ABC Gives Drug Industry View on AIDS Drugs Dispute
March 8, 2001
A Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting Action Alert
On its March 7 broadcast, ABC's World News Tonight tried
to give its viewers some background on the legal battle
over pharmaceutical patents and AIDS drugs in Africa. But
viewers only heard from one side in the debate: the drug
companies and their supporters.
The report, by ABC's Deborah Amos, relied on three
sources: a spokesperson from the South African
Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, the executive
vice president of the Pharmaceutical Research and
Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and an analyst from the
Cato Institute, a conservative-libertarian think tank. All
three promoted the same theme: Drug companies should not
be blamed for trying to protect their patents.
Excluding critics in this dispute is baffling. Activists
from around the world are gathered in South Africa now, as
39 pharmaceutical companies have taken the South African
government to court over its plan to allow production of
generic versions of AIDS drugs, a practice known as
compulsory licensing. The activists argue that the
escalating health crisis in Africa, where 25 million
people are estimated to be HIV positive, gives the
government the right to pursue such a policy, which they
say is completely legal under current international trade
Experts who represent this point of view are readily
available to the media: The Institute for Public Accuracy,
a D.C.-based press advisory group, issued a press release
on March 6 offering interviews with prominent critics of
the drug industry's position
A shorter companion segment, by correspondent Jim Wooten,
did describe the human cost of high drug prices in Malawi,
but did not include any drug industry critics who might
have explained how AIDS medicine could be made affordable.
This isn't the first time ABC has presented mainly the
drug company view on this issue. On July 8, 1999, World
News Tonight aired two segments that essentially argued
that making cheaper drugs available would have little
impact on public health in African countries. The segments
were dominated by sources from the pharmaceutical industry
and its supporters, though one South African government
official was quoted criticizing the drug companies. (See
In his March 7 introduction, ABC anchor Peter Jennings
called the story of AIDS in Africa "one of the profound
questions of our time." Unfortunately, ABC sought the
answers from only one side of the dispute.
ACTION: Please contact ABC World News Tonight and
encourage them to include critics of the pharmaceutical
industry in their ongoing coverage of the AIDS crisis in
ABC's World New Tonight
47 W. 66 St., New York, NY 10023
As always, please remember that your comments will be more
effective if you maintain a polite tone. Please cc
email@example.com with your correspondence.
Read the transcripts of the ABC reports at:
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CIA Turns to Data Mining
By Tabassum Zakaria,
Sunday, March 4, 2001
The CIA, faced with a daily avalanche of information, is
using new "data mining" technology to find useful nuggets
within thousands of documents and broadcasts in different
The spy agency must sift through a barrage of information
from both classified and unclassified sources in varied
formats such as hard text, digital text, imagery, and
audio in more than 35 languages.
The Office of Advanced Information Technology (AIT), part
of the CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology, is
focused on finding solutions to the "volume challenge."
"We're not growing at a fast rate, but the amount of
information that comes into this place is growing by leaps
and bounds," Larry Fairchild, AIT director, said in an
interview this week in a basement demonstration room at
Central Intelligence Agency headquarters.
"How do we give folks technologies so that they are able
to handle the big increase in information they're going to
have to deal with on a day-to-day basis?" he said.
One computer tool called "Oasis" can convert audio signals
from television and radio broadcasts into text.
It can distinguish accented English for greater accuracy
in the transcription, whether the speaker is male or
female, and whether one male or female voice is different
from another of the same gender.
At the left of the screen of a transcribed broadcast are
labels "Male 1," "Female 1," "Male 2," next to sentences.
If one voice is labeled with a name, the computer from
then on will put that name on anything else with that same
So for example if a broadcast by Saudi-exile Osama bin
Laden, whom the CIA considers a major threat to Americans,
was transcribed and labeled, every time his voice was
detected the computer would automatically label it.
If the machine translation appears off, the user can with
a mouse click hear the actual broadcast. For example, the
demonstration showed a transcription that read "latest
danger from hell" but the audio said "latest danger from
The computer cuts down on the time it would take a person
to transcribe a half-hour broadcast to 10 minutes from up
to 90 minutes, a CIA employee conducting the demonstration
The CIA is planning to have Oasis developed for different
languages such as Arabic and Chinese.
It also finds similar meanings of words being searched,
for example a broadcast might not mention "terrorism" but
might say "car bombing," which the computer would tag as
"terrorism" so that anyone searching for that category
would find it.
Currently the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service
is using it in one Asian city and intends to have it in
other regions such as the Middle East this year.
Another computer tool, "FLUENT," enables a user to conduct
computer searches of documents that are in a language the
user does not understand.
The user can put English words into the search field, such
as "nuclear weapons," and documents in languages such as
Russian, Chinese and Arabic pop up.
The system will then translate the document and if it is
seen as useful, the analyst can send it to a human
translator for more precision.
Languages that FLUENT can translate into English include
Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Serbo-Croatian and
"Data mining" tools are used to extract key pieces of
information from a variety of intelligence traffic such as
on the flow of illegal drugs and also to keep track of
illicit financial transactions.
Tools were developed to help CIA analysts on Iraq, who
were asked to analyze the agency's holdings on Iraqi war
crime violations, about 1.2 million documents going back
The Text Data Mining tool extracted and indexed all words
in the data so for example if an analyst was asked whether
Iraq ever used anthrax as a weapon, the analyst could open
the tool and find anthrax in the automatically generated
That tool also counts the frequency of word use and can
handle various spellings of the same Iraqi names or
There is also "gifting technology" which gives the flavor
of the key information of a document in a short paragraph,
With the latest spy furor in the nation's capital, would
any of the tools help catch a spy?
"Yes, some of the things we're doing can," Fairchild said
without details. "We're looking at better technologies to
put in that area," he added.
Another intelligence official, on condition of anonymity,
said: "If they have this kind of technology to plumb the
depths of open sources, you can imagine what kind of
technologies they have to track down spies."
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March 6, 2001
Interpreting the Images of Slavery on the Confederacy's Money
By DAVID FIRESTONE
CHARLESTON, S.C. - Without a magnifying glass, it is difficult to see
the faces on the slaves as they harvest cotton and hoist overflowing baskets to their shoulders. Minutely engraved on the tattered currency of the old South, the images are faded and smudged, and their message has languished in the vaults of collectors.
About four years ago, a collector took one of the old Confederate bank notes into a North Charleston blueprint shop and asked an employee, John W. Jones, to have it
enlarged. Mr. Jones, an artist and commercial illustrator who frequently paints African-American themes, studied the engraving on the note and was struck by the Confederacy's decision to use as its monetary symbol an accomplished image of a black field hand straining at the cotton harvest.
Prowling through hobby shops and Internet sites, he realized that scenes of slave labor were in fact a prevailing image on Southern currency during the mid-19th century.
Where other states and nations used historical scenes or pictures of national leaders and resources on their money, the Confederate states often chose to portray themselves as the land of slaves, usually contented and sometimes smiling.
But these historical documents had to be enlarged to be appreciated. Because very few visual depictions of slavery were made at the time, Mr. Jones got out his acrylics and canvas and began painting these vignettes as full-size works, adding nothing but
color. An exhibition of about 30 of his paintings opened in February at the College of Charleston in its Avery Research Center for African-American History and Culture, and it has been drawing a steady audience of both blacks and whites.
"We built the economy of the South, and here you have the banks saying so," said Mr. Jones, who now works in a studio in Columbia. "But no one had seen these images.
No one realized what was on the bills."
Numismatists have long known about the bills' imagery, but historians have recently begun taking a closer look at it as a statement of the South's economic priorities
during the war. An Internet exhibition created last year by the United States Civil War Center at Louisiana State University has more than 75 engravings of slavery from Confederate paper money. (The exhibition can be seen at
At the time, money was printed both by the Confederate States of America and by the banks of the individual Southern states. Several scholars who contributed to the
online project noted that Southern banks enshrined slavery in their monetary system to remind those who came in contact with their bills that the institution was the region's economic bedrock.
"Slaves were the capital of the South," said Henry N. McCarl, an economics professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a numismatist who contributed an essay and part of his collection to the online exhibition. "Cultures put on their money
objects that are important to them and their economy, and the South had an interest in showing to the world that the slaves were well treated and happy."
There are, of course, no scenes of slaves being mistreated on the bills, and in a few close-ups they are smiling as they move in ragged clothes and bare feet through the
cotton fields. In one scene painted by Mr. Jones from a South Carolina $5 bill, a white overseer supervises a group of slaves from his horse with his whip in his hand; in another, a white man and woman gaze down at a quartet of bent-over slaves working with scythes in a wheat field.
