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”

Yet, now, two score and three years anon, as a nation, we have yet to fully honor the promissory note Abraham Lincoln bestowed upon our Black brothers and sisters.  The check Martin Luther King Junior referred to as “bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds” is not secured.  

Granted we have made progress, slight and slow.  There is still much to be done.  Tomorrow, we hope to see a beginning.  The first Black President will be sworn into office.  An African-American family will reside in the White House.  The Obama’s inspired Americans who yearn to believe that “Yes we can!”

Yet, let us not forget, one Black man, and his relations cannot, and will not, fulfill Martin Luther King’s dream.  If all men are to reach the Mountain Top, we must climb together, in every moment.  Obstacles cannot be forded by the eloquent words of our founders.  Nor could Doctor King conquer the invisible inequity that permeated a prejudice populace then.  Today, Barack Obama will not have the power to prohibit intolerance; nor can he do more than advocate for acceptance.

Change does not come from external forces.  Only we can choose to believe, as Doctor Martin Luther King did.  “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.  This is our hope,” his, yours, and mine.

Let us make our dreams come true.  Let freedom ring!  “And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last!  thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Please peruse the full text of this momentous, memorable speech.  Let the words wash over you.  Breathe them in.  Let us begin to fulfill a dream too long denied.


I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check – a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.

This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.

We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

The Qualified Quest for Justice



Jews, Christians and Muslims Unite Against Evildoers

copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

Just days ago, throughout the globe, people celebrated religious holidays.  Peace on Earth and good will to all men was the palpable feeling that filled the air.  Everywhere anyone turned expressions of fondness for our fellow beings could be heard.  People were filled with glee.  Then, suddenly, the sound that is the silent hum of joyous laughter was broken.  Everything changed.  Yet, indeed nothing did.  The cycle of violence that has perpetually existed on this planet began again.  The qualified quest for justice was once more the people’s agenda.  In Israel and Gaza, bombs blasted.  Bullets whizzed by the heads of frantic, frightened people who sought shelter from another Mediterranean storm.  Some died.  Hamas was blamed for the initial attacks, this time.  As had occurred on other occasions, Israel, in the name of self-defense, fought back.  The roles might have been reversed and have been.

Each believes the other is at fault.  One force characterizes the antagonist as an occupier.  Late in 2008, the people who are said to have been the provocateurs are tagged as terrorists.  The monikers are interchangeable and have been for centuries.

This recent barrage of words and weapons was not the first on sacred terrain.  No one expects it will be the last.  Apparently, today, as has been true for eons, people have accepted peace as a temporal occurrence.  It is always followed by war.  

Pious people only pretend to honor the hallowed Commandment found in every faith, “Thou shalt not kill.”  In truth, on some principle not evident in scriptures, the Bible, the Qur’an, or other religious teaching, humans conclude all men and Not created equal.

For the wise, the worthy, the wondrous creatures who believe all beings are created equally, and in G-d’s image, the concept of fairness and empathy for all others are only ones of convenience.  These can be, and by all means should be, ignored, when a country, clan, chap, or cute daughter of Eve feels there is reason for self-defense.  When the quest for conquest is greater than the desire for tranquility, justice is found in a series of deadly explosions!

Rational persons become self-righteous when they feel attacked or wish to assault another.  Whatever excuses an ethical individual, or a respectable region, can find to intellectualize war will serve a being who wishes to be brutal.  One need only reflect upon the writings of a few to understand why warfare never ends.

In what would become a foundation for America, within the Declaration of Independence, the words of Thomas Jefferson appear, “All me are created equal.”  This thought was meant to remind citizens of this country of a tenet adopted in ancient times, by not just one, but by many religions.  

A Jewish theologian, Torah scholar, Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld reflects on a historical reality rarely honored by modern man.  “(A)ll men are created equal” (women too for that matter), and, as eloquently as Thomas Jefferson put it, this comes directly from our own Torah.  Maimonides (Mishne Torah, Hil’ Teshuva 5:2) writes that unlike the belief of foolish Gentiles and unlearned Jews that each person is predestined to good or evil, it is within the ability of each person to determine his or her own fate.”

Rabbi Rosenfeld then further elucidates each of us can be virtuous or iniquitous.  As individuals, apart from our intellectual measure, personal milieu, history, monetary means, or influence we have the capacity to choose what we wish to do and who we yearn to be.

The scholar and teacher of Torah, Dovid Rosenfeld shares the observations of another, devout academician, Dean of Aish HaTorah International, Rabbi Noach Weinberg (www.aish.com), “We are certainly not equal when it comes to talents, predilections, or natural abilities.  But in this one regard we are all equal: we all possess souls.  We have the potential to develop ourselves, whether in goodness or wickedness, and we possess the free will to determine which path we will follow.  Goodness and closeness to G-d are not reserved for the intellectual, the scholarly, or the well-pedigreed.  It is the inherent right of all mankind and the simple fact of our humanity.”

While many amongst the Jewish faithful quote the wisdom of each of these devout devotees of the Almighty, the significance of the statements is void in action.  The same is true in Islamic tradition.  Several fervent followers find solace in the scriptures; indeed, “The Glorious Qur’an mentions, with commendation, Prophet Jesus (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) as it does to Prophet Moses (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him),” others who purport to believe in teachings of Islam, Hamas amid these, ignore the splendor found in the religious text.

Islam aims at eliminating all aspects of racism and dislikes prejudiced-oriented party gatherings.  Islam, equally, disapproves all acts leading to disputes, fights, among individuals and peoples.  Islam requires its followers to believe in the Divine Messages and Scriptures of all previous nations [community] in order to eliminate any hatred or biased feelings.  Islam considers such an act as one of the essential tenants of faith.

While the most boisterous today, and for centuries, have beat the battle drums, murdered, caused mayhem, massacred, and engaged in the most dire deeds, all in the name of justice, a very few participate in another, more harmonic quest.  

These individuals believe in sacrosanct traditions too.  The truly peaceful propose actions must reflect religious and rational reason.  Those who work towards universal serenity walk with the Lord on holy days and during the most mundane of times.  Advocates of amicable exchanges and equality for all, aspire to a stable serenity, as is referenced in theological text.  

“Pacifists,”, do not adopt the vicious edicts of those who think war will bring about peace, albeit, the warriors admit, provisionally.  The tranquil people have faith that all men, women, and children can choose how they wish to respond to conflict.  People are free to engage in good or evil.

Those on a quest for nonviolent justice, one without qualifiers that restrict the significance of religious commandments, talk without the accompaniment of a big stick.  They walk with a sincere sense of awe for kindnesses.  They also type articles that advocate for empathy and avoid the argument of self-defense.

Thus, on November 10, 2000, Deborah Ducrocq, then Managing Editor of the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, a devout Jew in her own right, published an article, she received.  The missive penned by another Judaic faithful, Judith Stone, is titled, “The Quest for Justice.” The tone and transcript were considered controversial by the clannish amongst the American Jews.  Indeed, after the missive appeared, the Ms Ducrocq was promptly dismissed by her ?superiors.

Yet, as much as the words offended the Jewish employers, for persons who struggle with a spiritual history, Jew, Gentile, and Islamist who yearn for authentic and lasting global harmony, the wisdom Judith Stone inscribed, and Deborah Ducrocq delivered, resonates.

While some might say this early essay is no longer politically pertinent, others trust, the sentiment expressed is as valid today as it was then, and will be tomorrow.  


“Quest for Justice”

By Judith Stone

I am a Jew.  I was a participant in the Rally for the Right of Return to Palestine.  It was the right thing to do.  I’ve heard about the European holocaust against the Jews since I was a small child.  I’ve visited the memorials in Washington, DC and Jerusalem dedicated to Jewish lives lost and I’ve cried at the recognition to what level of atrocity mankind is capable of sinking.

Where are the Jews of conscience?  No righteous malice can be held against the survivors of Hitler’s holocaust.  These fragments of humanity were in no position to make choices beyond that of personal survival.  We must not forget that being a survivor or a co-religionist of the victims of the European Holocaust does not grant dispensation from abiding by the rules of humanity.

“Never again” as a motto, rings hollow when it means “never again to us alone.”  My generation was raised being led to believe that the biblical land was a vast desert inhabited by a handful of impoverished Palestinians living with their camels and eking out a living in the sand.  The arrival of the Jews was touted as a tremendous benefit to these desert dwellers.  Golda Mier even assured us that there “is no Palestinian problem.”

We know now this picture wasn’t as it was painted.  Palestine was a land filled with people who called it home.  There were thriving towns and villages, schools and hospitals.  There were Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  In fact, prior to the occupation, Jews represented a mere 7 percent of the population and owned 3 percent of the land.

Taking the blinders off for a moment, I see a second atrocity perpetuated by the very people who should be exquisitely sensitive to the suffering of others.  These people knew what it felt like to be ordered out of your home at gun point and forced to march into the night to unknown destinations or face execution on the spot.  The people who displaced the Palestinians knew first hand what it means to watch your home in flames, to surrender everything dear to your heart at a moment’s notice.  Bulldozers leveled hundreds of villages, along with the remains of the village inhabitants, the old, and the young.  This was nothing new to the world.

Poland is a vast graveyard of the Jews of Europe.  Israel is the final resting place of the massacred Palestinian people.  A short distance from the memorial to the Jewish children lost to the holocaust in Europe there is a leveled parking lot.  Under this parking lot is what’s left of a once flourishing village and the bodies of men, women, and children whose only crime was taking up needed space and not leaving graciously.  This particular burial marker reads: “Public Parking.”

