Thursday, March 21, 2013

News for March 19 & 20, 2013

Over the last few days I’ve been reading a few stories in the Philadelphia Inquirer that clearly underscore the idea that we need a new government in this country.  First allow me to list those stories.

1.   In an editorial on the effects of the ten-year war against Iraq, I read that the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan cost about 2.3 million dollars per minute.
2.   On the front page of the Inquirer there was a story that “Of the big cities, Philadelphia is the worst for people living in deep poverty.”
3.   Then, there was a banner headline in the Inquirer reporting that 215,000 people had been stopped and frisked in Philadelphia in the year 2012.  Half of these stop-and-frisks were unconstitutional.
4.   Finally, the Inquirer celebrated on its front page that there will be 250 new jobs at an Air Force base in Horsham.  The base will operate drone aircraft in foreign countries.  The overwhelming majority of deaths attributed to the drone attacks were civilians.

The war against the Iraqi People
First we can say clearly and unequivocally that as horrendous as the regime of Saddam Hussein was in Iraq, the U.S. occupation has been much worse.  Iraq used to have one of the best medical systems in the Middle East.  Most Iraqis were able to make a living under the former regime.
Today, only the affluent can receive decent medical care by travelling to other nations.  The infrastructure of Iraq has been destroyed.  While obscene amounts of money have been spent on defense, today Iraqis live in constant fear for their lives.  Today Iraq has the highest rate of capital punishment of any nation in the world.  Yet, the United States government expects the Iraqi people to pay for rebuilding the nation that the United States government destroyed.
Today we can also say that about one-third of the women soldiers in the U.S. military have been raped.  The numbers of men who have been raped in the military is even higher.  Yet, the military rarely prosecutes the soldiers who were guilty of rape.        
One of the poorest cities in the nation

At the same time as the government has been spending obscene amounts of money on the war against Iraq, Philadelphia has become one of the poorest cities in the nation.  12.9 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.  23 public schools are scheduled to be closed.  Hundreds of thousands of people in the Delaware Valley do not have enough food to eat.

Yet, the city government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on sports stadiums, the convention center, and on interest payments on municipal loans.  The city has the largest tax abatement plan in the nation, where the owners of the largest skyscrapers pay no taxes.  The federal government has spent trillions of dollars on a so-called stimulus plan.

Stop and Frisk

Today anyone who lives in the United States has a better chance of going to prison than residents of any other nation in the world.  In Philadelphia, as in other cities, politicians believe that these policies are not harmful enough to punish the people who live here.  Today, the police are stopping and frisking anyone who they feel like humiliating.

There are supposed to be laws in this country and the police have been sued for violating the rights of citizens.  They responded by agreeing to document all stop and frisks.  The result was that now the police admit that half of the 215,000 stop and frisks in Philadelphia in 2012 were illegal.

The new job of murdering civilians with remote control

Before we consider the new jobs operating drone aircraft, we might consider the United States government’s record with respect to international relations.  Towards the end of the Second World War the U.S. armed forces literally burned about 67 Japanese cities to the ground.  At the end of this six-month firebombing campaign, the air force dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

During the wars against Korea and Vietnam the United States armed forces murdered literally millions of human beings.  Those nations continue to experience the effects of those wars.

Aside from these horrendous acts, the U.S. government has supported some of the most ruthless dictatorships the world has known.  These would include the regimes in Iraq, Iran, the Congo, Nicaragua, El Salvador, the Philippines, and Israel.

When we look at this history, it should come as no surprise that prominent politicians applaud the fact that there will be new jobs that are specifically aimed at murdering civilians by remote control.      


When we look at these stories, we need to understand that I haven’t offered any opinions, but merely reported on the facts as they are.  In the Declaration of Independence it states:

“Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed.  But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, envices a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.”

This column alone demonstrates that the U.S. government is in no way interested in defending the security of people living in any part of the world.  No, as it says in the Declaration of Independence, the only time we will have security is when we have a new government that supports the interests of workers and believes that human needs are more important than profits.         

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Fela! – The Play – A review

Directed and Choreographed by Bill T. Jones

The other day, I had a genuinely rewarding experience of viewing the play Fela!  This play portrays the life, music, and dance of one, Fela Anikulapo Kuti.  What made Fela! so moving for me, was the fact that it showed the naked reality we live with today, while making a profoundly beautiful statement.  In order to fully gain an appreciation for this play, I believe we need to look at Fela’s homeland Nigeria.


Today the scientists of the world are agreed that human life began on the continent of Africa.  This means that the ancestors of every human being on this planet came from Africa and had a dark skin color.

The area of West Africa where Nigeria is located has a history of about 9,000 years.  European colonists created most of the borders of the nations of Africa, as well as Latin America, and Asia.  The British gave Nigeria its name, which came from the Niger River.

Today, Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa.  About 90% of the income Nigeria receives comes from the export of oil.  The enormous amount of money Nigeria receives from its oil exports has the potential of making that nation extremely wealthy.  However, this has not been the case.

The United States is the world’s super-power.  All corporate profits are related to the fact that this country has a constant flow of oil.  Without this oil, workers would not be able to go to their jobs, and corporation would not be able to transport their commodities.