The pictures, like the Confederacy itself, are almost entirely agrarian and usually romanticized, etched by engravers who are not now identifiable. Slaves are shown loading sugar cane onto wagons and leading cattle and very frequently working with cotton: planting it, picking it, hauling it, baling it. The cotton images are repeated so often they become iconographic, and some of the bills show classical goddesses of liberty or prosperity - even George Washington - gazing at the cotton scenes with
admiration and blessing. In one allegorical picture painted by Mr. Jones from a Georgia Savings Bank bill, a white figure that is apparently that of Moneta, the Roman
goddess of money, is in the foreground holding a cotton plant as bags of gold spill open at her feet. In the background, an overseer on a horse supervises a field of slaves as a train arrives to pick up their harvest.
"I was particularly intrigued by that one," said Mr. Jones, most of whose paintings in the series have been snapped up by collectors. "The slaves are doing the work, and
she's got the money."
John M. Coski, historian and library director at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Va., said that there were more vignettes from classical mythology than of
slaves on Southern currency, and that the banks were not so much making a grand statement about slavery as they were simply depicting their world. But several African-American scholars disagree about the statement being made by the money.
"We did this exhibit because of what John showed us about the South," said W. Marvin Dulaney, director of the Avery Research Center and a history professor at the
College of Charleston. "We hear a lot these days about how the Confederacy was really about states' rights and not slavery. But the currency itself tells the truth. It shows how they saw us, and how they wanted to keep seeing us."
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company
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The Next Agenda Conference
March 6, 2001
by Ted Glick
On February 28th, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.,
several hundred people turned out for "a national conference on The Next
Agenda." The Next Agenda referred to "putting forth a clear vision and
bold agenda for progressive reform" on such issues as "health care,
education, retirement security and broadening out prosperity," in the
words of the Call to the event. It was organized by the Washington,
D.C.-based Campaign for America's Future.
Jesse Jackson, Jr., John Sweeney, Paul Wellstone, Andrew Stern, William
Greider, Maxine Waters, Hilda Solis, Jeff Faux, John Conyers, Jr., Ellen
Miller, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Dennis Kucinich, Luis Gutierrez and
Barney Frank--these were some of the speakers in a day full of one panel
after another, beginning at 8:30 P.M. and ending at 10 P.M. following a
This was not an independent politics conference. It was a conference
whose stated objective, as articulated most explicitly by Robert
Borosage, the major organizer of the event, was to "take back the
However, the question of the Ralph Nader/Green Party Presidential
campaign came up as soon as the first, morning panel ended and the floor
was opened for questions. One of the first questions was about that
Two people responded. The first was Borosage. Although he said that "we
should not reject the Naderites," he went on to describe the Nader
campaign as a "fool's errand" that led young people astray and never
should have happened.
The other response was from Jesse Jackson, Jr. Jackson described Nader
as a friend. He said, "I agree with his politics, and Nader didn't lose
the elections. Nader was created by NAFTA, GATT, the African Growth and
Opportunity Act, the Democratic Leadership Council. And there will be
more Nader-type Green candidacies unless we transform our demoralized
[Democratic] army into an army of liberation." He went on to make it
clear that he saw a major arena of battle for this army being the
It is of note that there was no applause following Borosage's comments
but that there was in response to Jackson's.
Although the issue of the Greens surfaced from time to time throughout
the rest of the day, the main work of the conference had to do with
presentations by the various speakers on the various panels. The names
of the panels indicate the major subjects addressed: The Emerging
Progressive Majority, The New Economy, A Time to Move: Political Reform,
Fighting for Working Families in a Bush Era, Health Care for All and
Bold Initiatives. A wide range of issues were addressed, although one
criticism voiced was that there was almost no discussion of
international issues. There was also a well-received (with applause)
criticism from the floor about the limited participation of young people
at the conference and no addressing of issues of concern to youth. And
with the exception of a major speech by Jesse Jackson, Jr., there was
little explicit addressing of the issue of racism.
The Campaign for America's Future intends to organize similar regional
gatherings in other parts of the country "to involve people in a
meaningful way in an inclusive effort to create a progressive politics,"
in the words of Senator Paul Wellstone. Hopefully, "inclusive" will mean
respect for those who agree on many of The Next Agenda issues but who
think that independent politics is not a "fool's errand" but essential
work if we are ever to create the critically-needed "army of
The Campaign for America's Future can be reached at 1025 Connecticut
Ave., NW, #205, Washington, D.C. 20036, 202-955-5665 (tel), 955-5606
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(The following article on Reparations and the UN World Conference against
Racism appeared in the New York Times on Sunday, March 4, 2001. The
December 12th Movement International Secretariat, the International Association
Against Torture and North-South XXI have for many years at the United
Nations fought for the issues of: 1) Declaration of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade
and Slavery as a Crime against Humanity; 2) Reparations for Africans in the
Diaspora and on the Continent; 3) the economic basis of racism. The US has tried everything it can to suppress and eliminate discussion or consideration of these issues at the UN, in general, and at the World Conference, in particular. When media, such as the NY Times, are forced to acknowledge that there is a debate going on around these issues, it reflects that the movement is growing and cannot be ignored. We have to step up our organizing for the World Conference.)
Global Look at Racism Hits Many Sore Points
by BARBARA CROSSETTE
UNITED NATIONS, March 1
A conference on racism this summer could be one of the most explosive meetings this organization has ever held, with moves afoot to cast globalization as a racial issue and to demand reparations for the slave trade and colonialism. Though the conference is still six months away, the agenda is already being passionately debated, and an increasingly broader range of issues is falling under the rubric of race.
The meeting to be held in Durban, South Africa, from Aug. 31 to Sept. 7 was first proposed by developing nations led by Cuba, and it was always expected to have something of an anti-Western bias. But the opportunity to air grievances rarely heard on an international platform has been seized by groups in developing nations too, from China to Chile, that want to force often hidden and extraordinarily sensitive issues into the discussion.
Beyond consideration of the North- South hemispheric divide as a color
line, those issues include treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers in
developed countries, the caste system in India and contemporary slavery in Africa as
well as discrimination in Latin America and parts of the Caribbean against people of African descent. Governments in some regions have been fighting consideration of many of those issues. But human rights groups, often linking through the Internet, have gained more leverage than ever against the governments that have elbowed them out of the spotlight in the past.
The aim, the human rights advocates say, is to demonstrate that racism is an
international phenomenon that manifests itself in many forms. And they point
to the full title of the event the World Conference Against Racism, Racial
Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance to buttress their argument. Two earlier meetings held in 1978 and 1983 were more narrowly focused.
"The last two conferences on racism were about foreign policy," said Gay J. McDougall, executive director of the International Human Rights Law Group in
Washington. "The first one was on decolonization and the second one was on
apartheid. But this one is in everybody's back yard, and there's a lot of nervousness about it."
Ms. McDougall is among those pressing for strong international action on the
slave trade and the legacy of colonialism on behalf of people of African descent all over the Western Hemisphere. But she has also backed calls to put the Indian caste system, which human rights groups say affects between 100 million and 200 million people, on the conference agenda, over the strong objection of the Indian government.
Smita Narula, who has been studying caste for Human Rights Watch in New York,
said that "for Asia, caste has become coterminous with race inasmuch as it
defines the exclusion of a people based on their descent." But so far, she said, Asian governments have succeeded in keeping the issue out of conference documents.
Representatives of governments will begin a four-day meeting in Geneva on Tuesday to discuss the conference agenda and the content of documents to be issued in Durban. Some new issues have been assured a place in the conference, and battle lines have been drawn for others in four regional meetings in France, Senegal, Chile and Iran.
In Strasbourg, France, the issue of Europeans' treatment of Roma, or Gypsy,
people was put on the agenda by governments themselves. In Santiago, Chile,
strong lobbying by African-American groups gave new visibility to racial discrimination in Latin America. And in Dakar, Senegal, where delegates were very strongly in favor of reparations for the trans- Atlantic slave trade, the new president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, cautioned the conference against looking only to history when examining Africa's problems. Ethnic intolerance and the continuation of slavery are still issues.
The big story for me," said Ms. McDougall who is also a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and attended the Santiago meeting "was the cross-regional discourse that was generated in a new way among African-descended communities throughout the hemisphere, the poorest of the poor." When the meeting was over, she said, the topic of discrimination against
black Latin Americans, which was not in the draft of the regional platform, had been added. "It was a recognition for the first time in a multilateral document in Latin America that racism was an issue of current salience," she said.