I’ve talked with Palestinians.  I have yet to meet a Palestinian who hasn’t lost a member of their family to the Israeli Shoah, nor a Palestinian who cannot name a relative or friend languishing under inhumane conditions in an Israeli prison.  Time and time again, Israel is cited for human rights violations to no avail.  On a recent trip to Israel, I visited the refugee camps inhabited by a people who have waited 52 years in these ‘temporary’ camps to go home.  Every Palestinian grandparent can tell you the name of their village, their street, and where the olive trees were planted.

Their grandchildren may never have been home, but they can tell you where their great-grandfather lies buried and where the village well stood.  The press has fostered the portrait of the Palestinian terrorist.  But, the victims who rose up against human indignity in the Warsaw Ghetto are called heroes.  Those who lost their lives are called martyrs.  The Palestinian who tosses a rock in desperation is a terrorist.

Two years ago I drove through Palestine and watched intricate sprinkler systems watering lush green lawns of Zionist settlers in their new condominium complexes, surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire in the midst of a Palestinian community where there was not adequate water to drink and the surrounding fields were sandy and dry.  University professor Moshe Zimmerman reported in the Jerusalem Post (April 30, 1995), “The [Jewish] children of Hebron are just like Hitler’s youth.”

We Jews are suing for restitution, lost wages, compensation for homes, land, slave labor and back wages in Europe.  Am I a traitor of a Jew for supporting the right of return of the Palestinian refugees to their birthplace and compensation for what was taken that cannot be returned?

The Jewish dead cannot be brought back to life and neither can the Palestinian massacred be resurrected.  David Ben Gurion said, “Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves… politically, we are the aggressors and they defend themselves…The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country…”

Palestine is a land that has been occupied and emptied of its people.  It’s cultural and physical landmarks have been obliterated and replaced by tidy Hebrew signs.  The history of a people was the first thing eradicated by the occupiers.  The history of the indigenous people has been all but eradicated as though they never existed.  And all this has been hailed by the world as a miraculous act of G-d.  We must recognize that Israel’s existence is not even a question of legality so much as it is an illegal fait accompli realized through the use of force while supported by the Western powers.  The UN missions directed at Israel in attempting to correct its violations of have thus far been futile.

In Hertzl’s “The Jewish State,” the father of Zionism said, “…We must investigate and take possession of the new Jewish country by means of every modern expedient.”  I guess I agree with Ehud Barak (3 June 1998) when he said, “If I were a Palestinian, I’d also join a terror group.”  I’d go a step further perhaps.  Rather than throwing little stones in desperation, I’d hurtle a boulder.

Hopefully, somewhere deep inside, every Jew of conscience knows that this was no war; that this was not G-d’s restitution of the holy land to it’s rightful owners.  We know that a human atrocity was and continues to be perpetuated against an innocent people who couldn’t come up with the arms and money to defend themselves against the western powers bent upon their demise as a people.

We cannot continue to say, “But what were we to do?”  Zionism is not synonymous with Judaism.  I wholly support the rally of the right of return of the Palestinian people.

Indeed, what is to be done amidst the bombs and bullets.  Those who have faith in talk, treatises that remain forever intact and tranquility can only bemoan the truth when they witness calm, compassionate, persons, who say they care for all mankind, become clannish when they chatter about political agendas in the Middle East.  

What can anyone do when people preach peace and practice violence in the name of the Lord, Allah, or the Almighty, or even atheist theories.   When the pious come to blows, fist to cuffs, as they fight for freedom and justice for all, or at least all who look or live as they do, what do the quieter “others” do?

The peace lover takes no comfort in the obvious; canons are practiced inconsistently.  Even the religious are ready to attack.  Excuses are made.  Each nation and its inhabitants offer validation for vicious, vindictive, imprudent assaults.  Nor does the antiwar wish to ask questions that are never truly answered.  Is it ethical, inevitable, eternal, and when, or how will it ever end.  Conscientious objector to combat acknowledge the mantra will likely be reactive.  Attack; inquire of ethics anon.

This is why peaceful persons might try not to actively engage in discussions of the affairs in the Mediterranean, ever.  They know.  While warriors wish to answer such inquiries with another, “What would you do if your home were blasted, would you retaliate?”  The peaceful can only ponder, what is this strange quest for justice?  Revenge?

“Don’t take vengeance and don’t bear a grudge against the members of your nation; love your neighbor as yourself”. (Leviticus 19:18.)

~ Torah

“Those who spend in ease as well as in adversity and those who restrain (their) anger and pardon men.”

~ Qur’an

Religious References . . .

Did Racism Help Cause the Mortgage Crisis? Part One

I am honored to present the work of Ralph Brauer.  For some time I have marveled as I read his research and reflected upon his work.  Today, this author of note shares with readers at BeThink.  I welcome Ralph Brauer.  May I invite you to peruse his prose.  Please ponder; then share your thoughts.

copyright © 2008 Ralph Brauer. The Strange Death of Liberal America

There is an elephant in the room no one wants to mention when you bring up the housing crisis.  It is the same elephant that has occupied the room since the very beginning of this nation.  Yes, it was there that hot Philadelphia summer when they drafted the Constitution.  Maybe that is what Ben Franklin is gazing at as he sits in the center of the famous painting of the signing of the Constitution by Howard Chandler Christy that hangs today in the House of Representatives east stairway.  Certainly the elephant had haunted Franklin much of his life causing him to call it “a constant butchery of the human species” in an anonymous letter written in 1772.  That elephant that haunted Franklin and continues to haunt us today is racism.

The economic crisis we face today has produced countless essays analyzing its origins and proposing all manner of cures, but almost no one has dared to mention the elephant in the room.  As I researched this topic I found only one person who seemed to be on to it: John Kimble, who wrote an excellent op ed piece in the New Orleans Times Picayune in October that should be required reading for everyone.  One sentence gets to the heart of the matter:

What few today remember is that one of the government’s central goals in undertaking mortgage market reform was to segregate American cities by race.

That such a piece should come from New Orleans does not surprise me; that few have sought to connect what to me seem rather obvious dots is more of a mystery to me.  But that is the power of that elephant in the room.

Perhaps now with an African American President we will finally have more open discussion of the elephant in the room and that discussion should begin by acknowledging that the elephant played a significant role in causing the mortgage crisis which in turn has toppled financial giants as if they were a row of dominoes.  To understand why we need to go back to the years immediately after the Second World War when the housing boom began.

The Creation of the Suburb

The discussion of the role of racism in America should begin by confronting the most important social, cultural and political reality of the past half century: the American suburb is largely a creation of racist loan policies that came from none other than the federal government.  The suburban migration stands as one of the largest freely-undertaken, government-subsidized mass social movements in history.  It accomplished by democratic means what dictators over the ages have tried to accomplish by force: alter the physical, economic, and social environment to create a unique culture.  As Kenneth Jackson writes in Crabgrass Frontier, his history of the American suburb:

Suburbanization was not an historical inevitability created by geography, technology, and culture, but rather the product of government policies.  (p. 293)

Through a variety of government subsidies, the creation of the suburbs allowed people of modest means to attain what real estate ads have christened the American dream.  The immensity of this achievement is only beginning to dawn on us, for it constituted the kind of land and social reform that governments everywhere still try to accomplish.  Kenneth Jackson notes:

Single family housing starts in this country rose from 114,000 in 1944 to 937,000 in 1946, 1,183,000 in 1948, and 1,692,000 in 1950.  (p. 233)

The federal government financed this growth through the Federal Housing Administration, an agency created during the New Deal to help spur the growth of home construction.  During the postwar housing boom Jackson points out:

The main beneficiary of the $119 billion in FHA mortgage insurance issued in the first four decades of FHA operation was suburbia.

Drawing the Color Line

A half century before the creation of suburban America, W.E.B. DuBois had written in the very first sentence of The Souls of Black Folk the immortal and prescient words:

HEREIN lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here at the dawning of the Twentieth Century.  This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.

Little could DuBois have predicted that the color line would become a red line drawn around the American suburb by none other than the FHA.  The name redlining actually dates back to the 1930s when the FHA first began using color codes to designate areas where they should not invest.  Red areas were off-limits.  Jackson states:

FHA also helped to turn the building industry against the minority and inner-city housing market, and its policies supported the income and racial segregation of suburbia.

Even as the suburbs mushroomed across the American landscape, a few were asking questions.  In 1955 Columbia Professor Charles Abrams charged:

From its inception, the FHA set itself up as protector of the all white neighborhood.  It sent its agents into the field to keep Negroes and other minorities from buying houses in white neighborhoods.  (Jackson, pp. 213-214)

In what has become the classic source on FHA discrimination, The Politics of Exclusion, Michael Danielson quotes an FHA underwriting manual:

If a neighborhood is to retain stability, it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes.  A change in social or racial occupancy generally leads to instability and reduction in values.(p. 203)

FHA policies also required appraisers to determine the probability of people of color moving into a neighborhood and even forced homeowners to agree not to sell their property to someone of another race.  According to one commentator,

“[T]he most basic sentiment underlying the FHA’s concern was its fear that property values would decline if a rigid black and white segregation was not maintained.

With the rise of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, the FHA began to make some attempt to right these wrongs, but with the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, the so-called “Southern Strategy” soon put a stop these efforts.  Chris Bonastia documented Nixon’s dismantling of FHA’s residential integration efforts in his paper, “Hedging His Bets: Why Nixon Killed HUD’s Desegregation Efforts.” Nixon’s refusal to back HUD’s reform efforts would have an impact on American society that ranks right up there with the decision by President Rutherford B. Hayes to abandon the South to the segregationists, essentially ending Reconstruction.