One would think that the powerful people of the United States would be grateful to Nigeria for allowing them to amass this enormous wealth.  However, the facts are that while the U.S. government claims it represents liberty, justice, and democracy, in reality, Nigeria is one of many nations throughout the world where the U.S. government has supported ruthless dictatorships.

Fela Anikulapo Kuti

Fela Anikulapo Kuti was born into a prominent Nigerian family.  His father was a pastor and his mother was a well-known teacher who advocated women’s rights.  Fela went to London to pursue a professional career, but became sidetracked with the music he saw all around him.  Later he would travel to the United States where his informal music education, as well as his political education continued.

Fela lists his musical influences as Afro-Cuban Jazz, James Brown, Hugh Masekela, Bob Marley, as well as musicians from Accra, Ghana.  Out of these influences Fela and his drummer Tony Allen developed the AfroBeat.

In the U.S., Fela became influenced by the Black Power movement and saw how this movement could be relevant to Nigeria.  Fela also became an opponent of what he called cultural imperialism.  Although Nigeria became independent of Britain in the early 1960’s, the rulers of that nation had many of the same values of the old colonizers. 


Today, in the United States people who attend concerts don’t expect to be arrested or tortured by the police.  People don’t expect that prominent musicians will be arrested hundreds of times on trumped up charges.  However, this was the experience of Fela Kuti in Nigeria. 

In 1977 Fela released a recording that he titled Zombie.  The song likened the Nigerian police to Zombies who mindlessly did what they were told.

The Nigerian government responded to this song by surrounding the compound where Fela lived and performed with 1,000 police officers.  People who attended Fela’s concert, dancers, musicians, as well as Fela were arrested and tortured.  Fela’s mother, Funmilayo, was thrown from a second story window to her death.  Fela’s life was only spared by the intervention of a commanding officer.  In all, the Nigerian authorities arrested Fela about 200 times.

In the play Fela!, we see how Fela Kuti responded to this repression.  He took the coffin to the capitol and declared his mother “President” of Nigeria.  He also commemorated his mother’s assassination with the song Coffin for Head of State.  In the play we also see the cast laying coffins of others who had been brutalized or executed that included: Rodney King, Troy Davis, and Malcolm X.             

Fela was never intimidated and continued to inspire the world with his songs: I.T.T. (International Thief, Thief), Teacher, Don’t Teach Me Nonsense, Beasts of No Nation, and Authority Stealing.  In all, he published 70 recordings. 

Many have criticized Fela for the fact that he had about 27 wives and he made it a practice of smoking ganja.  The women portrayed in the play in no way appeared to be repressed.  To the contrary, they appeared to be defiant, proud, as well as beautiful.  While we might criticize the practice of polygamy, certainly the most horrendous practices in this play came from the Nigerian government and the United States government that supported it.

Usually when I think of music and dance I think of having a wonderful time flowing with the music.  This is how the play started.  However, by the end of the play the music and dance took on a new meaning.  The music and dance became an act of defiance against repression.

This to me was the core of who Fela Anikulapo Kuti was.  The music and dance he wrote and performed will continue to live as long as people strive for human dignity.

We can get a bit of a feel for the play at the following link:       

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Philadelphia politicians will close 23 schools

All politicians who run for office say they support education, at least for young people.  Yet, in his book Savage Inequalities – Children in America’s schools, Jonathan Kozol documented how some schools in this country resemble country clubs, while other inner-city schools are literally falling apart.

To further along this process, Philadelphia has become the city with the most school closings in the nation.  There will undoubtedly be more school closings because the district has borrowed $300 million just to pay its bills for this year. 

However, on the other side of City Line Avenue, there is the Lower Merion School District where per student funding is double of what it is in Philadelphia.  The student population in Philadelphia is largely Black and Latino, while the student population in Lower Merion is largely Caucasian.

The Supreme Court ruled in its Brown vs. The Board of Education decision in 1954 that segregation in education is illegal.  However, these savage inequalities continue to exist.

What is the purpose of education in capitalism?

In order to get a full appreciation for what these cuts mean we need to look at what purpose education fulfills in the capitalist society we live in today.  First, we can look at the fact that the Labor Department argues that most of the jobs needed in the future will not require much education.  These are jobs include: security guards, nurse’s aids, and housekeepers.  The highly skilled jobs only account for a small percentage of future employment.

When we look at the jobs workers have that supply everyone with the things we need, very little education is necessary.  Workers who toil at auto manufacture, or construction, or the garment industry, or food production do not need, for the most part, to be literate.  Clearly, if the workers in these industries were trained to think for themselves, they would soon demand union representation and improved working conditions.

The progressive aspects to education are that it teaches students to read, write, compute, and study.  Sitting down in one spot for hours analyzing information takes effort and a basic education sometimes teaches students to have this kind of discipline. 

This state of affairs points to the fact that there is something fundamentally wrong, not just with the educational system, but with the way people who have power view education.  Therefore, we need a different kind of government where human needs are seen as more important than profits.