The Tehran meeting, grouping the Middle East and Asia, was the most contentious, and there was a move to revive something of the old cold war shibboleth of Zionism as racism. Though the word Zionism was not used, official delegations urged the Durban conference to demand an end to the "foreign occupation" of Jerusalem and characterized Israeli domination of Palestinian areas as "a new kind of apartheid, a crime against humanity, a form of genocide, and a serious threat to international peace and security. "Kishore Mahbubani, the author of "Can Asians Think?" and Singapore's ambassador to the United Nations, said in an interview that "racism is a sunrise issue."
"It is a natural result of a shrinking globe," he added. "Races that in a sense never had contact with each other are thrown together in close proximity in a new neighborhood. The first sign of this is the new wave of immigrants."
But most controversial is an international movement to make concrete demands
for reparations for the trans-Atlantic slave trade and for some form of compensation for centuries of colonialism. Mary Robinson, formerly the president of Ireland and now the United Nations commissioner for human rights, generally supports such demands,
particularly in finding some form of recompense for slavery. "That trauma is still
there," she said in an interview, "and it's deep, and it hasn't been properly acknowledged."
Mrs. Robinson said the conference could achieve concrete results just by urging the enforcement of existing laws and international conventions against bias and discrimination. "About 85 percent of measures that can be taken are already in force or will be agreed on without difficulty," she said. "Then there will be a number of issues on which political leadership will be needed.
"One of them will be how we find the language to condemn in full terms the
evil of slavery, returning to the issue of compensation for past practices.
"It may sound strange that we still have to do that, but in fact we need to close off a period and say that this exploitation was in real terms a crime against humanity when it took place and that it has had an effect into this century. The more generous and open the condemnation is, the less I believe there will be a push to focus on precise monetary compensation."
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History Repeats in Tennessee
by Catherine Danielson
Black voters were told to get behind the white
voters. "You know what it is to stand at the back of
the bus," said election volunteers. Black voters were
told to remove NAACP stickers from their cars-or leave
the polling place without voting. Black voters were
intimidated by police standing around polling places.
Black voters stood in lines over a mile long to use
ancient punch-card machines on the verge of falling
apart. Sometimes, they'd stand for five or six hours.
Once, they complained. Minutes later, two police cars
came screeching up. Now, all this does start to sound
like a promo for "Mississippi Burning". Or maybe it's
a documentary about egregious civil rights violations
in some Deep South backwater fifty years ago.
But it happened in November 2000.
Well, then, it's got to be about Florida. The massive
voter disenfranchisement in Florida has gotten some
coverage, especially overseas--the people who weren't
felons illegally scrubbed from voting rolls, the
police roadblocks in Black neighborhoods, the
Republican operatives illegally filling out absentee
But no. All these things-and much, much more-happened
Don't be surprised if you haven't heard anything
about any of it. There's very little information
available even in Tennessee. Every newspaper, every
radio station, every television news program is
silent. Even Nashville's Tennessean, where both Al and
Tipper Gore once worked, has zero to say on the
subject. And it's not as if it's been kept secret. The
Tennessee Voter Empowerment Team met at the TN NAACP
Conference of Branches on November 17th and released
their findings to the state. But the only coverage has
come from the Black press, newspapers like the
Tennessee Tribune, Nashville Pride, and Urban Flavor.
And yet there is massive evidence that thousands--
perhaps even tens of thousands--of people were
disenfranchised, the vast majority of whom were
Black. How to explain it?
"People want to sweep this under the rug," says Rev.
Neal Darby, head of the Greater Nashville Black
Chamber of Commerce. "They don't want to think it
could have happened here." Indeed, Nashville was one
of the birthplaces of the civil rights movement. It's
one thing to see films of Black students getting iced
tea dumped over their heads by a jeering white mob as
they try to get served at Woolworth's in the early
1960's. It's quite another to picture it in the year
2000. And yet-look at what did happen here.
Outrageous and Inexplicable
It isn't just the outrageous racial incidents, such
as the way that Black Nashville college students
weren't permitted to vote even though they were
registered, or the way that Tennessee State
University, a historically Black college, was the only
university in Tennessee that didn't get a satellite
voting place, or election office workers harrassing
Black citizens who requested voter registration forms,
or election commission officers refusing to give
registration forms to NAACP representatives and
sometimes (as in Chattanooga) actually taking them
back. It's the inexplicable things, such as the way
that polling places all over West Tennessee opened one
to two hours late, or disappeared and reappeared
somewhere else without telling anybody--but, seemingly,
only in areas that were Black and/or poor. Or the
missing pages from election rosters all over
Nashville. Or the county where ballot boxes were
opened and ballots handled. So many vote
irregularities were reported that the mind starts to
numb after awhile, to get buried under the sheer
avalanche and grasp for some sort of meaning and
order. So it's instructive to note that there were
three areas of evidence that are more disturbing than
The first was what NAACP officers generally refer to
as "the Motor Voter disaster." This was the first
election year in which Tennessee's Motor Voter bill
took effect. Citizens could register to vote at
Department of Motor Vehicle offices statewide. The
problem is, an unknown number of those applications
never went through. There have been nearly 2,000
complaints to date. Allegedly, this occurred because
the department failed to deliver completed forms to
county election commissions. It's worth noting that
there is no standard of delivery, nor supervision of
any kind, when the applications are delivered from the
Department of Safety to the counties-and that the DMV
blames the voters.
The second was the disenfranchisement of former
felons. Dr. Blondell Strong, Director for Prison
Re-enfranchisement for the Tennessee Voter Empowerment
Project 2000, narrowly prevented an attempt at
disenfranchisement in Nashville. In Bolivar, former
felons illegally lost their voting rights. Clifton
Polk, head of the local Black Chamber of Commerce, was
so infuriated that he filed an official complaint with
the EEOC. Since felons don't automatically lose their
voting rights in Tennessee the same way that they do
in Florida, this issue remains a murky mess. However,
this was the first year it had happened in the state.
Voting Machines Missing in Action
The third--and maybe the strangest--is the way that
certain voting precincts all over the state had a
small fraction of the voting machines they should have
had. That's what caused the mile-long lines in
districts like Hadley Park and Upper Antioch. The
funny part is, all these districts seem to have been,
once again, Black, Hispanic, and/or poor. According to
election commissions, they simply didn't know there'd
be such a large turnout. Maybe so. However, according
to Tennessee State Election Commissioner Brook
Thompson, each county sends a list of registered
voters to the polling places. (The precinct list
actually kept by volunteers often didn't match the
voting list. Weird, huh?) Also, as state NAACP
president Gloria Jean Sweetlove points out, the
election commission knew about the NAACP Voter
Empowerment Project, whose goal was to register new
Black voters. Also, the commission knew that there'd
been a record turnout for early voting. So, once
again, this remains a mystery.
Looking at all of this evidence, you have to wonder
what would come out if Tennessee had the same kind of
investigations that Florida has had, and will continue
to have. (Not to mention the fact that similar
evidence has come out of twenty-one other states.) The
national NAACP, along with the ACLU, People for the
American Way, Advancement Project, and Lawyers'
Committee for Civil Rights, has filed suit to
eliminate unfair voting practices. They will be
sending representatives to Nashville soon in order to
hold hearings about voter disenfranchisement there. So
Tennessee may well end up being added to the national
suit, and that would probably be the best shot at
investigation. Certainly, the state attorney general
has showed little interest to date. Yet nobody else
has either-not the press, not the legislature, not the
governor, not the senators. I couldn't quite put my
finger on why that bothered me so much. I tried to put
it into words when I talked to Gloria Jean Sweetlove.
"Why is it," I asked, fumbling towards words to
express the inexpressible, "that I don't see anything
about this in the papers, or on TV? Why will nobody
will touch this?"
She gave a long, long sigh. "I don't think you're old
enough to remember. But in the fifties and early
sixties," she said slowly, "nobody would touch it
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Black Farmers Association
By Colin McLaughlin-Alcock
The Reverend Willie J. Burns is a black family farmer. Years ago,
increasingly high operating costs in an increasingly unprofitable
business forced him to turn to the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA) for financial help. He applied for an operating loan (to help
buy seed) and, unlike many of his white neighbors, he got his loan late,
in the middle of the growing season, when much of its value (but not its
interest) had been lost. He was put, again unlike his white neighbors,
on a supervised loan, meaning the USDA needed proof he was spending
the money appropriately. He wasn’t allowed to access his money without
his loan officer’s permission, and the running around, which he had to do
to prove he was buying farm equipment eventually cost him days of labor,
depleting his yield. This costly process repeated itself for several years.