Yet to see one man and one decision as a historical lynch pin is to take an outmoded view of history, for the truth is that by 1968 the die had already been cast and DuBois’ color line had been drawn like a moat around the suburbs designed to keep people of color from entering. It would have taken considerable political will–and perhaps even federal law enforcement–to desegregate the suburbs by then.  Dr. Martin Luther King, jr.’s infamous march into the Chicago suburb of Cicero, where he was met with bricks and catcalls, showed the depth of that moat. There is a moment in the video of that march when you hear what sounds like a shot and King turns suddenly as if wondering where the shot came from.

This does not excuse Nixon’s actions, which at best were misguided and at worst cowardly and racist. While historians debate how much Richard Nixon personally bought into the Thurmond catechism, his elevation of Thurmond aide Harry Dent to the White House staff after the election sent a clear signal of his alliance with Thurmond. Dent was the one who sat outside the Senate chamber with a pail in case Thurmond needed a quick bathroom break during his record-setting filibuster. Nixon himself put it bluntly:

I am not going to campaign for the black vote at the risk of alienating the suburban vote.

For the federal government to go further than the law, to force integration in the suburbs, I think is unrealistic. I think it will be counter-productive and not in the interest of better race relations. [quoted in Charles M. Lamb, Housing Segregation in Suburban America Since 1960, p. 4, p. 9]

Still, as Lamb would point out in a footnote, two decades later a University of California study found that 44% of white Americans favored encouraging African Americans to move to the suburbs.

The Creation of the Subprime Market

Yet the FHA did not just discriminate against people of color who sought to live in the suburbs, it also made  it more difficult for them to obtain loans, period, by refusing to insure loans in areas with high concentrations of people of color.  The systemic impact of this is still reverberating through America’s inner cities.  Without FHA insurance, no reputable bank would issue a home loan to someone living on the other side of the “color line.” This in turn had a host of social and cultural impacts, from resource-poor schools to lack of jobs because businesses would not build where the FHA would not write loans.

You don’t need to be a systems modeler to see how each of these came to feed on each other. In the last decade scholars have begun to refer to this as “structural racism,” by which they mean a convergence of forces and policies that conspires to sustain the color line. Just imagine one systemic loop: you cannot get a good job because you live in a neighborhood with substandard housing and were educated in a substandard school and so you cannot qualify for a loan for better housing which in turn further reinforces the substandard housing. Structural racism is also not a bad metaphor, either, for it suggests the immense weight of these multiple factors that presses down on people living inside those red lines drawn by the FHA.

Where legitimate businesses and institutions are prevented from entering, illegitimate ones will grow. Since regular banks would not lend to people of color in inner city neighborhoods and FHA policies kept them from lending to the few people of color who could afford suburban housing, there obviously was a need for someone to supply these loans and so we have the growth of the so-called subprime market, only back in those days they were known as loan sharks and other unprintable words and had reputation to rival check cashing operations, greedy landlords and take and bake furniture renters. Anyone who has grown up in the inner city can tell stories not only about price-gouging home loans, but high-priced loans for everything from cars to buying furniture or clothes on credit.

What Is Subprime Lending

Subprime lending is a mixture of old-fashioned altruism and blatant thievery with an American twist. Some entered into the business of making loans to people of color because they genuinely believed people deserved an equal opportunity, others saw a chance to make a quick buck. The reality of the situation was that without FHA insurance even the most well-meaning lenders still had to charge more than they would have for a white suburban home-buyer.

A 2003 study for the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law reported:

While red-lining has served to exclude poor and minority residents from the benefits of mainstream mortgage lending, purveyors of predatory lending (or so-called “reverse red-lining”) practices have targeted many of the same poor and minority households that traditional lending institutions have ignored or excluded.

In testimony before the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services in 2000 Bill Brennan of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society outlined how subprime lending works for lenders:

Here is what these companies do, the predators. They overcharge on interest and points, they charge egregiously high annual interest and prepaid finance charges, points, which are not justified by the risk involved, because these loans are collateralized by valuable real estate.

Since they usually only lend at 70 to 80 percent loan-to-value ratios, they have a 20 to 30 percent cushion to protect them if they have to foreclose. They usually always buy at the foreclosure sale and pay off the debt and sell the house for a profit.

As for those taking out the loans, Gary Gensler, Undersecretary for Domestic Finance at the treasury Department, told the same Committee:

Borrowers in these markets often have limited access to mainstream financial services. This leads to two things, as the Senator said earlier. Some borrowers who really would qualify for prime loans-we estimate anywhere between 15 and 35 percent of the subprime market could qualify for prime and cannot get that prime loan. Second, the rate and term competition is limited. Subprime lenders don’t tend to compete as much on price.

Beyond preying on vulnerable populations, beyond the limited access to mainstream financial services, is that abusive practices tend to be coupled with high-pressure sales tactics, whether by a mortgage broker, a home improvement contractor, sometimes a lender themselves in the local community.

Perhaps the most extensive and longest longitudinal study of predatory lending practices has been the Woodstock Institute’s periodic reports on Chicago.  It’s 1999 report “Two Steps Back” was among the earliest to blow the whistle on predatory lending.  They found:

Documented cases of abuse include fees exceeding 10 percent of the loan amount, payments structured so that they do not even cover interest (resulting in increasing principle balances), and flipping a loan numerous times in a couple of years.

At the same time, lending to lower-income and minority communities is often viewed as an isolated line of business, in which the focus is on the short term transaction and associated fees. Lenders active in such communities tend to be mortgage and finance companies subject to much less regulation than banks and thrifts. The increased scale of the subprime industry itself has resulted in a larger number of abuses. Moreover, there has not been a proportionate increase in regulation or regulatory resources devoted to this new industry.

As usual, graphs and tables tell the story in black and white:





The date on the graph may be a little difficult to see. It is 1998. On the first table, the percentage of subprime loans going to African American communities is 53%. Only 9% went to predominantly white communities. The Woodstock study went on to deal with the obvious question: is it race or income that is the strongest determinant of who receives a subprime loan? They found it was the former:

Thus, whether a neighborhood is predominantly African-American explains the greatest amount of variation in subprime lending,

The Final Results

In 1997 Bill Brennan could tell the New York Times:

We have financial apartheid in our country. We have low-income, often minority borrowers,  who are charged unconscionably high interest rates, either directly or indirectly through the cover of added charges.

Three years later Census data would confirm Brennan’s charge. The Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law found:

The typical white person lives in a neighborhood that is overwhelmingly white, with a few minorities (80.2% white, 6.7% African American, 7.9% Hispanic American, and 3.9% Asian American), the typical African American lives in a neighborhood that is mostly black (51.4% black, 33.0% white, 11.4% Hispanic American, and 3.3% Asian American). By comparison, the typical Hispanic American lives in a neighborhood that is more evenly Hispanic American and white (45.5% Hispanic, 36.5% white, 10.8% black, and 5.9% Asian American); and the typical Asian American lives in a neighborhood that is mostly white (17.9% Asian American, 54% white, 9.2%  black, and 17.4% Hispanic American).

In a study released this year by United for a Fair Economy, the authors note:

According to federal data, people of color are more than three times more likely to have subprime loans: high-cost loans account for 55% of loans to Blacks, but only 17% of loans to Whites.

This is a decade after the Woodstock study identified a similar pattern in Chicago.

Reflections

This history makes you wonder what kind of country we might have become had racism not pervaded the home mortgage market. The United for a Fair Economy study puts it eloquently:

While the housing crisis has affected all sectors of society, it has disproportionately affected communities and individuals of color. For them, the dream that Martin Luther King, Jr. once spoke of has been foreclosed.

Now the injustices white America heaped on black America for half a century have come home to roost. The sobering thought to ponder is that what you have read so far is merely the very tip of a rather large iceberg, for there are literally dozens and dozens of books and countless articles on racism and housing. If you enter “racism” and “housing” in Google you will find over four million entries. Yet despite over half a century of studies, reports and papers about discriminatory lending, little was done about it.

The most damning piece of evidence in this entire story is not that racism fostered predatory loans, but that like organized crime going from petty bootleggers and drug dealers to big time operators, the practice of predatory loan sharking expanded and went mainstream– moving from being the providence of small-time shady operators to mainstream banks. Essentially, loan-sharking cast off its sleazy past and the bigger it became the more people looked the other way.

That is until it suddenly threatens to take down the entire American economy. Now like the figures in that painting of Constitution Hall, fingers are pointing and people are staring.

If racism played a big role in creating the mortgage crisis, the solution to our current problems will prove tougher to deal with than what the so-called experts have been telling us. We could be witnessing the fourth American revolution. The first was the war for independence, the second the Civil War, the third the Great Depression and now the present crisis which combines the themes of the previous two–race and economics.

The next essay in this series focuses on how we got here and why, for only by understanding that journey can we see a way out of the current morass. What is clear so far is that this crisis is not merely the fault of a few misguided CEOs, but rather the culmination of decades of discrimination in which all of us are culpable.

Now the time has come to stop pretending there is no elephant in the room and deal with it.

Resources

For a good bibliography on the subject click here.

Crossposts: The Strange Death of Liberal America, My Left Wing, Progressive Historians, The Wild, Wild Left

Did Racism Help Cause the Mortgage Crisis? Part One

I am honored to present the work of Ralph Brauer.  For some time I have marveled as I read his research and reflected upon his work.  Today, this author of note shares with readers at BeThink.  I welcome Ralph Brauer.  May I invite you to peruse his prose.  Please ponder; then share your thoughts.

copyright © 2008 Ralph Brauer. The Strange Death of Liberal America

There is an elephant in the room no one wants to mention when you bring up the housing crisis.  It is the same elephant that has occupied the room since the very beginning of this nation.  Yes, it was there that hot Philadelphia summer when they drafted the Constitution.  Maybe that is what Ben Franklin is gazing at as he sits in the center of the famous painting of the signing of the Constitution by Howard Chandler Christy that hangs today in the House of Representatives east stairway.  Certainly the elephant had haunted Franklin much of his life causing him to call it “a constant butchery of the human species” in an anonymous letter written in 1772.  That elephant that haunted Franklin and continues to haunt us today is racism.

