U.S. Senate Apologizes for Slavery

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This week, the United States Senate passed a resolution that apologizes for slavery. It’s pretty sad that it took well over one-hundred years to get to this point, but at least it’s something. It should be noted that Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow both co-sponsored the resolution.

To be sure, a Senate resolution can’t under the reality of dehumanization and oppression–or the legacy of slavery’s contemporary manifestations–a fact that the Senate recognizes:

Whereas an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices cannot erase the past, but confession of the wrongs committed and a formal apology to African- Americans will help bind the wounds of the Nation that are rooted in slavery and can speed racial healing and reconciliation and help the people of the United States understand the past and honor the history of all people of the United States;

The Senate resolution apologizes for both slavery and Jim Crow:

Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That the sense of the Congress is the following:

(1) APOLOGY FOR THE ENSLAVEMENT AND SEGREGATION OF AFRICAN-AMERICANS.

The Congress–

(A) acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws;

(B) apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws; and

(C) expresses its recommitment to the principle that all people are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and calls on all people of the United States to work toward eliminating racial prejudices, injustices, and discrimination from our society.

Of course, the kicker:

(2) DISCLAIMER.–Nothing in this resolution–

(A) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or

(B) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.

It’s disappointing that the resolution excludes the prospect of reparations, but that is likely to be an ongoing battle that needs to be waged by progressives and radicals.

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Headlines: Holder Refuses to Say Bush’s Warrantless Wiretapping Program Was Illegal; Republican Racism and President Obama

Democracy Now Headlines: Holder Refuses to Say Bush's Warrantless Wiretapping Program Was Illegal; Republican Racism and President Obama

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Supporters of Mousavi Hold Mourning Rally in Tehran

Supporters of Iran’s defeated presidential candidate Mir hossein Mousavi are staging a fifth day of protest today to honor persons killed during the mass demonstrations over the past week. Mousavi accuses President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of rigging last week’s election. Hundreds of opposition activists, journalists and intellectuals have been reportedly arrested in recent days, including former Iranian Foreign Minister Ebrahim Yazdi and Tehran’s former mayor Mohammad Tavassali. Earlier today Iran’s most senior legislative body, the Guardian Council, said it will meet the three defeated candidates from Friday’s presidential election to discuss their complaints about the poll.

Iran Accuses U.S. Of Meddling In Its Internal Affairs

The Iranian government is now accusing several foreign nations of interfering in it internal affairs. On Wednesday the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador, who represents U.S. interests in Tehran, to protest of what it called “meddling” by the United States because of statements by American officials on Iran’s elections.

U.S. State Dept Asks Twitter to Delay Shutdown Due to Iran Protests

The U.S. State Department has admitted it contacted the social networking service Twitter to urge it to delay a planned upgrade that would have cut daytime service to Iranians who are disputing their election. Meanwhile the video website YouTube has said it has relaxed its usual restrictions on violent videos to allow the images from Iran to reach the rest of the world.

Obama Extends Some Benefits To Same Sex Partners of Federal Workers

In Washington, President Obama has signed a memorandum to extend some benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees, but the president did not offer survivor benefits or comprehensive healthcare, drawing sharp criticism from within the gay community.

President Obama: “I’m proud to issue a presidential memorandum that paves the way for long-overdue progress in our nation’s pursuit of equality. Many of our government’s hardworking and dedicated and patriotic public servants have long been denied basic rights that their colleagues enjoy for one simple reason; the people that they love are of the same sex.”

Obama made the policy change by issuing a memorandum not an executive order. This means the policy change will expire when Obama leaves office. Several prominent gay rights activists have criticized the president in recent days for failing to live up to campaign promises. Last week the administration filed a legal brief supporting the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. On Wednesday, however, Obama said he would work to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Obama has also been criticized for not pushing for an end to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Holder Refuses to Say Bush’s Warrantless Wiretapping Program Was Illegal

Attorney General Eric Holder testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday and refused to declare President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program to be illegal. Holder was repeatedly questioned by Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Sen. Russ Feingold: Now that you are the attorney general is there any doubt in your mind that the warrantless wiretapping program was illegal?