When he complained to his loan officer, the officer threatened to put Burns
out of business. The USDA felt it was justified in following through on that
threat and began the foreclosure procedure that would eventually have
separated him from his livelihood
Burns, one of 18,000 black farmers to seek reparations in a lawsuit against
the USDA, managed to hold on to his property. Many others were not so
lucky. Similar stories of unequal treatment are so common that many black
farmers think discrimination is national policy. Eddie Slaughter, vice
president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association (BFAA),
complains, "this is standard operating procedure, that discrimination is
actually supposed to take place because you’re black."
BFAA has been working for years to obtain justice for the black farmers’
suffering. Recently it looked as if they had succeeded when they reached a
widely publicized settlement with the USDA. Farmers who passed a
simplified claims process were promised $50,000, full debt relief, and
other legal rewards. But, Tom Burrell of Tennessee remarks, "We’ve been
duped again. All it is is more discrimination…" The original expectation
that over 80 percent of the claims would be approved was made farcical by
the enormous quantity of denials. Thousands of farmers were refused the
right to file and most of the settlements that were reached did not include
the promised debt relief. Many farmers received their check and owed it
right back to the USDA. They remain in continued danger of foreclosure
and farmers still in the claims process have been told by representatives of
the government that they will lose their homes as soon as a decision leaves
Discrimination cost Burns over $400,000 in lost revenues (the settlement
was worth far less) and he worries that nothing is being done to correct the
problems which brought him to court in the first place. Not one USDA
employee has been fired for the widespread discrimination and farmers fear
vengeance after a settlement, which, according to BFAA president Gary
Grant, was "not even a slap on the wrist." The worst punishment handed
down by USDA authorities is the one-day suspension of a man who
brought a loaded gun onto federal property in order to threaten black
farmers. He still holds the same position as before and continues to hold
power over their loan applications.
Several farmers, after winning their claims, have received letters informing
them that their payment has been delayed. While black farmers are used to
late and non-existent payments, many are disappointed. Lawyers of the Land
Loss Prevention Project found wording in the settlement which allows the
USDA to default on all payments without legal consequences. "Sure, you
get your letter saying you’ve won, but they really don’t have to pay you,"
explains Burrell. BFAA is now entrenched in a difficult appeals process
aimed at undoing the settlement and bringing their case back to court.
Many of the farmers who signed on now claim that they were misled by
their lawyers, being told that victory would be as easy as tying their shoes,
and that quick resolutions would help them return to their crops as soon as
possible. BFAA remarks that recent, horrifying, and contrary developments
have received little press. While the media were highly enthusiastic about
the case before a settlement, agricultural discrimination is now seen as a
dead issue. However, the struggle has widespread importance, contends
BFAA, because what happens to black and minority farmers now will be
the fate of other small farmers in the near future. The farming population,
black and white, has declined significantly in recent years and the rise of
monopolistic corporate agriculture is making it harder and harder for those
still on the land to compete. The USDA has been cutting back on programs
designed to keep small and medium farmers in business, and has shown a
distinctive bias towards agribusiness. The USDA forgave nearly
$14,000, 000 in bad debts to chicken giant Frank Purdue in the same year
it began foreclosure on small, black farmer, Mathew Grant, who had paid
back 90 percent of a much smaller debt. BFAA members and many others
believe that minority farmers are being targeted because they do not have
the numbers or political support necessary to mount significant resistance.
They claim that once they are out of the way, family farmers in general
will be substantially weakened and will be unable to defend themselves
against the USDA’s final assault.
Black farmers have held on for longer than anyone expected. Governmental
reports in the 1980s and 1990s predicted that there would be no black
farmers left by the turn of the millennium, but there are several thousand
still working their farms. These holdouts will not last long if the USDA is
allowed to continue its current policy. A successful legal appeal seems to be
BFAA’s only opportunity to stall the suffering of the black farmer and to
prevent the end of family farming.
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CHINA: Consumer watchdog voices concern over government GM labels
5 Mar 2001
Source: just-food.com editorial team
Hong Kong's Consumer Council has urged government officials that a proposed labeling system for GM food does not go far enough, and a more comprehensive and compulsory system is essential. Head of the research and survey division at
the watchdog body, Connie Lau Yin-hing, added that monitoring of GM food needs to be increased and labels should be compulsory where GM content in food products exceeds 1%.
Currently, the government has proposed a 5% threshold for labeling, and there are no requirements to label loose foods or meal ingredients in restaurants. The deputy director of Food and Environmental Hygiene, Dr Leung Pak-yin, has
defended these proposals saying that a 5% level would be more acceptable to the public and the industry.
He added that the system would be reviewed after it has been implemented, however this could take some time as an eighteen-month grace period will first be observed during which labeling is voluntary. This idea was supported by Raymond Wong Sze-chung, associate professor of the biochemistry department at the University of Science and Technology, who said that labeling was only relevant to those consumers who are sensitive to the GM content.
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Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International
March 02, 2001
The USA is about to carry out its 700th execution since resuming judicial killing in 1977, Amnesty International warned today, pointing out that more than 500 of them have occurred since 1993. Nine more prisoners are scheduled to be executed in the next nine days, including two this evening.
"The USA is engaged in a cruel, brutalizing, unreliable, unnecessary and hugely expensive activity for no measurable gain," Amnesty International said. "The fact that it is violating human rights standards in the process only adds to the deepening shadow being cast on its international reputation by its relentless resort to this outdated punishment."
As of this morning, there had been 697 executions in 31 US states since 1977. Between this evening and next Friday, nine more prisoners are scheduled to be put to death in seven states:
-- 1 March, Oklahoma: Robert Clayton - his IQ has been assessed at 68. An IQ of 70 or under indicates possible mental retardation. International standards oppose use of the death penalty against such individuals. -- 1 March, Virginia: Thomas Akers - he has borderline mental retardation and a long history of mental illness. He pleaded guilty to the crime, asked to be sentenced to death and has been allowed to drop his appeals.
-- 2 March, North Carolina: Ernest McCarver - his IQ has been measured at 67. He is facing execution despite the fact that the state legislature is about to consider proposals to outlaw the use of the death penalty against the mentally disabled. Thirteen of the 38 death penalty states have enacted such legislation.
-- 6 March, Georgia: Ronald Spivey, a 61-year-old is facing death in the electric chair after more than two decades on death row.
-- 7 March, Missouri: Antonio Richardson - International law prohibits the use of the death penalty against those who were under 18 at the time of the crime. Antonio Richardson was 16. This would be the USA's ninth execution of a juvenile offender since January 1998, out of a known world total of 12. Richardson's IQ has been assessed at 70.
-- 7 March, Texas: Dennis Dowthitt - he has been diagnosed with serious mental illness. His lawyers are fighting for a reprieve so that they can further investigate his long-held claims of innocence.
-- 8 March, Oklahoma: Phillip Smith - he has consistently maintained his innocence. He was convicted on circumstantial evidence. In 1999, the prosecution's key trial witness, who put Smith at the crime scene, recanted his testimony.
-- 9 March, North Carolina: Willie Fisher - he was defended by a lawyer whose severe depression and other health problems meant that did not adequately prepare for the trial. He was subsequently disbarred for failing to properly represent clients. International standards require that capital defendants be provided with adequate legal representation above and beyond the protection afforded in non-capital cases.
-- 9 March, Delaware: David Dawson - he has been incarcerated for 15 years. He has learned to read and write on death row. He is held in his cell 24 hours a day, except for 45 minutes of recreation, alone, followed by 15 minutes to shower three times a week.
Since 1977, there have been about half a million murders in the USA. The 700 men and women executed so far have been selected by a system riddled with arbitrariness, discrimination and error. It is a lethal lottery of which the USA should be ashamed, and which other countries should condemn.
"The victims of violent crime and their families deserve respect, compassion and justice", Amnesty International said. "Killing a selection of prisoners offers none of these things. It is an illusory solution to a pressing social problem, and merely amounts to a failure of political vision."
Among the 700 were those who committed their crimes when they were still children, the mentally impaired, those denied adequate legal representation, foreign nationals denied their consular rights, and defendants whose guilt remained in doubt. Race continues to play a role in who gets a death sentence. In over 80 per cent of the 700 cases, the crimes involved white victims.