The economic crisis we face today has produced countless essays analyzing its origins and proposing all manner of cures, but almost no one has dared to mention the elephant in the room.  As I researched this topic I found only one person who seemed to be on to it: John Kimble, who wrote an excellent op ed piece in the New Orleans Times Picayune in October that should be required reading for everyone.  One sentence gets to the heart of the matter:

What few today remember is that one of the government’s central goals in undertaking mortgage market reform was to segregate American cities by race.

That such a piece should come from New Orleans does not surprise me; that few have sought to connect what to me seem rather obvious dots is more of a mystery to me.  But that is the power of that elephant in the room.

Perhaps now with an African American President we will finally have more open discussion of the elephant in the room and that discussion should begin by acknowledging that the elephant played a significant role in causing the mortgage crisis which in turn has toppled financial giants as if they were a row of dominoes.  To understand why we need to go back to the years immediately after the Second World War when the housing boom began.

The Creation of the Suburb

The discussion of the role of racism in America should begin by confronting the most important social, cultural and political reality of the past half century: the American suburb is largely a creation of racist loan policies that came from none other than the federal government.  The suburban migration stands as one of the largest freely-undertaken, government-subsidized mass social movements in history.  It accomplished by democratic means what dictators over the ages have tried to accomplish by force: alter the physical, economic, and social environment to create a unique culture.  As Kenneth Jackson writes in Crabgrass Frontier, his history of the American suburb:

Suburbanization was not an historical inevitability created by geography, technology, and culture, but rather the product of government policies.  (p. 293)

Through a variety of government subsidies, the creation of the suburbs allowed people of modest means to attain what real estate ads have christened the American dream.  The immensity of this achievement is only beginning to dawn on us, for it constituted the kind of land and social reform that governments everywhere still try to accomplish.  Kenneth Jackson notes:

Single family housing starts in this country rose from 114,000 in 1944 to 937,000 in 1946, 1,183,000 in 1948, and 1,692,000 in 1950.  (p. 233)

The federal government financed this growth through the Federal Housing Administration, an agency created during the New Deal to help spur the growth of home construction.  During the postwar housing boom Jackson points out:

The main beneficiary of the $119 billion in FHA mortgage insurance issued in the first four decades of FHA operation was suburbia.

Drawing the Color Line

A half century before the creation of suburban America, W.E.B. DuBois had written in the very first sentence of The Souls of Black Folk the immortal and prescient words:

HEREIN lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here at the dawning of the Twentieth Century.  This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.

Little could DuBois have predicted that the color line would become a red line drawn around the American suburb by none other than the FHA.  The name redlining actually dates back to the 1930s when the FHA first began using color codes to designate areas where they should not invest.  Red areas were off-limits.  Jackson states:

FHA also helped to turn the building industry against the minority and inner-city housing market, and its policies supported the income and racial segregation of suburbia.

Even as the suburbs mushroomed across the American landscape, a few were asking questions.  In 1955 Columbia Professor Charles Abrams charged:

From its inception, the FHA set itself up as protector of the all white neighborhood.  It sent its agents into the field to keep Negroes and other minorities from buying houses in white neighborhoods.  (Jackson, pp. 213-214)

In what has become the classic source on FHA discrimination, The Politics of Exclusion, Michael Danielson quotes an FHA underwriting manual:

If a neighborhood is to retain stability, it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes.  A change in social or racial occupancy generally leads to instability and reduction in values.(p. 203)

FHA policies also required appraisers to determine the probability of people of color moving into a neighborhood and even forced homeowners to agree not to sell their property to someone of another race.  According to one commentator,

“[T]he most basic sentiment underlying the FHA’s concern was its fear that property values would decline if a rigid black and white segregation was not maintained.

With the rise of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, the FHA began to make some attempt to right these wrongs, but with the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, the so-called “Southern Strategy” soon put a stop these efforts.  Chris Bonastia documented Nixon’s dismantling of FHA’s residential integration efforts in his paper, “Hedging His Bets: Why Nixon Killed HUD’s Desegregation Efforts.” Nixon’s refusal to back HUD’s reform efforts would have an impact on American society that ranks right up there with the decision by President Rutherford B. Hayes to abandon the South to the segregationists, essentially ending Reconstruction.

Yet to see one man and one decision as a historical lynch pin is to take an outmoded view of history, for the truth is that by 1968 the die had already been cast and DuBois’ color line had been drawn like a moat around the suburbs designed to keep people of color from entering. It would have taken considerable political will–and perhaps even federal law enforcement–to desegregate the suburbs by then.  Dr. Martin Luther King, jr.’s infamous march into the Chicago suburb of Cicero, where he was met with bricks and catcalls, showed the depth of that moat. There is a moment in the video of that march when you hear what sounds like a shot and King turns suddenly as if wondering where the shot came from.

This does not excuse Nixon’s actions, which at best were misguided and at worst cowardly and racist. While historians debate how much Richard Nixon personally bought into the Thurmond catechism, his elevation of Thurmond aide Harry Dent to the White House staff after the election sent a clear signal of his alliance with Thurmond. Dent was the one who sat outside the Senate chamber with a pail in case Thurmond needed a quick bathroom break during his record-setting filibuster. Nixon himself put it bluntly:

I am not going to campaign for the black vote at the risk of alienating the suburban vote.

For the federal government to go further than the law, to force integration in the suburbs, I think is unrealistic. I think it will be counter-productive and not in the interest of better race relations. [quoted in Charles M. Lamb, Housing Segregation in Suburban America Since 1960, p. 4, p. 9]

Still, as Lamb would point out in a footnote, two decades later a University of California study found that 44% of white Americans favored encouraging African Americans to move to the suburbs.

The Creation of the Subprime Market

Yet the FHA did not just discriminate against people of color who sought to live in the suburbs, it also made  it more difficult for them to obtain loans, period, by refusing to insure loans in areas with high concentrations of people of color.  The systemic impact of this is still reverberating through America’s inner cities.  Without FHA insurance, no reputable bank would issue a home loan to someone living on the other side of the “color line.” This in turn had a host of social and cultural impacts, from resource-poor schools to lack of jobs because businesses would not build where the FHA would not write loans.

You don’t need to be a systems modeler to see how each of these came to feed on each other. In the last decade scholars have begun to refer to this as “structural racism,” by which they mean a convergence of forces and policies that conspires to sustain the color line. Just imagine one systemic loop: you cannot get a good job because you live in a neighborhood with substandard housing and were educated in a substandard school and so you cannot qualify for a loan for better housing which in turn further reinforces the substandard housing. Structural racism is also not a bad metaphor, either, for it suggests the immense weight of these multiple factors that presses down on people living inside those red lines drawn by the FHA.

Where legitimate businesses and institutions are prevented from entering, illegitimate ones will grow. Since regular banks would not lend to people of color in inner city neighborhoods and FHA policies kept them from lending to the few people of color who could afford suburban housing, there obviously was a need for someone to supply these loans and so we have the growth of the so-called subprime market, only back in those days they were known as loan sharks and other unprintable words and had reputation to rival check cashing operations, greedy landlords and take and bake furniture renters. Anyone who has grown up in the inner city can tell stories not only about price-gouging home loans, but high-priced loans for everything from cars to buying furniture or clothes on credit.

What Is Subprime Lending

Subprime lending is a mixture of old-fashioned altruism and blatant thievery with an American twist. Some entered into the business of making loans to people of color because they genuinely believed people deserved an equal opportunity, others saw a chance to make a quick buck. The reality of the situation was that without FHA insurance even the most well-meaning lenders still had to charge more than they would have for a white suburban home-buyer.

A 2003 study for the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law reported:

While red-lining has served to exclude poor and minority residents from the benefits of mainstream mortgage lending, purveyors of predatory lending (or so-called “reverse red-lining”) practices have targeted many of the same poor and minority households that traditional lending institutions have ignored or excluded.

In testimony before the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services in 2000 Bill Brennan of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society outlined how subprime lending works for lenders:

Here is what these companies do, the predators. They overcharge on interest and points, they charge egregiously high annual interest and prepaid finance charges, points, which are not justified by the risk involved, because these loans are collateralized by valuable real estate.

Since they usually only lend at 70 to 80 percent loan-to-value ratios, they have a 20 to 30 percent cushion to protect them if they have to foreclose. They usually always buy at the foreclosure sale and pay off the debt and sell the house for a profit.

As for those taking out the loans, Gary Gensler, Undersecretary for Domestic Finance at the treasury Department, told the same Committee:

Borrowers in these markets often have limited access to mainstream financial services. This leads to two things, as the Senator said earlier. Some borrowers who really would qualify for prime loans-we estimate anywhere between 15 and 35 percent of the subprime market could qualify for prime and cannot get that prime loan. Second, the rate and term competition is limited. Subprime lenders don’t tend to compete as much on price.

Beyond preying on vulnerable populations, beyond the limited access to mainstream financial services, is that abusive practices tend to be coupled with high-pressure sales tactics, whether by a mortgage broker, a home improvement contractor, sometimes a lender themselves in the local community.

Perhaps the most extensive and longest longitudinal study of predatory lending practices has been the Woodstock Institute’s periodic reports on Chicago.  It’s 1999 report “Two Steps Back” was among the earliest to blow the whistle on predatory lending.  They found:

Documented cases of abuse include fees exceeding 10 percent of the loan amount, payments structured so that they do not even cover interest (resulting in increasing principle balances), and flipping a loan numerous times in a couple of years.