Eric Holder: Well I think that the warrantless wiretapping program as it existed at that point was certainly unwise in that it was put together without the approval of Congress…

Sen. Feingold: What I asked you Mr. Attorney General was not whether it was unwise but whether you consider it to have been illegal…

Holder: “The policy was an unwise one and that the concerns I expressed then have really been remedied by the fact that Congress has now authorized the program.

Sen. Feingold: But did you think it was illegal?

Holder: Well, I thought as a I said, it was inconsistent with the FISA statute and unwise as a matter of policy.

NSA Database Collects Millions Of Intercepted Emails

The New York Times has revealed that the National Security Agency is operating a secret surveillance database that contains millions of intercepted foreign and domestic e-mails. The NSA’s database – codenamed Pinwale – allows the NSA to search through millions of email messages including correspondence to and from Americans. The Times reports the NSA database even includes some intercepted personal correspondence of former President Bill Clinton.

Obama Proposes New Regulations Of Financial Industry

President Barack Obama laid out his vision for reshaping U.S. financial regulation on Wednesday, aiming to tighten oversight of large firms whose excessive risk-taking triggered the global economic crisis. The proposals have been described as the most sweeping overhaul of the nation’s financial rules since the 1930s.

President Obama: “I am proposing that the Federal Reserve be granted new authority and accountability-for regulating bank holding companies and other large firms that pose a risk to the entire economy in the event of failure. We will also raise the standards to which these kinds of firms are held. If you can pose a great risk, that means you have a great responsibility. We will require these firms to meet stronger capital and liquidity requirements so that they are more resilient and less likely to fail.”

As part of his proposal, President Obama called for the creation of an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Obama also wants to give the Federal Reserve more power to monitor “systemic risk” to the economy posed by the largest financial firms. The Wall Street Journal reports, executive compensation and hedge funds would also face more scrutiny. Bank regulation would be streamlined somewhat. Financial firms would be required to hold more capital.

EPA Declares Public Health Emergency in Libby, Montana

The Environmental Protection Agency has declared a public health emergency in the town of Libby, Montana where hundreds of people have died from asbestos contamination. It is the first time such a declaration has been made by the EPA. For decades, W.R. Grace and Co. mined asbestos-contaminated vermiculite in Libby. Last month executives from W.R. Grace were acquitted on charges of knowingly allowing Libby residents to be exposed to cancer-causing asbestos. The EPA said it will funnel $6 million to provide medical care for people sickened by asbestos from the mine.

U.S. Drone Strike Kills Nine in Pakistan

U.S. forces have carried out another drone strike inside Pakistan killing nine suspected militants. The strike occurred in South Waziristan, the region where the Pakistani military is preparing to launch a major offensive.

Suicide Bombing Kills Somalia’s National Security Minister

Meanwhile in Somalia, the nation’s security minister has been killed in a suicide bombing at a hotel injust north of the capital, Mogadishu. The blast killed at least nine other people. On Wednesday the police chief of Mogadishu was killed in a separate attack.

GOP Aide in Tennessee Distributes Racist Image of Obama

In Tennessee, Republican state Senator Diane Black is refusing to fire a staffer who sent a racist image of President Obama. The staffer, Sherri Goforth, sent out an e-mail with images of all the presidents of the United States. Barack Obama was depicted in the bottom right hand corner only as a pair of bright white eyes on a black background.

GOP Operative in SC Compares First Lady To A Gorilla

Meanwhile in South Carolina, a prominent Republican activist has apologized after making a joke on his Facebook page that an escaped gorilla from a local zoo was an ancestor of First Lady Michelle Obama. Rusty DePass is the former Republican state elections director in South Carolina.

Government Targeting of Muslim Charities Stifling Religious Expression

A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) titled “Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity” finds that U.S. anti-terrorism laws that target charitable giving are preventing Muslims from practicing their religion through charitable giving and are consequently impacting the perception of the United States in the Muslim world. The report argues that the U.S. government appears to many Muslims to be at war against Islam and that the lack of charitable contributions undermines humanitarian aid efforts in parts of the world where it could be key in helping to improve the United States’ image.