"There is no evidence that the US authorities have prevented a single crime with this policy," Amnesty International continued. "They have diverted countless millions of dollars away from more constructive efforts to fight crime. And the macabre absurdity is that it creates more victims - the family members of the condemned - often in the name of victims' rights."
"The death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it. The sooner US politicians begin to find the political courage to educate public opinion rather than hide behind it, the better".
Since the USA resumed executions in 1977, over 60 countries have abolished the death penalty. Currently, 108 countries, are abolitionist in law or practice.
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The Only Alternative
By Edward Said
I first visited South Africa in May 1991: a dark, wet, wintry period,
when Apartheid still ruled, although the ANC and Nelson Mandela had been
freed. Ten years later I returned, this time to summer, in a democratic
country in which Apartheid has been defeated, the ANC is in power, and a
vigorous, contentious civil society is engaged in trying to complete the task of
bringing equality and social justice to this still divided and economically
troubled country. But, the liberation struggle that ended Apartheid
and instituted the first democratically elected government on 27 April
1994, remains one of the great human achievements in recorded history.
Despite the problems of the present, South Africa is an inspiring place to visit
and think about, partly because for Arabs, it has a lot to teach us about
struggle, originality, and perseverance.
I came here this time as a participant in a conference on values in
education, organised by the Ministry of Education. Qader Asmal, the
minister of education, is an old and admired friend whom I met many years ago
when he was in exile in Ireland. I shall say more about him in my next
article. But, as a member of the cabinet, a longtime ANC activist, and a successful
lawyer and academic, he was able to persuade Nelson Mandela (now 83, in frail
health, and officially retired from public life) to address the
conference on the first evening. What Mandela said then made a deep impression on
me, as much because of Mandela's enormous stature and profoundly affecting
charisma, as for the well-crafted words he uttered. Also a lawyer by
training, Mandela is an especially eloquent man who, in spite of
thousands of ritual occasions and speeches, always seems to have something
gripping to say.
This time it was two phrases about the past that struck me in a fine
speech about education, a speech which drew unflattering attention to the
depressed present state of the country's majority, "languishing in abject
conditions of material and social deprivation." Hence, he reminded the audience,
"our struggle is not over," even though -- here was the first phrase -- the
campaign against Apartheid "was one of the great moral struggles" that
"captured the world's imagination." The second phrase was in his
description of the anti-Apartheid campaign not simply as a movement to end racial
discrimination, but as a means "for all of us to assert our common
humanity." Implied in the words "all of us" is that all of the races
of South Africa, including the pro-Apartheid whites, were envisaged as
participating in a struggle whose goal finally was coexistence,
tolerance and "the realisation of humane values."
The first phrase struck me cruelly: why did the Palestinian struggle
not (yet) capture the world's imagination and why, even more to the point,
does it not appear as a great moral struggle which, as Mandela said about
the South African experience, received "almost universal support... from
virtually all political persuasions and parties?"
True, we have received a great deal of general support, and yes, ours
is a moral struggle of epic proportions. The conflict between Zionism and
the Palestinian people is admittedly more complex than the battle against
Apartheid, even if in both cases one people paid and the other is
still paying a very heavy price in dispossession, ethnic cleansing, military
occupation and massive social injustice. The Jews are a people with a
tragic history of persecution and genocide. Bound by their ancient faith to
the land of Palestine, their "return" to a homeland promised them by
British imperialism was perceived by much of the world (but especially by a
Christian West responsible for the worst excesses of anti-Semitism) as
a heroic and justified restitution for what they suffered. Yet, for
years and years, few paid attention to the conquest of Palestine by Jewish
forces, or to the Arab people already there who endured its exorbitant cost in
the destruction of their society, the expulsion of the majority, and the
hideous system of laws -- a virtual Apartheid -- that still discriminates
against them inside Israel and in the occupied territories. Palestinians were
the silent victims of a gross injustice, quickly shuffled offstage by a
triumphalist chorus of how amazing Israel was.
After the reemergence of a genuine Palestinian liberation movement in
the late '60s, the formerly colonised people of Asia, Africa and Latin
America adopted the Palestinian struggle, but in the main, the strategic
balance was vastly in Israel's favour; it has been backed unconditionally by the
US ($5 billion in annual aid), and in the West, the media, the liberal
intelligentsia, and most governments have been on Israel's side. For
reasons too well known to go into here, the official Arab environment was
either overtly hostile or lukewarm in its mostly verbal and financial
Because, however, the shifting strategic goals of the PLO were always
clouded by useless terrorist actions, were never addressed or
articulated eloquently, and because the preponderance of cultural discourse in the
West was either unknown to or misunderstood by Palestinian policymakers and
intellectuals, we have never been able to claim the moral high ground
effectively. Israeli information could always both appeal to (and
exploit) the Holocaust as well as the unstudied and politically untimely acts
of Palestinian terror, thereby neutralising or obscuring our message,
such as it was. We never concentrated as a people on cultural struggle in the
West (which the ANC early on had realised was the key to undermining
Apartheid) and we simply did not highlight in a humane, consistent way the
immense depredations and discriminations directed at us by Israel. Most
television viewers today have no idea about Israel's racist land policies, or its
spoliations, tortures, systematic deprivation of the Palestinians just
because they are not Jews. As a black South African reporter wrote in
one of the local newspapers here while on a visit to Gaza, Apartheid was
never as vicious and as inhumane as Zionism: ethnic cleansing, daily
humiliations, collective punishment on a vast scale, land appropriation, etc., etc.
But, even these facts, were they known better as a weapon in the
battle over values between Zionism and the Palestinians, would not have been
enough. What we never concentrated on enough was the fact that to counteract
Zionist exclusivism, we would have to provide a solution to the conflict that,
in Mandela's second phrase, would assert our common humanity as Jews and
Arabs. Most of us still cannot accept the idea that Israeli Jews are here to
stay, that they will not go away, any more than Palestinians will go away.
This is understandably very hard for Palestinians to accept, since they are
still in the process of losing their land and being persecuted on a daily
basis. But, with our irresponsible and unreflective suggestion in what we have
said that they will be forced to leave (like the Crusades), we did not focus
enough on ending the military occupation as a moral imperative or on providing a
form for their security and self-determinism that did not abrogate ours.
This, and not the preposterous hope that a volatile American president would
give us a state, ought to have been the basis of a mass campaign
everywhere. Two people in one land. Or, equality for all. Or, one person one vote.
Or, a common humanity asserted in a binational state.
I know we are the victims of a terrible conquest, a vicious military occupation,
a Zionist lobby that has consistently lied in order to turn us either into non-people
or into terrorists -- but what is the real alternative to what I've been suggesting? A
military campaign? A dream. More Oslo negotiations? Clearly not. More loss of
life by our valiant young people, whose leader gives them no help or direction? A
pity, but no. Reliance on the Arab states who have reneged even on their promise to
provide emergency assistance now? Come on, be serious.
Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are locked in Sartre's vision of
hell, that of "other people." There is no escape. Separation can't work in
so tiny a land, any more than Apartheid did. Israeli military and economic
power insulates them from having to face reality. This is the meaning of
Sharon's election, an antediluvian war criminal summoned out of the mists of
time to do what: put the Arabs in their place? Hopeless. Therefore, it is up
to us to provide the answer that power and paranoia cannot. It isn't enough
to speak generally of peace. One must provide the concrete grounds for
it, and those can only come from moral vision, and neither from "pragmatism"
nor "practicality." If we are all to live -- this is our imperative -- we
must capture the imagination not just of our people, but that of our
oppressors. And, we have to abide by humane democratic values.
Is the current Palestinian leadership listening? Can it suggest
anything better than this, given its abysmal record in a "peace process" that
has led to the present horrors?
Does history repeat itself? Or are its repetitions only penance for
those who are incapable of listening to it? No history is mute. No matter
how much they burn it, break it, and lie about it, human history refuses
to shut its mouth. Despite deafness and ignorance, the time that was
continues to tick inside the time that is. The right to remember does not figure
among the human rights consecrated by the United Nations, but now more
than ever we must insist on it and act on it. Not to repeat the past but to
keep it from being repeated. Not to make us ventriloquists for the dead but
to allow us to speak with voices that are not condemned to echo
perpetually with stupidity and misfortune. When it is truly alive, memory
doesn't contemplate history, it invites us to make it.