At the same time, lending to lower-income and minority communities is often viewed as an isolated line of business, in which the focus is on the short term transaction and associated fees. Lenders active in such communities tend to be mortgage and finance companies subject to much less regulation than banks and thrifts. The increased scale of the subprime industry itself has resulted in a larger number of abuses. Moreover, there has not been a proportionate increase in regulation or regulatory resources devoted to this new industry.

As usual, graphs and tables tell the story in black and white:





The date on the graph may be a little difficult to see. It is 1998. On the first table, the percentage of subprime loans going to African American communities is 53%. Only 9% went to predominantly white communities. The Woodstock study went on to deal with the obvious question: is it race or income that is the strongest determinant of who receives a subprime loan? They found it was the former:

Thus, whether a neighborhood is predominantly African-American explains the greatest amount of variation in subprime lending,

The Final Results

In 1997 Bill Brennan could tell the New York Times:

We have financial apartheid in our country. We have low-income, often minority borrowers,  who are charged unconscionably high interest rates, either directly or indirectly through the cover of added charges.

Three years later Census data would confirm Brennan’s charge. The Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law found:

The typical white person lives in a neighborhood that is overwhelmingly white, with a few minorities (80.2% white, 6.7% African American, 7.9% Hispanic American, and 3.9% Asian American), the typical African American lives in a neighborhood that is mostly black (51.4% black, 33.0% white, 11.4% Hispanic American, and 3.3% Asian American). By comparison, the typical Hispanic American lives in a neighborhood that is more evenly Hispanic American and white (45.5% Hispanic, 36.5% white, 10.8% black, and 5.9% Asian American); and the typical Asian American lives in a neighborhood that is mostly white (17.9% Asian American, 54% white, 9.2%  black, and 17.4% Hispanic American).

In a study released this year by United for a Fair Economy, the authors note:

According to federal data, people of color are more than three times more likely to have subprime loans: high-cost loans account for 55% of loans to Blacks, but only 17% of loans to Whites.

This is a decade after the Woodstock study identified a similar pattern in Chicago.

Reflections

This history makes you wonder what kind of country we might have become had racism not pervaded the home mortgage market. The United for a Fair Economy study puts it eloquently:

While the housing crisis has affected all sectors of society, it has disproportionately affected communities and individuals of color. For them, the dream that Martin Luther King, Jr. once spoke of has been foreclosed.

Now the injustices white America heaped on black America for half a century have come home to roost. The sobering thought to ponder is that what you have read so far is merely the very tip of a rather large iceberg, for there are literally dozens and dozens of books and countless articles on racism and housing. If you enter “racism” and “housing” in Google you will find over four million entries. Yet despite over half a century of studies, reports and papers about discriminatory lending, little was done about it.

The most damning piece of evidence in this entire story is not that racism fostered predatory loans, but that like organized crime going from petty bootleggers and drug dealers to big time operators, the practice of predatory loan sharking expanded and went mainstream– moving from being the providence of small-time shady operators to mainstream banks. Essentially, loan-sharking cast off its sleazy past and the bigger it became the more people looked the other way.

That is until it suddenly threatens to take down the entire American economy. Now like the figures in that painting of Constitution Hall, fingers are pointing and people are staring.

If racism played a big role in creating the mortgage crisis, the solution to our current problems will prove tougher to deal with than what the so-called experts have been telling us. We could be witnessing the fourth American revolution. The first was the war for independence, the second the Civil War, the third the Great Depression and now the present crisis which combines the themes of the previous two–race and economics.

The next essay in this series focuses on how we got here and why, for only by understanding that journey can we see a way out of the current morass. What is clear so far is that this crisis is not merely the fault of a few misguided CEOs, but rather the culmination of decades of discrimination in which all of us are culpable.

Now the time has come to stop pretending there is no elephant in the room and deal with it.

Resources

For a good bibliography on the subject click here.

Crossposts: The Strange Death of Liberal America, My Left Wing, Progressive Historians, The Wild, Wild Left

Peace, Justice, and Prosperity

copyright © 2007 Jerry Northington.  campaign website or on the campaign blog.

For most of my life I have been a dreamer.  As a child I sat many a fine hour on a creek bank with a cork floating on the water (often with no bait on the hook) and dreamed of other times and other places.  In those years science fiction was a staple of reading.  Television was young and barely available.  Entertainment was found by one’s self or not found at all for the most part.  

In years past I dreamed of a better life for myself and my family.  In those days the dream was more about myself than for other people.  As life has continued in time the dream has come to encompass the people around me and now extends to the nation and around the entire globe.  Today I dream of a world in which peace, justice, and prosperity are the rule of the day.

Most of all I dream of a United States President who works to insure our nation benefits from the principles of peace, justice, and prosperity.  The dream includes a President who brings our troops home from our occupation zones around the world before more damage is done on either side of the affair.  The dream holds an administration focused on diplomacy using carrots instead of sticks to deal with foreign nations.  

The dream means a world in which peace is a primary objective to be sought far ahead of any thought of belligerence or of military operations.  In my dream the world’s military forces are maintained at low levels in peacetime status.  The forces are prepared to defend their individual nation from outside attack, but are not used to invade or to occupy any nation without being attacked first.

I dream of a world in which justice reigns as a supreme rule for all people no matter their sex, age, skin color, or nationality.  Every person in my dream is treated fairly according the same rules as every other.  In the world of my dreams all have an equal chance at finding success and happiness in their own fashion.  There are no special rewards accorded the rich and the powerful beyond those of just treatment.  Education and health care are given freely to one and all as a benefit of society and to benefit in return the society.  A nation that holds an educated and healthy citizenry will be a more prosperous country at the end of the day.

Prosperity rules in my dream as all peoples of all nations work to the betterment of the entire globe.  In the absence of massive military expenditures to drain national economies, investments are made in basic research, in infrastructure such as highways and public buildings, and in education.  Factories produce goods that people with good jobs can buy.  And the capitalist circle continues to the benefit of all.

Is this too much for which to dream?  I think not.  Every day we hear news of the failures in our nation and in our world at large.  There are more than enough reports of crime to go around these days.  The housing market is slumping.  The financial markets suffer.  News of war zones and various areas of armed conflict around the globe are terrible.  Global warming increases day by day as the environment is affected by the actions of humankind and the natural forces of our globe.

When ever will this situation end?  Can my dream of peace, justice, and prosperity come to fruition one day?  I submit the dream is much more than the meanderings of a simple mind unable to face reality.  Leaders with great visions and dreams of a better future exist in our country today.  The trick is to find those people and to see to their election at every level in our nation.

We need leaders who not only espouse great dreams but who have solutions to the issues facing us today.  Any person can find fault and point out the problems.  The real trick is finding solutions.  We need leaders who surround themselves with problem solvers.  We need people with the ability to see a problem and to find a variety of solutions to the issue.  Then we need a leader who can sort through the various solutions to find the one way to best face and correct the problems.

We need our dreamers in the world today, and no, I am not talking about any one political candidate of the day, but speaking in general to one and all.  In particular I speak to the voting public at large.  We each and every one must take action every day to see to solutions.  We must cease our bickering and begin to work together to make the best solutions become reality.  We have no more time to complain about what is not happening.  We must move to make progress on all fronts.

Together we can move a nation.  We must hold to that dream of a finer place one day.  Those who let go their dreams lose all hope.  We who dream must share our hopes and our ambitions and our dreams that others, too, may find the right to dream.  We stand together or we fall apart.  We are after all in this together.  

By touching one heart, one mind at a time we can begin to make the differences that will shape our world for generations to come.  It is only by failing to take action and failing to share our dreams that we insure the status quo.

Reminder for one and all.  I am running for Congress, DE-01.  Please check out the website or the ActBlue page and support the effort.  Your help is needed for the effort to succeed.  Contributions of all sorts, both moral and monetary are most appreciated.

On Justice, Part 2

copyright © 2008. Jerry Northington.  campaign website or on the campaign blog.

Justice,

the moral principle determining just conduct

is an elusive part of world philosophy.  What represents justice for one person may be unacceptable to another.  We humans have a marked tendency to disagree among ourselves these days as much as ever before.  Frederick Douglass put the issue into fine perspective for me in his words

Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is in an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.

An earlier diary of mine spoke to justice in the United States today.  This writing continues the line of thinking as my mind continues to ponder and to clarify the ideas.  Follow over the fold for more of the possum’s philosophy of life.

Douglass’ words tell me justice is all about a level playing field upon which all members of society are treated in a fair and equal manner.  In this circumstance all have an opportunity to earn enough money to support a family.  The living wage proposition is embedded in my interpretation of Douglass’ words.  Then poverty would be eliminated.  There would be no division of peoples into classes according to major discrepancies in income.  There would still be the rich and the poor, but abject poverty that drives people from home and sustenance would be eliminated.

Douglass also addresses education in a meaningful way.  We as a nation must allow all our children full and equal access to education if we are to survive the trials of the 21st Century.  We must begin to invest money and energy into our educational system.  The infrastructure needs serious attention.  Teachers need support from both the government and from society as a whole.  Every person in the nation has a vested interest in the education of our children for they are the leaders of our future.  Without proper education our future may fall into the purview of ignorance and superstition.  We cannot afford a course of that sort ever if we are to survive as a nation.

Douglass addresses the idea of a divided society in terms of class.  Some nations around the world have such divisions based on birthright or religion.  No nation can expect to survive forever in such a situation.  All divisions that pit one person against another in class struggles based upon money or privilege need to be put to an end.  We humans are all of one kind.  We must work together in the best ways we are able to find in order to better our tomorrows.

Justice may best be defined within each person as an individual.  Justice is a comfortable feeling of doing what is right both for one’s self and for others with whom one interacts.  In olden days justice was defined as

an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth

I propose we leave that definition behind and look more to principles of fairness and equality.