The report writes of the stifling impact of terrorism finance investigations:

The ACLU also found that there is a common perception among many members of the Muslim communities in Michigan and Texas that those active with Muslim community and religious organizations will be targeted for interviews with law enforcement or for criminal charges on account of their constitutionally protected association with legitimate Muslim community and religious organizations. Our research reveals that this perception of the price of association with Muslim community and religious organizations affects Muslims’ participation in Muslim community organizations.

As noted in the above excerpt, the ACLU interview several members of the Muslim community in Michigan:

In Michigan, 33 individuals were interviewed in Metro Detroit and Flint each expressing their concern over the government’s questioning of Muslim donors, the raids of large U.S. Muslim charities and the consequent chilling effect on their participation in religious activities such as congregational Friday prayer, Eid celebrations at the conclusion of Ramadan, and other communal religious activities.

The report further documents cases of Muslim charities being closed and raided in Michigan, along with questioning of donors and surveillance of Mosques.

A video released along with the report has more information on the issue:

Holocaust Museum Shooter has West Michigan Ties

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By now, most MediaMouse readers have probably heard that James Von Brunn shot and killed security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. It was the third shooting connected to the white supremacist movement in the past three months.

Not too long after the shooting, news came out that Von Brunn is actually a well-known white supremacist who has been active in the racist movement for years. According to Democracy Now, Von Brunn worked for Noontide Press, which later became a part of the Institute for Historical Review–a leading holocaust denial organization. Back in the 1980s, Von Brunn staged an attack on the U.S. Federal Reserve, claiming that it is a part of an international Jewish conspiracy. Von Brunn served six-and-a-half years in prison for that crime. When he emerged from prison, he became involved in the racist movement once again. According to The Washington Post, Von Brunn was interested in the potential of the Internet and supported himself by selling racist propaganda. In 1999, Von Brunn wrote a book titled Kill the Best Gentiles that ranted about the impending destruction of the white race.

West Michigan Ties to the Shooting: From the Racist Movement to the Ron Paul Movement

Although Von Brunn was from Maryland, he has ties to West Michigan. His website–HolyWesternEmpire.org–was (it is now down) operated by a West Michigan man by the name of Steve Reimink. Reimink lives in West Olive and allegedly took control of the website–which contains some of Von Brunn’s anti-Semetic writings–in the year 2000. . The domain’s email registration was steveo1488@hotmail.com. The “1488” is a reference to common neo-nazi numerology, with 14 referring to David Lane’s so-called “14 Words” motto (“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”) and the “88” being numerical shorthand for “Heil, Hitler.” The Grand Rapids Press looked into the West Michigan connections a bit, as did WOOD TV. They don’t uncover anything too interesting and generally don’t put the connection into the context of the larger white supremacist movement.

Interestingly, some blogs have been reporting that Reimink’s girlfriend is involved with Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty as an Ottawa County organizer. Her phone number is the same as what is listed in the registration for Von Brunn’s website. This wouldn’t be the first time that connections between Ron Paul’s organizations (Campaign for Liberty and his presidential campaign) were tied to white supremacy. Last year, MediaMouse.org reported that a Ku Klux Klan member from Michigan was a coordinator for Paul’s presidential campaign.

A Reminder of Why Anti-Fascist Organizing is Needed

Sadly, it isn’t much of a surprise that Von Brunn has ties to West Michigan–the state has a long history of connections to the racist movement. Michigan is home to prominent white supremacists including John Tanton (one of the key funders of the anti-immigration movement) and James Wickstrom. In addition, there are numerous racist groups active in the state and there have been several white supremacist events in the state.

While this is sad and outraging, at the same time, it’s a sobering reminder of why it is key to pursue anti-racist and anti-fascist organizing. All too often, much of the left–particularly the more mainstream portions–have written off white supremacists as fringe whackos who don’t need to be taken seriously. They’ll frequently make arguments that organized racists make fools out of themselves (thus neutralizing themselves, according to the line of arguing), that they don’t have any following, and that as reprehensible as their rhetoric may be, it is protected by the constitution and should just be ignored. Aside from being statements being made from a considerable amount of privilege, I don’t think they are true. When white supremacists are ignored, they make gains–whether that be by increasing their literature distribution, entering the electoral realm, or attempting to recruit teenagers–all of which have been used in Michigan.