- Eduardo Galeano
from Upside Down
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UC Newspaper Apologizes for Insensitive Ad Message argued against slavery reparations
Charles Burress, Chronicle Staff Writer
San Francisco Chronicle, March 2, 2001
Berkeley -- Besieged by protests, the independent, student-run paper at the University of California at Berkeley ran a front-page apology yesterday for publishing an ad on the last day of Black History month against reparations for slavery. A similar apology was published yesterday by the campus paper at UC Davis. The apology in Berkeley followed a heated confrontation between editors and protesters in the Daily Californian newsroom Wednesday afternoon, said the paper's editor in chief, Daniel Hernandez. Protesters afterward removed all the remaining papers from campus news racks. The "ad allowed the Daily Cal to become an inadvertent vehicle for bigotry, " the paper's apology said. It said the ad accidentally slipped through the screening process for ads. The $1,200 full-page ad, which appeared on Page 7 of the paper Wednesday, was written by neoconservative David Horowitz and was titled, "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery is a Bad Idea -- and Racist Too." The ad was in response to a growing call for reparations for damage done to African Americans by slavery. The ad said no single group was responsible for slavery, that Black Africans and Arabs enslaved ancestors of African Americans, that most Americans today have no links to slavery and that reparations would isolate African Americans. "I was . . . extremely offended that this racist ad was published on the last day of Black History month," said Jacquelyn Lindsey, a first-year African American student who joined in the protest and who is helping prepare a full- page response. She said the ad was inaccurate and offensive, particularly parts saying that blacks owe a "debt" to America and that African Americans have "already been paid . . . trillions of dollars in the form of welfare benefits and racial preferences." The Daily Cal pledged to give the protesters a full page for their rebuttal Monday. The protesters want the rebuttal to run for 10 days, and they want a larger a!
pology from the paper, but Hernandez said that has not been agreed on. Yesterday's apology was four paragraphs in the upper left corner of the front page. The paper also published a column by Hernandez apologizing for the ad, saying the paper does not publish "incorrect or blatantly inflammatory ads" and that this ad accidentally slipped past the normal policy of editorial board review of controversial ads. Horowitz, who used to be a leader of the New Left as editor of Ramparts magazine before turning conservative, said he is still a civil rights advocate and doesn't want to see African Americans become the target of resentment over reparations. He called the Daily Cal apology "a really black day for the First Amendment. . . . It's important to have a dialogue of many voices. The reality at UC is that there is only one voice on these issues because people are afraid of being called racist." He spoke from Los Angeles, where he is president of the Center for the Study of!
Popular Culture, which paid for the ad. It has been published at three campuses -- Berkeley, Davis and the University of Chicago. The California Aggie in Davis ran it Wednesday and published an apology from the editor yesterday following protests. It ran Feb. 9 at Chicago, and no one protested to the paper, the Chicago Maroon, said editor in chief Daniel Kingerie. Timing of the ad was largely coincidental, said Horowitz's executive assistant Stephen Brooks. It was sent to two campuses in early February -- University of Chicago and California State University at Northridge -- because they were hosting conferences on the reparations issue, Brooks said. Later it was sent to 10 more campuses, and this week it is going out to 10 more campus papers. At least six papers rejected it, he said, and he has not heard back from the others. At the Harvard Crimson, the advertising department accepted it and it was scheduled to run Tuesday, but the editorial department vetoed it, Crimson
representatives said. Daily Cal editor Hernandez said the ad "essentially said that the black community should not complain about slavery." Horowitz said the ad focused on reparations, and that he recognized slavery as "a tremendous injustice." The confrontation at the Daily Cal newsroom grew so heated Wednesday that UC police responded, but Hernandez said he asked them to leave. "There was definitely a lot of yelling, tossing of papers, ripping of papers," he said.
E-mail Charles Burress at cburress@s... 2001 San Francisco Chronicle
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What We Must Overcome
by Lani Guinier
The American Prospect, March 12 - 26, 2001 - March 26, 2001.
For years many of us have been calling for a national conversation about what it means to be a multiracial democracy. We have enumerated the glaring flaws inherent in our winner-take-all form of voting, which has produced a steady decline in voter participation, underrepresentation of women and racial minorities in office, lack of meaningful competition and choice in most elections, and the general failure of politics to mobilize, inform, and inspire half the eligible electorate. Still, nothing changed. Democracy was an asterisk in political debate and the diagnosis for what ailed it was encompassed in vague references to "campaign finance reform." But the harm was not just in the money and its sources; the problem has been the rules of American democracy itself.
Enter Florida and the surprising intervention by the United States Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. On December 12, 2000, the Supreme Court selected the next president when, in the name of George W. Bush's rights to equal protection of the laws, it stopped the recounting of votes. Excoriated at the time for deciding an election, the Court majority's stout reading of equal protection is an invitation not just to future litigation but to a citizens' movement for genuine participatory democracy. The Court's decision--and the colossal legal fight that preceded it--might stimulate a real national debate about democracy. At minimum the ruling calls on us to consider what it means to be a multiracial democracy that has equal protection as its first principle.
The decision invites future litigants to rely on the Court's newfound equal protection commitments to enforce uniform standards for casting and tabulating votes in federal elections from state to state, county to county, and within counties. The conservative majority found that the source of the fundamental nature of the right to vote "lies in the equal weight accorded to each vote and the equal dignity owed to each voter." We have not heard such a full-throated representation of the equal protection clause in many years, at least not with regard to the rights of voters to do more than cast a ballot. This language harkens back to the broad commitment we once heard from the 1960s-era Warren Court, which affirmed the people's fundamental right to exercise their suffrage "in a free and unimpaired manner." Concerned that the lack of uniform standards for a manual recount would lead to "arbitrary and disparate treatment" of the members of the Florida electorate, the majority relied on two expansive Supreme Court decisions, Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections and Reynolds v. Sims. These cases, from the salad days of the Warren Court, explicitly affirm Lincoln's vision of government of the people, by the people, for the people. Perhaps--in the name of restoring "voter confidence in the outcome of elections"--the conservative majority will now welcome, as it did in Bush v. Gore, other lawsuits that seek to challenge the very discretion the five-vote majority found so troublesome when exercised by local Florida county officials. Perhaps not.
It seems unlikely, of course, that the conservative majority will act in the future to rehabilitate our partial democracy. Some commentators undoubtedly will argue that the per curiam decision only addresses the remedial power of a state court seeking a statewide remedy. Others will point to the great irony that the Court has shown itself more deeply committed to safeguarding the rights of a major-party candidate than to protecting disenfranchised voters across the board.
The Bush v. Gore majority, which went out on a limb to protect the rights of a single litigant, George W. Bush, has been noticeably less exercised about arbitrary or disparate treatment when such considerations are raised by voters who are racial minorities. Indeed, in a 1994 concurring opinion, when the claim to a meaningful and equally valued vote was raised by black litigants, Justice Clarence Thomas declared that the Court should avoid examining "electoral mechanisms that may affect the 'weight' given to a ballot duly cast." Even where congressional statutes, such as the Voting Rights Act, explicitly define the term "voting" to "include all action necessary to make a vote effective," Justice Thomas urged the Court to ignore the actual text of the statute.
The Bush v. Gore invitation to value votes equally, in order to "sustain the confidence that all citizens must have in the outcome of elections," should be heeded, but not in the form of legal wrangling before a judge. That it is time for political agitation rather than judicial activism may be the most important contribution of the Bush v. Gore opinion. In fact, that is already happening, at least in the law schools. The New York Times reported on February 1, 2001--almost three months after the election--that the decision continues to generate a beehive of activity among law professors furious at the Supreme Court's role. The debate in law schools already has the "flavor of the teach-ins of the Vietnam War era, when professors spurred their students to political action." As during the movements for abolition, women's suffrage, and black voting rights, we, the people, must take up the burden.
Indeed, the Court's choice of language explicitly valuing "no person's vote over another's" ought to launch a citizens' movement similar to the 1960s civil rights marches that led to the Voting Rights Act, demonstrations in which citizens carried banners with the "one person, one vote" slogan. One vote, one value--meaning that everyone's vote should count toward the election of someone he or she voted for--should be the rallying cry of all who wish to restore the confidence that even the conservative Court majority agrees "all citizens must have in the outcome of elections." This movement, let's recall, began in the streets, was cautiously then boldly embraced by liberal politicians, and eventually led to raised grass-roots consciousness as well as national legislation. That is how democratic movements change the course of events--and in the process enrich and renew democracy.
Where's the Outrage?