I am one of the blessed in this nation today.  My life has been successful beyond any dreams that ever came my way.  I have along the way faced our justice system in a legal hearing one time but in no other ways.  I am allowed to live in relative peace without the pressures of poverty or housing restriction.  My family is well fed.  We do not suffer

food insecurity

as our administration wishes to frame hunger these days.  Justice in my household is all about treating one another and those around us the way we wish to be treated every minute of every day of our lives.

Justice should be about seeing to the needs of others.  Justice is reaching out a hand to those in need.  Justice is seeing those people sleeping under a bridge find a warm shelter.  Justice works to see every person in this great nation has shelter at night and those who wish to do so may have a chance to own affordable housing in a safe and comfortable neighborhood.  Justice works to punish those guilty of behaving in ways that damage the rights of others.  Justice is blind to sex or color of skin.  Justice is for one and all human beings without restriction.

Let us all work today and every day to bring justice to our nation.  Our Founding Fathers saw the light and built a country of the people, by the people, and for the people.  We today have the responsibility of carrying forward that message with liberty and justice for one and all.  We have not one minute to lose.  Only by our actions may we hope to see justice restored and maintained.  Those who fail to work for a just world stand to lose the most precious of all human commodities.

An extension of the current thinking has to do with proper leadership to accomplish the goal of bringing justice to the world.  That is a more complex subject requiring time and space of its own one day.  Much of justice is all about accountability, another subject deserving a discussion of its own.  There is much in this world today about which to reflect in questioning and in refining one’s thinking.  

Justice

copyright © 2008. Jerry Northington.  campaign website or on the campaign blog.

The current round of trials at Guantanamo Bay are generating a great deal of press coverage.  Some of those proceedings call into question the ideals of justice, truth, and the American way.  The process of military tribunals along with other recent events and readings bring to mind many questions of justice and how we determine the definition and refine the thinking.  Justice has various definitions in the dictionary  including

the administering of deserved punishment or reward.

Justice is to be sought under all circumstances, the question becomes how to determine just punishment.  What are the rules?  How does one decide just versus unjust?  Is there a middle ground upon which all may agree as to what is or is not just?

Horace Walpole said

Justice is rather the activity of truth, than a virtue in itself. Truth tells us what is due to others, and justice renders that due. Injustice is acting a lie.

Alexander Solzhenitzyn expounded on his thought of justice saying


Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity. Those who clearly recognize the voice of their own conscience usually recognize also the voice of justice.

Plato went further saying

Justice means minding one’s own business and not meddling with other men’s concerns.

An unknown author who may have been Plato said

Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens.

Michael Foucault, the French Philosopher said

Justice must always question itself, just as society can exist only by means of the work it does on itself and on its institutions.

David Hume continued the thought of morality in justice saying

Justice is a moral virtue, merely because it has that tendency to the good of mankind, and indeed is nothing but an artificial invention to that purpose. The same may be said of allegiance, of the laws of nations, of modesty, and of good manners. All these are mere human contrivances for the interest of society.

Elias Canetti put the importance of justice into perspective saying

Justice begins with the recognition of the necessity of sharing. The oldest law is that which regulates it, and this is still the most important law today and, as such, has remained the basic concern of all movements which have at heart the community of human activities and of human existence in general.

And last but not least Frederick Douglass put the issue into fine perspective for me in his words

Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is in an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.

What do we gain from the thoughts of these and others too numerous to quote?  For me the basic message is in the thinking of those who relate justice to basic humanity and the needs of society.  If we were to take that thinking to the ultimate levels we would then treat others in the same way we wish to be treated (think the Golden Rule).

How do we as nation relate justice to the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo?  Our Founding Fathers saw the United States as a nation built on ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Justice in terms of fair treatment of one and all is necessary to insure the fulfillment of those founding principles.  Perhaps if we define justice as the equitable treatment of one and all as human beings first and foremost we would near the basis for progress in humanity.  

Under a system of fairness in which each person is equal to all others in basic human rights the world would benefit.  In this Utopian paradise men, women, and children of all races and creeds would work together to further society as a whole.  In that same world justice would be a founding principle upon which all else rests in that justice levels the playing field for one and all.  No person would be treated any different than any other in this idealist society.

May we hope for such a nation in our future?  Surely we must.  Without hope all is lost.  Hopes and dreams and the proper sorts of ambition make life better for all with whom we come in contact.  We must never for a single moment lose sight of a future in which the United States leads the race for justice and peace throughout the world.  

We face a long and difficult trial, but our great nation has faced these trials in the past.  We will make the grade in the end if we all continue to act for right versus wrong.  We humans may never agree on every measure of any issue including justice, but if we work together and continue to address the issues of the day we have hope at least.

Rumsfeld and Mukasey, Tortured Times and Trials


Mukasey: Waterboarding is Torture if It’s Torture

copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

It has been tried before.  Efforts failed.  Nonetheless, I remain hopeful.  I have always believed, “Never, never give up!”  Thankfully, several Human Rights organizations in the United States and Europe trust in the same principle.  They persevere.  On Thursday, October 25, 2007, the International Federation for Human Rights, the French League for Human Rights, and the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, filed a formal grievance in a Paris court.  The complaint stated former Secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld authorized torture at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq,  The writ states, Rumsfeld violated the 1987 Convention Against Torture Act.

While Rumsfeld wrestled with his past, on the floor of United States Senate Judge Michael B. Mukasey pondered his future.  This Bush appointee was asked if “enemy combatants” were tormented, would he, as the Attorney General deem himself accountable.  Senators questioned Michael B. Mukasey extensively, albeit civilly.  They inquired, if he were approved for the Attorney General position would he accept responsibility for reprehensible actions, or did he not think torture wrong.  The nominee hedged and hummed just as Rumsfeld had in the past.

Mukasey blurred the lines that define the methods used to inflict physical pain on people.  In a trial of sorts, Judge Mukasey told the Senate he might be the mirror image of his predecessor, Alberto Gonzales.  Today, the times are tough for those that think detainees deserve to be subjected to waterboarding.

We recall, the infamous former Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales.  Gonzales was the man behind the Justice Department curtain.  He clarified the terms and authorized severe means for obtaining actionable intelligence from detainees.  Henchman for Vice President Dick Cheney, and of course, friend of the President, Attorney General Gonzales sanctioned measures that allow soldiers to ‘crush a captives will to resist.’

Gonzales, who served as Counsel to the President, was part of a powerful team of lawyers.  Legal eagles for the Administration helped to redefine Executive Privilege.  White House Attorneys expanded Presidential powers.  Thus, cruel and unusual punishment for enemies of the State was made possible.  It is for this reason, today, Senators seek to understand Mukasey.  Those in Congress hope to avoid another debate over the legality, Constitutionality, of inhumane treatment inflicted on those suspected of being terrorist.  A bit of ancient history might help to explain the caution we witnessed this week.

The vice president’s lawyer advocated what was considered the memo’s most radical claim: that the president may authorize any interrogation method, even if it crosses the line into torture.  U.S. and treaty laws forbidding any person to “commit torture,” that passage stated, “do not apply” to the commander in chief, because Congress “may no more regulate the President’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.”

That same day, Aug. 1, 2002, Yoo [John Choon Yoo, best known for his work from 2001 to 2003 in the United States Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel] signed off on a second secret opinion, the contents of which have never been made public.  According to a source with direct knowledge, that opinion approved as lawful a long list of interrogation techniques proposed by the CIA — including waterboarding, a form of near-drowning that the U.S. government has prosecuted as a war crime since at least 1901.  The opinion drew the line against one request: threatening to bury a prisoner alive.

With the policy in place, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld did as he thought best.  He sanctioned cruelty against combatants.  Extracting information by any means, no matter how extreme seemed reasonable to those bent on battle.  Donald Rumsfeld, blessed by Bush and Cheney and their interpretation of the constitution enforced, endorsed, the use of methods such as waterboarding.  Then, he, and the White House claimed, “We do not torture.” 

Concurrently, the man that now seeks to head the Justice Department, Michael B. Mukasey mulled over Presidential powers.  Mukasey questioned the punitive measures the Bush Administration adopted.  Then, Judge Mukasey, a Reagan appointee served as the Chief Judge for the Southern District of New York.  He presided over the José Padilla case.  Padilla was a prisoner held in Guantánamo Bay detainee camp in Cuba.

After Padilla was first detained in April 2002 and declared an “enemy combatant,” he was held incommunicado, denied all access to the outside the world, including counsel, and the Bush administration refused to charge him with any crimes. A lawsuit was filed on Padilla’s behalf by a New York criminal defense lawyer, Donna Newman, demanding that Padilla be accorded the right to petition for habeas corpus and that, first, he be allowed access to a lawyer. That lawsuit was assigned to Judge Mukasey, which almost certainly made the Bush DOJ happy.

But any such happiness proved to be unwarranted. Judge Mukasey repeatedly defied the demands of the Bush administration, ruled against them, excoriated them on multiple occasions for failing to comply with his legally issued orders, and ruled that Padilla was entitled to contest the factual claims of the government and to have access to lawyers. He issued these rulings in 2002 and 2003, when virtually nobody was defying the Bush administration on anything, let alone on assertions of executive power to combat the Terrorists. And he made these rulings in the face of what was became the standard Bush claim that unless there was complete acquiescence to all claimed powers by the President, a Terrorist attack would occur and the blood would be on the hands of those who impeded the President.

Now, as we bathe in blood abroad, and fear the carnage will follow us home, we realize that Michael B. Mukasey was not as he initially appeared.  When pressed, nominee Mukasey does not condemn the Administration.  He does not argue with the White House on all counts, and perhaps, forcing those presumed to be enemies is apt.  Indeed, fair hearing for foes of the State are not necessary, or so says Judge  Michael B. Mukasey.