I’m not sure that strong anti-fascist organizing could have stopped this shooting–or other similar “lone wolf” acts by white supremacists–but it can make it a whole lot harder for white supremacists to organize. Folks like Von Brunn operate within the organized racist movement and the smaller that movement, the less support they will have. Moreover, the more that anti-fascists confront the racist movement, the less traction the fewer inroads they will be able to make. It’s critically important that the racist movement be confronted at every turn, otherwise–as has been shown repeatedly in the past–they will continue to garner followers.

Michigan Supreme Court Wants to Restrict What Can Be Worn in Court

Under a new rule being considered by the Michigan Supreme Court, judges would be able to restrict what witnesses wear in the court room.

The proposed rule grows out of a 2006 case when a Hamtramck woman had her case dismissed because she appeared in court wearing a niqab and refused to remove it during testimony. The Muslim woman eventually took the case to court and sued the judge, but the lawsuit was dismissed and the state was told to come up with its own rules on the issue.

In response, the Michigan Supreme Court is proposing a rule change that “would clarify that a judge is entitled to establish reasonable standards regarding the appearance of parties and witnesses to evaluate the demeanor of those individuals and to ensure accurate identification.”

The rule change is being opposed by both the Michigan Civil Rights Commission and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is sending a letter to the court saying that the law is discriminatory and that it might cause religious people to avoid going to court.

The ACLU argues that the rule would deny Muslim women access to the court:

In its comment, the ACLU and other groups warn that the court rule threatens to unconstitutionally deny individuals their fundamental right of access to the courts based on their religious beliefs. The groups ask the Supreme Court to add a sentence to the rule ensuring “that no person shall be precluded from testifying on the basis of clothing worn because of a sincerely held religious belief.

Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs after 9/11

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Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs after 9/11

Activists and scholars have been arguing for years that negative representations of minorities in US-based commercial media has contributed to how the public perceives any group. The first feature film in the US, The Birth of A Nation, is a good example of the role that racist depictions of Blacks contributed to public lynching in the early part of the 20th century.

This is the fundamental argument that author Jack Shaheen has been making for years as it relates to media depictions of Arabs with his groundbreaking book Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, which documents how Hollywood has portrayed Arabs. Years later the book was made into a documentary and now Shaheen has written a sequel, Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs After 9/11.

Guilty is important on two levels. First, it tracks Arab depiction in Hollywood films and US entertainment TV shows since 9/11. These depictions since 9/11 have continued to disproportionately represent Arabs in a negative light, quite often as terrorists. Some examples that Shaheen looks at are the movies Click (2006), Final Destination 3 (2006), The Kingdom (2007), Team America (2004), and Transformers (2007).

Each of these films has stereotypical representation of Arabs, most often as terrorists with overt depictions of bearded sultans who are driven by lust and greed. In the movie Click there is a brief encounter with a wealthy Arab with the main characters in the film. An Arab actor does not play the Arab businessman and his White counterparts cannot pronounce his name. At one point the main character in the film says are you asking me to design an “Arabian hoochie house?” This brief exchange suggests that Arab men have no respect for women. In the movie Transformers, Arabs are helpless in the face of an alien invasion and must rely on the US military to protect them.

Shaheen also includes US television programming in his analysis of popular media depictions of Arabs since 9/11, since a similar pattern exists. In a chapter entitled “TV’s Arab-American Bogeyman,” the author demonstrates that Arab characters are depicted in very negative ways. The popular FOX network show 24 uses Arabs as terror suspects repeatedly and the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) has White wrestlers always beating an Arab wrestler named Hasan. One reason why these depictions contribute negative public perceptions of Arabs is because they never show “Arab American women and men doing what normal Americans do in their daily lives.”

The second reason why Guilty is an important book is because of how the author makes the link between these media stereotypes and the treatment of Arabs and Arab Americans in the real world. Shaheen always comes back to what these racist depictions of Arabs mean to everyday Arabs and Arab Americans, which is to say that hate crimes and discrimination have been on the rise since 9/11.

Guilty does an excellent job of weaving the actual treatment of Arab Americans in the US since 9/11 and how media depictions create a climate for this negative treatment. Anyone who wants to understand the relationship between media and racism would find this book valuable. Those who care about the civil rights of Arab Americans would do well to read this important and timely book.