Certainly many people outside the legal academy continue to feel alienated by the outcome of this presidential election. A survey released in early December from the Harvard Vanishing Voter project suggests that large majorities of the American people believe election procedures have been "unfair to the voters." Not surprisingly, nationwide those most likely to feel disenfranchised are blacks. In December 2000, almost 90 percent of black voters felt that way. One out of 10 blacks reported that they or someone in their family had trouble voting, according to a national report produced by Michael Dawson and Lawrence Bobo, of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, and the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute. A CBS News poll, made public on the eve of the inauguration, found that 51 percent of the respondents said they considered Bush's victory a legitimate one, but only 19 percent of Democrats and 12 percent of blacks said so.
The anger over what happened in Florida has only been reinforced by the failure of the Democratic Party leadership to move quickly and seriously to engage the legitimacy issue. Right after November 7, when the perception first emerged that the election was being hijacked, the Gore campaign actively discouraged mass protest. On January 12, when Al Gore presided over the counting of the electoral college votes, it was only members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) who rose, one by one, to protest the filing of Florida's votes. They could not get a single Democratic senator (from a body that includes not a single black representative) to join their objection. The silence of the white Democrats in Congress turned the CBC demonstration into an emphatic recapitulation of the election drama. As the presiding officer, Al Gore overruled the protests. The moment was especially poignant, because the Black Caucus members, in speaking out for Floridians whose votes were not counted, were speaking out for all Americans, while even their progressive white colleagues sat in awkward silence. E.J. Dionne, a columnist for The Washington Post, watched the drama unfold on television. Turning to his eight-year-old son, seated next to him, Dionne explained, "They are speaking out for us too."
"It was the Black Caucus, and the Black Caucus alone," James Carroll wrote in The Boston Globe "that showed itself sensitive to ... what is clearly true about the recent presidential election in Florida." That truth is the gap between what the rules permit and what democracy requires. Florida made it obvious that our winner-take-all rules would unfairly award all of Florida's electoral college votes to one candidate even though the margin of victory was less than the margin of error. Yet our elected officials in Washington are committed to those rules and, even more, to maintaining civility between those adversely affected by the rules and those who benefited. As Carroll wrote, "Those who sit atop the social and economic pyramid always speak of love, while those at the bottom always speak of justice."
The CBC protest shows that outrage over the election continues. But the CBC protest also speaks to the fact that the conversation about the true meaning of democracy is not happening yet, at least not at the highest levels of government. There is talk, of course, about fixing the mechanics of election balloting; but it is the rules themselves, and not just the vote-counting process, that are broken. This is all the more reason that the conversation, which needs to address issues of justice, not just compassion, also needs to rise up from communities as a citizens' movement.
Those who were disenfranchised--disproportionately black, poorer, and less well educated--were not asking for pity; they wanted democracy. Stories of long lines at polling places, confusing ballots, and strict limitations on how long voters could spend in the voting booth help explain why turnout numbers are skewed toward those who are wealthy, white, and better educated. We are a democracy that supposedly believes in universal suffrage, and yet the different turnout rates between high-income and low- income voters are far greater than in Europe, where they range from 5 percent to 10 percent. More than two-thirds of people in America with incomes greater than $50,000 voted, compared with one-third of those with incomes under $10,000. Many poor people are also less literate; for them time limits and complex ballots proved disabling when the menu of candidates was organized around lists of individuals rather than easily identified icons for political parties. Indeed, more ballots were "spoiled" in the presidential race than were cast for so-called spoiler Ralph Nader. The shocking number of invalid ballots is a direct result of antiquated voting mechanics, an elitist view of the relationship between education and citizenship, and an individualistic view of political participation that would shame any nation that truly believes in broad citizen participation.
Class, race, and balloting
In addition to class, the window into the workings of Florida's balloting allowed us to see how race affects--and in turn is affected by--voting rules and procedures. The election debacle revealed gaps not just in our democracy but in the way our democracy racializes public policy and then disenfranchises the victims of those policies. Old voting machines, more likely to reject ballots not perfectly completed, were disproportionately located in low-income and minority neighborhoods. These problems contributed to stunning vote-rejection numbers. According to The New York Times, black precincts in Miami-Dade County had votes thrown out at twice the rate of Hispanic (primarily Cuban and Republican) precincts and at close to four times the rate of white precincts. In that county alone, in predominantly black precincts, the Times said, "one in 11 ballots were rejected, ... a total of 9,904"-- thousands more than Bush's margin of victory.
The balloting rules in Florida did not just incidentally disenfranchise minority voters; they apparently resulted from what many think were aggressive efforts to suppress black turnout. The New York Times also reported that county officials in Miami-Dade gave certain precincts--mostly the Hispanic (that is, Cuban and Republican) ones-- laptop computers so that they could check names against the central county voter file. In black precincts, where there were a lot of recently registered voters whose names didn't appear on the local list, the precinct workers were not given computers and were supposed to call the county office to check the list--but no one answered the phones or the lines were busy, so countless voters, who were in fact registered, were just sent away.
Florida's minority residents and many others faced another structural hurdle to having their voices heard. Anyone convicted of a felony is permanently banned from voting in Florida and 12 other states (disproportionately from the old Confederacy) even after they have paid their debt to society. As a result, 13 percent of black men nationwide and in some southern states as many as 30 percent of black men are disenfranchised. In Florida alone, more than 400,000 ex-felons, almost half of them black, could not vote last November. Also worth noting is that before the election Florida's secretary of state hired a firm to conduct a vigorous cleansing of the voting rolls--not just of Florida's felons, but also of ex-offenders from other states whose rights had been restored in those states and who were thus still legally eligible to vote in Florida. The Hillsborough County elections supervisor, for example, found that 54 percent of the voters targeted by the "scrub" were black, in a county where blacks make up 11 percent of the voting population. While Canada takes special steps to register former prisoners and encourage citizenship, Florida and other states ostracize them.
One short-term solution to the problem of the disenfranchised ex-offender population is to lobby state legislators to abolish the permanent disenfranchisement of felons. Alternatively, Congress could pass a statute providing voting rights for all ex-felons in federal elections.
The Soul of a democracy Movement
Unfortunately, in pursuit of bipartisan civility, the Democratic Party leadership appears to be marching to a false harmony: Charmed by compassionate conservatism and conscious of middle- of-the-road swing voters' aversion to conflict, top Democrats have ignored issues of justice and the troubling disenfranchisement of many of the party's most loyal supporters. If we learn anything from the Supreme Court's role in the 2000 election travesty, it must be that when the issue is justice, the people--not the justices of the Court or the Democratic leaders in Washington--will lead. And if anything is true about the fiasco in Florida, it is the need for new leaders who are willing to challenge rather than acquiesce to unfair rules. New leadership will not come from a single, charismatic figure orchestrating deals out of Washington, D.C.; nor will it be provided by a group devoted only to remedying the disenfranchisement of black voters. What is needed instead is a courageous assembly!
of stalwart individuals who are willing to ask the basic questions the Black Caucus members raised-- questions that go to the very legitimacy of our democratic procedures, not just in Florida but nationwide. These are likely to be individuals organized at the local level, possibly even into a new political party that is broadly conceived and dedicated to real, participatory democracy. Such a movement could build on the energy of black voter participation, which between 1996 and last year went from 10 percent to 15 percent in Florida and from 5 percent to 12 percent in Missouri.
But while black anger could fuel a citizens' movement or a new, European-style political party that seeks reforms beyond the mechanics of election day voting, the danger is that whites will be suspicious of the struggle if they perceive that its aim is simply to redress wrongs done to identifiable victims or to serve only the interests of people of color. And people of color can alienate potential supporters if they focus exclusively on vindicating the rights of minority voters and fail to emphasize three dramatic distortions in our present rules that undermine the ability of low-income and working people, women, and progressives, as well as racial minorities, to participate in a genuinely democratic transformation. These rules (1) limit voting to 12 hours on a workday and require registration weeks or even months in advance; (2) disenfranchise prisoners for the purpose of voting but count them for the purpose of allocating legislative seats [see sidebar on page 30]; and (3) waste votes through winner- take-all elections. A pro-democracy movement has a good chance to succeed if it focuses on unfair rules whose dislocations may be felt first by blacks but whose effects actually disempower vast numbers of people across the country.
A pro-democracy movement would need to build on the experience of Florida to show how problems with disenfranchisement based on race and status signify systemic issues of citizen participation. Such mobilization would seek to recapture the passion in evidence immediately after the election as union leaders, civil rights activists, black elected officials, ministers, rabbis, and the president of the Haitian women's organization came together at a black church in Miami, reminded the assembly of the price their communities had paid for the right to vote, and vowed never to be disfranchised again. "It felt like Birmingham last night," Mari Castellanos, a Latina activist in Miami, wrote in an e-mail describing the mammoth rally at the 14,000-member New Birth Baptist Church, a primarily African- American congregation.