[Mukasey] He argued that the prosecution of Jose Padilla -which Mukasey handled until his retirement from the bench last year-demonstrates that federal courts should not try terrorists. Never mind that after the government jerked Padilla in and out of the federal system and reportedly subjected him to serious abuse, he was convicted by a jury on charges that bore little relation to the allegations that former Attorney General John Ashcroft originally-and so publicly-made against him.

According to Mukasey, Padilla’s case does not stand for the victory of security concerns over civil liberties in federal court, but rather shows why “current institutions and statutes are not well suited” to terrorism cases. The rules for ordinary criminal defendants-that is, regular old constitutional law-should not apply to bad guys “who have cosmic goals that they are intent on achieving by cataclysmic means.”

Mukasey derides terrorism prosecutions in federal court for putting “our secrets at risk” and discouraging our allies from sharing information with us. He warns of dire results if the Supreme Court rules this upcoming term that Guantanamo detainees have a right to bring their claims in federal court. An alleged terrorist could insist to his interrogators that he wanted to see a lawyer, as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed supposedly did, and “this bold joke could become a reality.”

Mukasey doesn’t offer his own fix but floats two proposals that have been offered by others: “[t]he creation of a separate national security court” with life-tenured judges and the use of civil commitment standards for the mentally ill for other “dangerous people.” Most surprisingly, Mukasey suggests that Congress might need “to modify the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction.”

What is justice for those assumed innocent would not be applied to persons deemed guilty by the world’s superpower, the leaders of the United States.  In times of war, terrorists must be dealt with severely.  Yet, I wonder, how do we determine who the insurgents might be.  Who will define the line drawn between a person fighting for the sovereignty of their homeland, and one that transgresses against another nation.

For me, war is an offense against mankind.  Those that command others to kill are criminals.  I understand that the vast majority of people think my belief is naïve.  I am dismissed as a peacenik.  Nonetheless, thankfully, worldwide, after centuries of strife, humans have come to question the sanity or humanity of torture.

In the last few years, fear has flourished.  Talk of terrorism fueled much fire.  Guns blazed.  Bombs dropped.  Enemy combatants were gathered together.  Prisons were filled and the rights of people were ignored.  Geneva Conventional wisdom was weakened.  The Bush Administration concluded the rules were quaint.  Torture passed for justice and habeas corpus was no more.

Perhaps, one day, justice for more than “just us, Americans” will again prevail.  That is the hope of Michael Ratner, the President of the Center for Constitutional Rights.  It is my wish as well.  I have faith that the families and friends of those that suffered, no matter their country of origin, also dream of better days.  For now, we only have the news and our dreams.

Groups Tie Rumsfeld to Torture in Complaint
By Doreen Carvajal
The New York Times

Paris, Oct. 26 – Several human rights organizations based in the United States and Europe have filed a complaint in a Paris court accusing former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld of responsibility for torture.

The group, which includes the International Federation for Human Rights, the French League for Human Rights, and the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, made the complaint late Thursday and unsuccessfully sought to confront Mr. Rumsfeld as he left a breakfast meeting in central Paris on Friday.

Jeanne Sulzer, one of the lawyers working on the issue for the human rights groups, said the complaint had been filed with a state prosecutor, Jean-Claude Marin, saying he would have the power to pursue the case because of Mr. Rumsfeld’s presence in France.

Similar legal complaints against Mr. Rumsfeld have been filed in other countries, including Sweden and Argentina. German prosecutors dismissed a case in April, saying it was up to the United States to investigate the accusations.

The French complaint accuses Mr. Rumsfeld of authorizing torture at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and says it violated the Convention Against Torture, which came into force in 1987. . .

Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said in a statement that the aim of this latest legal complaint was to demonstrate “that we will not rest until those U.S. officials involved in the torture program are brought to justice. Rumsfeld must understand that he has no place to hide.”

Rumsfeld may have thought he worked his way through the havoc he created.  The former Secretary of Defense may have believed retirement would free him from responsibility for woes and wars he helped to create.  However, perhaps, the adage is true.  We cannot hide from our history.

Tides do turn.  This week the seas are turbulent.  Perchance, Rumsfeld can never fully resign.  Nor can he negate responsibility. Torture, may ultimately be seen as what it is, a serious transgression.  Those that support the premise, we must suppress the spirit of those that may possibly oppose us may realize their just reward.

Michael B. Mukasey may not sail through his Senate hearings.  Waterboarding may be the wave that does this Jurist in.  Democrats may develop the gumption to ride the rippling effect of outrage.  They too may denounce the deplorable practices that mark Americans as arrogant.  As I read the reports, hope is high among peaceniks [humanists] such as I.

Denounce Waterboarding, Democrats Tell Nominee
By Philip Shenon
The New York Times
October 27, 2007

Washington, Oct. 26 – The nomination of Michael B. Mukasey as attorney general encountered resistance on Friday, with Democratic senators suggesting for the first time that they might oppose Mr. Mukasey if he did not make clear that he opposed waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques that have been used against terrorism suspects.

The ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, joined in the expressions of concern about Mr. Mukasey. Mr. Specter said in an interview Friday that the nomination could hinge on Mr. Mukasey’s written responses to questions posed to him this week about the Bush administration’s antiterrorism policies, including its use of interrogation techniques like waterboarding, which simulates drowning, and about his larger views on executive power.

At his Senate confirmation hearings last week, Mr. Mukasey, a retired federal judge from New York, declined to say whether he agreed with many lawmakers and human rights groups that waterboarding is a form of torture and is unconstitutional. He said he did not know the details of how waterboarding, which has been used by the C.I.A. against senior leaders of Al Qaeda, was conducted. In waterboarding, interrogators pour water onto cloth or cellophane that has been placed over the face of a suspect, creating the sensation of drowning.

In an initial letter to the Judiciary Committee that was dated Wednesday and made public Friday, Mr. Mukasey repeated the assertion he had made at his confirmation hearings that torture was unconstitutional and a violation of American obligations under international treaties. But once again, he did not address the question of whether waterboarding was torture. In the letter, he also repeated his suggestion that the administration’s program of eavesdropping without warrants was legal despite criticism by lawmakers that it violated terms of federal surveillance laws.

Until this week, the nomination of Mr. Mukasey to replace Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general appeared to be a sure thing. Many Democratic lawmakers say privately that he is still likely to be confirmed, given the need for leadership in the Justice Department after months of turmoil. Apart from Mr. Specter, no Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have raised public doubts about the nomination.

It is good to know that reservations are realized.  There is reason to dream.  Imagine, the impossible is achievable.  Naïve as I might be, the news of the day brings me joy.  It furthers my belief.  One day there will be peace planet wide.  Perhaps, world harmony will occur in my lifetime.

Never, Never, Never Give Up.  Will Justice Prevail . . .

  • Groups Tie Rumsfeld to Torture in Complaint By Doreen Carvajal.  The New York Times. October 27, 2007
  • pdf Groups Tie Rumsfeld to Torture in Complaint By Doreen Carvajal.  The New York Times. October 27, 2007
  • Convention Against Torture  and Other Cruel, Inhuman?or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  Office of the High Commissioner  for Human Rights.
  • U.S. Releases Human Rights Report Delayed After Abuse Scandal, By Glenn Kessler.  Washington Post.Tuesday, May 18, 2004; Page A15
  • pdf U.S. Releases Human Rights Report Delayed After Abuse Scandal, By Glenn Kessler.  Washington Post. Tuesday, May 18, 2004; Page A15
  • Denounce Waterboarding, Democrats Tell Nominee. By Philip Shenon. The New York Times. October 27, 2007
  • pdf Denounce Waterboarding, Democrats Tell Nominee. By Philip Shenon. The New York Times. October 27, 2007
  • Pushing the Envelope on Presidential Power, By Barton Gellman and Jo Becker. Washington Post. Monday, June 25, 2007
  • pdf Pushing the Envelope on Presidential Power, By Barton Gellman and Jo Becker. Washington Post. Monday, June 25, 2007
  • Michael Mukasey’s role in the Jose Padilla case, By Glenn Greenwald.  Salon. September 16, 2007
  • Measuring Mukasey, By Emily Bazelon.  Slate. September 17, 2007
  • “What to the American Slave is Your Fourth of July?” Black America Grieves

    copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

    I, as a white person mourn on this day, for every man and woman Black, white, brown, red, or yellow are my brethren.  I feel the pain of all those that have gone before me.  My heart aches most for those whose flesh is darkest.  It seems, try as they might Afro-Americans can never escape the bondage, the bigotry that enslaves them.  The color of their skin shades their every encounter.  I recognize that only days ago, in this duplicitous land founded on the principles of freedom and justice for all, segregation was again endorsed by the highest Court in the country.  The Supreme Court ruled “Schools can’t use race to assign students.” History demonstrates, left to their own devices whites will not desegregate.

    On this Independence Day, I grieve.  I do not celebrate.  I will not shop with abandon.  Nor will I partake in viewing firework displays.  A pleasurable picnic on this date seems disingenuous. The truth of what is in America is a burden I bear.  I ponder the present, and I pronounce; on this Independence Day, all Americans are not free.

    Today, the streets of these United States, are not paved in gold.  Opportunities are not available to all.  Those whose flesh is white are not pure and principled, although they may think themselves to be.

    With one hand, whites extend an invitation to share in the delight of liberty.  With the other, they cast the call aside. 

    African-Americans, those brought to the shores of this independent nation, and their progeny do not profit from a fight for freedom.  Glory was not and is not given to our slave soldiers or their offspring. Our Black brothers and sisters serve this nation; however, few reap the rewards of freedom.