Jack Shaheen, Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs After 9/11, (Olive Branch Press, 2008).

Hate Groups Increase Nationwide in 2008; Decline in Michigan

Hate Groups Rise Nationwide in 2008

A new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center documents a continued rise in the number of hate groups in the United States.

The organization says that in 2008 there 926 hate groups active in the United States. These groups range from neo-Nazi skinheads to Ku Klux Klan groups. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups has grown from 602 in 2000 to 926 in 2008.

The organization sees the potential for a further increase in hate groups–which were motivated in the past few years by the debate over immigration–with the election of President Barack Obama and the continued economic crisis.

This year, the report lists 23 hate groups in Michigan, down from 26 last year

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s report comes a few days after a government report that raised the prospect of an increase in rightwing extremism and violence.

WXMI’s Website: Lowering Expectations for TV News Even Further

WXMI Fox 17

In recent years, the television news stations in West Michigan have aggressively marketed their websites to viewers and in some cases have said that they can provide supplemental coverage that they can’t afford to provide on air. They even go so far as to suggest that they are doing their viewers a favor.

The practical effect of local news stations investing resources in their websites has often meant overly bloated pages cover in ads (or even pop-under ads in the case of WOOD TV 8) that are packed with all manner of features designed to attract visitors and advertising revenue. In some cases, the features might be useful–for example in the case of voter guides–but often they are just things like coupons or less than interesting blog postings.

However, some new features on WXMI Fox 17’s site caught my eye yesterday. In their quest for viewers, they’ve made some awful choices that appeal to some of the worst inclinations in the U.S.

They’ve added a “Babes of Fox” photo gallery–perhaps taking some inspiration from local radio stations–to appeal to the more misogynist elements in West Michigan. As if the entertainment media isn’t filled with enough hyper-sexualized content, now WXMI seems to think we need to see it on a news website. The worst part is probably the fact that this content–and what it teaches us about how heterosexual men are supposed to view women–is promoted on every page. So for example, on a story about a man accused of raping an Iraqi girl, WXMI plugs their “Babes of Fox” feature.

They’ve also added a gallery of “Mug Shots.” While they accompany them with the text “Arrest and booking photos are provided by law enforcement officials. Arrest does not imply guilt, and criminal charges are merely accusations,” there is really no reason for them to be on the site. In their gallery, the overwhelming majority are people of color–which just reinforces the racist notion that most crime is committed by people of color.

I know we can’t expect much from television news, but come on–this is pathetic!

Cornel West at Calvin College

Unfortunately, I missed Cornel West when he spoke recently at Calvin College. However, the college has made the audio of his lecture–“Hope on a Tightrope”–available online. Few people can discuss the realities of white supremacy, the need for resistance, and the importance of hope like West, so it’s highly worth listening.

Download the file

Report: Policy Changes Needed to Address Racial Disparities

State of Black America

African-Americans are twice as likely to remain unemployed as whites, are three times more likely to live in poverty, and are six times as likely to be incarcerated as whites.

In the era of the United States’ first African-American president, structural and practical inequality for African-Americans remains an unfortunate reality. While Obama’s election–history on some levels–did not mark a transition into a “post-racial” society, it might offer the opportunity for some progress in addressing racism.

In its annual State of Black America report, the Urban League offers a series of practical policy recommendations for the Obama administration that could help address longstanding racial disparities.

These include:

  • The developmental of “a comprehensive and universal health insurance system”
  • Increasing assistance to help people of color purchase their own homes
  • Strengthen the Community Reinvestment Act to encourage banks to lend to people of color and end discrimination and predatory lending
  • Create a HUD task force to investigate violations of fair-housing laws
  • Increase federal programs aimed at creating jobs for urban areas
  • Guarantee that all three- and four-year olds have access to full day early childhood education
  • Increased federal spending to improve the education system

The report advocates that far from stopping with Obama’s victory, those campaigning for racial justice need to actively work to improve the material conditions for people of color and work to hold government officials at all levels accountable.

The report also echoed previous reports in asserting that the economic crisis has hit African-Americans the hardest.