The sanctuary was standing room only. So were the overflow rooms and the school hall, where congregants connected via large TV screens... . The people sang and prayed and listened. Story after story was told of voters being turned away at the polls, of ballots being allegedly destroyed, of NAACP election literature being allegedly discarded at the main post office, of Spanish-speaking poll workers being sent to Creole precincts and vice- versa.
Although not encouraged by Democratic Party leaders, by joining their voices these Florida voters were beginning to realize their collective potential--as ordinary citizens--to become genuine democrats (with a small d). By highlighting our nation's wretched record on voting rules and practices, these impassioned citizens were raising the obvious questions: Do those in charge really want large citizen participation, especially if that means more participation by poor people and people of color? Even more, do Americans of all incomes and races realize that everyone loses when we tolerate disenfranchisement of some? And how can we tolerate the logjam of winner-take-all two-party monopoly, especially at the local level?
Enriching Democratic Choice
As the Florida meltdown suggests, the problem includes mechanical defects, but it is the rules themselves, not just old technology, that limit the political clout of entire communities. Weak democracy feeds on itself. There are some technical fixes worth pursuing [see "Reclaiming Democracy" by Burt Neuborne, on page 18, and "Democracy's Moment" by Miles Rapoport, on page 41]. But reform of voting mechanisms--while important--is not enough. The circumstances of this last election call for a larger focus on issues of representation and participation. A longer-term and more-far-ranging solution to the problems in Florida as well as those around the country would be to enrich democracy by broadening ways of reflecting and encouraging voter preferences.
For example, in South Africa, where the black majority now shares political power with the white minority, there is a successful system of proportional representation. Voters cast their ballots for the political party they feel most represents their interests, and the party gets seats in the legislature in proportion to the number of votes it receives. Instead of a winner-take-all situation in which there are losers who feel completely unrepresented when their candidate doesn't capture the top number of votes, each vote counts to enhance the political power of the party of the voters' choice. Under South Africa's party-list system, the party that gets 30 percent of the vote gets 30 percent of the seats. Or if the party gets only 10 percent of the vote, it still gets 10 percent of the seats in the legislature. Only because of this system does South Africa's white minority have any representation in the national legislature. Ironically, South Africa, only seven years out of apart!
heid, is more advanced in terms of practicing democratic principles than the United States is 150 years after slavery and 40 years after Jim Crow.
As June Zeitlin, executive director of the Women's Environment and Development Organization points out, proportional representation systems also benefit women. In a letter that The New York Times declined to publish, Zeitlin wrote: "Women are grossly underrepresented at all levels of government worldwide. However, women fare significantly better in proportional representation electoral systems... . The 10 countries with the highest percentage of women in parliament have systems that include proportional representation." Zeitlin, who spearheads a campaign--50/50 Get the Balance Right-- aimed at increasing women's participation in government, has noticed that proportional representation mechanisms work in many countries in tandem with the deliberate political goals of progressive parties.
Proportional representation reforms for legislative bodies, even Congress, would not even require an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Nothing in the Constitution says that we have to use winner-take- all single-member districts. Since seizing the initiative in 1995, two Democratic members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Representatives Cynthia McKinney of Georgia and Mel Watt of North Carolina, have repeatedly introduced legislation called the Voter Choice Act, which provides for states to choose proportional representation voting. It's a system that should have great appeal not just for African Americans but for every group that has ever felt disenfranchised.
A pro-democracy movement would look seriously at forms of proportional representation that could assure Democrats in Florida, Republicans in Democratic-controlled states, and racial minorities and women in all states fair representation in the state legislatures. It would focus renewed attention on the importance of minority voters--racial, political, and urban minorities--gaining a more meaningful voice as well as a real opportunity to participate throughout the democratic process and not just on election day. The five-member Supreme Court majority allowed the interests of the Florida legislature (in obtaining the safe-harbor benefits of a congressional statute for certifying electors) to trump any remedy to protect the rights of the voters, about whom it was ostensibly so solicitous.
If legislatures are to enjoy such power to speak for all citizens, it is imperative that voters' voices be reflected in fully representative legislative bodies. Florida voters are closely divided along party lines, but in the legislature they are represented by an overwhelmingly Republican leadership. And the partisan acts of the Florida legislature in the 2000 election should focus renewed attention on how the winner-take-all system in a state legislature can fail to recognize the will of racial and political minorities: It wastes the votes of those whose ballots are cast and tabulated but don't lead to the election of any candidate they selected.
If we are not to abolish the electoral college, we might at least mitigate its winner-take-all effect and apportion electoral votes based on the popular split. In Florida, where all of the state's 25 electoral votes went to the Republican candidate, Bush could have gotten 13 votes and Gore 12 (or vice versa!). Such a system is perfectly constitutional and can be readily enacted by the state legislature. Two states do this already, although they use unfairly gerrymandered congressional districts rather than statewide proportions to allocate electoral college votes.
Proportional representation voting, which is used in most of the world's democracies, ensures that each voter's ballot counts when it is cast. Voters essentially "district" themselves by how they mark their ballots. The method thus eliminates the problem of gerrymandering by incumbents protecting their seats. Proportional voting could also encourage the development of local political organizations to educate and mobilize voters. Only when voters are vigilant, even after the votes are counted, shall we return to a government of, by, and for the people. Developing local grass-roots organizations that can monitor not only elections but also legislative actions is especially important in 2001, a year when every state legislature will be engaged in the decennial task of redistricting. The spread of such organizations--which a proportional representation system makes possible because the participants actually have a chance to win elections--could also fuel a new era of issue- center!
ed politics in which people exercise their political views through advocacy groups focused on issues of concern to them. As Richard Berke has written in The New York Times:
The first half of the last century was dominated by party-centered politics. Then came candidate- centered politics. Now, some foresee an era where the power moves to activists, who create local coalitions around specific issues. That could happen because, with the rise of the Internet, activists have far greater access to communication and organizing tools--and no longer have to rely on help from campaigns or party committees.
Local grass-roots and issue-centered coalitions are more likely if we adopt proportional representation because it rewards those who mobilize directly with seats in the local collective-decision-making body. And local multiparty organizing could effectively generate citizen engagement and meaningful participation not merely on election day but in between elections, too.
Of course, there are downsides to a politics that depends primarily on activists building multiple coalitions of overlapping constituencies through issue-oriented organizing. Creating such coalitions requires enormous energy; they often have to be built from scratch, and for every one that gets it together, dozens will fall short. Moreover, they can encourage a fragmentation of progressive energy and what Urvashi Vaid, the gay rights activist who is now at the Ford Foundation, memorably called "a misuse of powerlessness."
But the upside is that coalitions that start with narrowly focused issues and then engage multiple constituencies can create sustainable alliances even after an election. They can grow into institutions that use their aggregated power again and again-- getting organized labor to join fights that affect Latinos and gays, civil rights groups to join labor, and so forth. These coalitions can also aspire to an electoral strategy and nurture leaders who can eventually become candidates.
Over time, the best of these permanent coalitions might begin to look a little bit like parties: presumably they would have broad platforms, sizable but loose constituencies, and candidates and elected officials allied to them. Proportional representation would lower the bar to successful cross-constituency and multiracial-coalition organizing. But even with a proportional voting system, realizing a fully democratic movement would still require us to fight fragmentation and to aggregate, rotate, and share power among progressive interests in a lasting and sustainable way.
"One vote, one value," a notion underscored by the conservative Supreme Court majority, ironically could become the rallying cry of a multiracial and multi-issue grass-roots movement of voters throughout the nation. It could herald a new era of issue-centered rather than candidate-centered politics. Black leaders may be key in some communities; union activists or environmentalists in others. But in the end, an aroused and engaged citizenry--one committed to a broad, multiracial democracy--will be our best, indeed our only protection to ensure that every vote counts and that every citizen can truly vote. Mobilizing citizens requires local, grass-roots political organizations accountable to the people themselves instead of ad hoc candidate machines that are too often driven by money. Voting should not be an obstacle course of arbitrary deadlines, lousy lists, untrained poll workers, and outdated ballot technology. Rather, voting should be just the first step in a democratic system by which we, the people--through democratic institutions that are accountable to all of us-- actually rule.
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