    Granted some scant number of African-Americans have done well.  White persons witness the success of the few Blacks and claim these illustrate the norm.  However, they do not.  Nonetheless, many of our Americans of African decent, are mired in misery.

    White Americans may say this is not so.  They may argue Brown versus Board of Education was a milestone that benefits millions.  Yet, that law, according to Justice Stephen Breyer was reversed on June 28, 2007.  Speaking on the decision Parents Involved In Community Schools versus Seattle School District Number 1 this Supreme Court jurist stated

    In his written opinion, Justice Breyer said the decision was a “radical” step away from settled law and would strip local communities of the tools they need, and have used for many years, to prevent resegregation of their public schools. Predicting that the ruling would substitute for present calm a disruptive round of race-related litigation, he said, This is a decision that the court and the nation will come to regret.

    Caucasian citizens contend Affirmative Action laws righted the centuries of wrongdoing.  Yet, dark-skinned Americans dispute this assertion.  Whites work to rescind these laws.

    I would hope no one would think the Voters Rights Act is evidence that Blacks people have equal rights in America.  Any Bill that must be revisited and renewed regularly, does not provide for the people it professes to serve.  I believe it shameful that in the land of the free, Black citizens were not given the right to vote without restrictions until 1965!  To think that years later this law was threatened.  I have no words for such an injustice.  I can only ruminate.  As we “celebrate” this day of independence we must ask, are all our people free.

    While light skin lovelies think all is well; we now live in a colorblind society, down deep, they know that is not true.

    Ask a person of pale complexion to drive to the area of town known as the Black ghetto, or the slums.  Then you will witness an unspoken acknowledgement, independence, freedom, and justice were not afforded to Black Americans.

    Years ago, I was teaching a summer class at a major University.  The esteemed educational institution is located in so-called liberal Southern California. Only seven students enrolled.  The learning environment was ideal.  Discussions were deep and endless.  During the course of this seminar, we spoke of graffiti, and the related art and history of tagging.  We also chatted about what is considered a historic monument, the Watts Towers.

    In my youth, while living thousands of miles from Los Angeles and its surrounding cities, I saw many a slide and photograph of this structure.  I marveled as I observed the 17 separate sculptural pieces built by hand on a residential lot, owned by immigrant Simon Rodia.  Mister Rodia was, for me, an artist to admire.  Upon moving to the area, I immediately sought out this edifice.

    Frequently, in my first year as a California resident, I drove to Watts.  I toured the Towers.  I rambled around the park and the surrounding neighborhood.  I delighted in the experience.  I mentioned this to the adult students I sat with.  Then one afternoon, the group requested we plan a field trip.  “Let us travel together and explore Rodia’s masterpiece.?  I asked if they were sure they wanted to see this site.  None hesitated.  Each expressed their excitement.  I made the arrangements.

    Realistically, I could not commute with the others.  I was teaching at another University hours before our meeting.  That campus was far from the other.  Therefore, I needed to drive alone.  The women carpooled.

    The day was a joy.  The students were thrilled.  We befriended our guide, took photographs, and roamed the grounds for hours.  We saw more than merely the Towers.  We had fun.

    Upon meeting again in class, I learned what I had not imagined.  These seven young women were fearful prior to our trek.  Driving in the inner city was a novel experience for each of them.  Two women of Mexican heritage and the rest of European ancestry never dared drive on the streets of Watts before.  The Compton area, in their minds was a Black compound.  South Central was not on their maps.

    Apparently, even the parents of a few of these ladies thought this travel was not wise.  One father re-arranged his day so that he could “secretly” supervise his daughter?s descent into what he thought was certain oblivion.

    It was not; nevertheless, in America Blacks are not considered as whites.  They are purposely placed in separate enclaves.  The few that “make it out” do so with dollars not easily acquired.

    In our nation, where people are “created equal” and “all men are free,” Black men between the ages of 16 and 24 are more than twice as likely than young white men to be out of school and out of work (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1997)

  • In 1999, median family income for Black Americans was still only $31,778, compared to $51,244 for Whites.

  • From 1989 to 1998, Black American middle class families logged an average of 4,278 hours of work per year almost 500 more hours per year than White families.
  • In 1999, unemployment for Black Americans was 8%, compared to 3.7% for Whites. 
  • Fewer than half (46%) of Black American households own their own homes, compared to the national average of 72% (Changing America, 1999).
  • Black American men earn 71 cents for every dollar earned by their White counterparts.
  • Unemployment rates for Black American youths are three times higher than the national average.
  • Over six million Black children (62%) live in single-parent households (U.S. Census Bureau, 1999).
  • Black children do not receive an equal education.

    Research demonstrates that access to quality teaching is one of the most significant factors in improving student achievement and closing the achievement gap.  Yet, poor and minority children have significantly less access to quality teaching.
  • Schools with the highest percentages of minority, limited-English proficient and low-income students are more likely to employ beginning teachers than those with the lowest percentage of minority, limited-English proficient and low-income students.
  • A significant body of research also has found that another indicator of teacher quality in middle and high school is whether teachers majored in the field in which they are teaching.

    Here again, gaps are profound. 

    Classes in high-poverty schools are 77 percent more likely to be assigned to an out-of-field teacher than are classes in low-poverty schools.  Classes in majority nonwhite schools are over 40 percent more likely to be assigned to an out of-field teacher than those in mostly White schools.

  • Level of academic attainment is another traditional indicator of teacher quality, and, again, teachers with master’s degrees are less likely to teach in high-minority, low-income schools than they are to teach in high-income, low-minority schools.
  • Blacks in America do not have equal opportunities.  The were not awarded the independence whites were in 1776.  Even centuries later, individuals with dark complexion struggle to survive.  Many live a life of poverty.

  • Nearly 1 out of every 4 Black Americans (24%) lives in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000).

  • 3.5 million Black children (31%) live below the poverty level (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000).
  • Nine out of every ten Black Americans who reach age 75 spend at least one of their adult years in poverty (Cornell University, Washington University, 1999). 
  • The poverty rate for Black Americans is three times the rate for White Americans (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000)
  • The Black experience in the United States of America is not one to be celebrated.  For most, if not all, Afro-Americans in this nation can recall stories, personal anecdotes that affirm they are not free.  Independence was not won nor was it awarded to them.  Thousands of Blacks fought for freedom in Revolutionary War. Remember, among the first persons shot in the name of freedom from the oppressive powers of King George, of England was Crispus Attucks.

    A stranger to Boston, he was leading a march against the Townshend Acts when the killing occurred.

    Yet, Attucks and those Americans of African heritage that followed him did not realize the fruits of freedom.  The Civil War, a battle fought to end slavery only served to enslave Black Americans in a more subtle manner. Afro-Americans are arguably not truly free in 2007.  Racial discrimination is rampant in the USA.

    Frederick Douglass in 1852, delivered a speech that might be aptly delivered today.

    “What to the American slave is your Fourth of July?

    “At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed.  Oh! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would today pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke.  For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder.  We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.  The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be denounced.

    What to the American slave is your Fourth of July?  I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.  To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mock; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.  There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

    Go search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.”

    America as a nation may have reason to celebrate their independence.  Sadly, all the people that reside here do not.  Blacks, reds, browns, and yellows are not all free.  Afro-Americans, more than any other group suffer at the hands of those that scream the loudest, “Happy Fourth of July.” “Happy Independence Day.”  The question must be asked again and again, For whom?

    Independence Day Fireworks and Findings . . .

  • Supreme Court: Schools can’t use race to assign students, By Bob Egelko.  San Francisco Chronicle. Thursday, June 28. 2007
  • pdf Supreme Court: Schools can’t use race to assign students, By Bob Egelko.  San Francisco Chronicle. Thursday, June 28. 2007
  • Divided Court Limits Use of Race by School Districts, By Robert Barnes.  Washington Post. Friday, June 29, 2007; Page A01
  • pdf Divided Court Limits Use of Race by School Districts, By Robert Barnes.  Washington Post. Friday, June 29, 2007; Page A01
  • Education, Employment, Economics.  National Black United Fund.
  • Educational Resource Disparities For Minority and Low-Income Children.  Children Defense Organization January 2004
  • Frederick Douglas. Debs – Jones -Douglass Institute.
  • “What to the American slave is your Fourth of July?  Freeman Institute.
  • I.S. Supreme Court, Brown versus Board of Education FindLaw.
  • Justices Reject Diversity Plans in Two Districts, By Linda Greenhouse.  The New York Times. June 28, 2007
  • pdf Justices Reject Diversity Plans in Two Districts, By Linda Greenhouse.  The New York Times. June 28, 2007
  • The Myth And Math of Affirmative Action, By Goodwin Liu. Washington Post. Sunday, April 14, 2002; Page B01
  • pdf The Myth And Math of Affirmative Action, By Goodwin Liu.  Washington Post. Sunday, April 14, 2002; Page B01
  • Voters Rights Act of 1965. United States Department of Justice.  Civil Rights Division.
  • Marchers Celebrate Voting Rights Act in Atlanta, By Hamil R. Harris. Washington Post. Saturday, August 6, 2005; 1:51 PM
  • pdf Marchers Celebrate Voting Rights Act in Atlanta, By Hamil R. Harris. Washington Post. Saturday, August 6, 2005; 1:51 PM
  • Watts Towers Los Angeles Parks.
  • Project aims to identify blacks who fought in Revolution. By Mark Pratt.  Associated Press. Boston Globe. July 19, 2006
  • The Boston Massacre. African American History Through the Arts.
  • Understanding Discrimination Against African Americans. By Dr. Tom O’Connor.  North Carolina Wesleyan College. March 12, 2006