What education might be with a workers government

In his pamphlet, The Working Class and the Transformation of Learning – The fraud of education reform under capitalism, Jack Barnes gives another view of what role education can play in societyA workers government would begin by making education a lifetime endeavor.  Young people would become inspired to learn new things.  This desire to learn would carry on for a lifetime.

Instead of the regimentation that teachers indoctrinate students with, teachers would inspire students think for themselves.  Instead of holding down jobs where we do what we are told, we would participate in the continuing process of improving the standard of living throughout the world.   

Today we can only imagine what it would mean if the entire workforce was engaged in a continuing effort to educate ourselves.  Most production jobs can be automated.  There are more than enough people to supply humanity with the food, housing, clothing, health care, communication and transportation we all need.

A continually educated workforce might work to allow humanity to live in harmony with nature, to improve our diet and prevent injuries and illnesses, or to produce top quality housing for all.

These ideas aren’t just abstract theories.  The nation of Cuba had a political revolution and today there is a workers government of the island.  This has meant that today, Cuba has more teachers and doctors per capita, than any other nation in the world.  As a result, Cuba has the highest literacy rate in the world and millions of adults take advantage of continuing their education.  

No more cutbacks

Understanding all of this makes it even more imperative to oppose all school closings.  We need to say clearly that the children in Philadelphia deserve the same funding for their education as the children who live on the other side of City Line Avenue.

City officials argue that there is no money to keep the 23 schools open.  They ignore the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars in city taxpayer money was used to build sports stadiums, the convention center, and in interest payments on municipal bonds.  Philadelphia also has the largest tax abatement program in the nation where the owners of the largest skyscrapers in the city pay no taxes. 

The federal government has spent trillions of dollars in a stimulus plan.  All of these payouts demonstrate that the United States government is nothing more than a cash-dumping machine that dumps obscene amounts of money on some of the most affluent people in the world.

Capitalism is an extremely unstable political economic system.  This explains why we are currently in a period of increased unemployment with no end in sight.  Capitalists have responded to this downturn by investing unbelievable amounts of money in derivatives, or bets on future stock prices.  The amount of money invested in these funds might be as much as one quadrillion dollars, or one thousand trillion dollars.

For the capitalists these derivatives are clearly more important than the education of young people.  We can also see how these investments also point to the fact that there are more than enough resources to vastly increase investments in education.  All of these facts support the demand: Stop the School Closings, and No Cutbacks in Education.    


Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Framing of Mumia Abu Jamal – A review

© 2008 J. Patrick O’Connor
Published by Lawrence Hill Books

Today the name Mumia Abu Jamal is known throughout the world.  He is known for being an outstanding journalist who was unjustly incarcerated for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. 

J. Patrick O’Connor book The Framing of Mumia Abu Jamal gives the world a blow-by-blow analysis of the facts that underscore the argument that the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office worked diligently to manufacture evidence against Mumia Abu Jamal.  O’Connor also shows how Mumia’s so-called trial was nothing more than an inquisition.  However, before we look at the framing of Mumia Abu Jamal, I believe it is useful to look at his life story.

Mumia Abu Jamal

Mumia Abu Jamal understood the shortcomings of the so-called justice system at an early age.  At the age of fifteen Mumia made a less than prudent decision to attend a rally in support of George Wallace for President.  Mumia and his friends answered the chants of “Segregation forever,” with their chant of “Black power.”  Mumia and his friends were beaten, and when the police intervened they continued the assault on Mumia and his friends. 

Mumia was arrested for assaulting a police officer.  At his trial the judge said that Mumia’s face assaulted the fist of the police officer and dismissed the case.

With this background Mumia became a news reporter and journalist.  Unlike other journalists, Mumia made it a practice of exposing police brutality.  This stance of Mumia put him in conflict with his employers in the media, as well as the government.  The F.B.I. had a seven-hundred page file on Mumia.  However, even the F.B.I. acknowledged in 1974 that Mumia “has not displayed a propensity for violence.”

In fact, those people who knew Mumia said that he was the type of person who would try to calm down tense situations.  Even in prison, the journalist Chuck Stone reported that Mumia was friendly with the prison guards.

Mumia was such a well-respected journalist, he became the president of the Black journalists of Philadelphia.  Unlike the so-called journalists on news programs like 60 Minutes, Mumia was not paid a salary of millions of dollars per year.  To the contrary, he was fired from his job because of his style of reporting and needed to supplement his income by driving a taxi cab.      

The so-called case against Mumia

The murder of Daniel Faulkner happened on December 9, 1981 on the corner of 13th and Locust Street in Philadelphia.  Anyone who even passed by that area at during those years could see that this was a center for prostitution and drug dealing.  Clearly, this state of affairs could only take place with the support of the Philadelphia Police Department.

In fact, the F.B.I. had been investigating the sixth district of the police for six months prior to the murder of Officer Faulkner.  The F.B.I. found that police officials and officers had been receiving kickbacks from pimps, prostitutes, and bar owners.  Many of the officers who were involved in the prosecution of Mumia were convicted of receiving kickbacks.

The incident that led to the murder of Officer Faulkner started when Faulkner pulled over Wesley Cook, Mumia’s brother, while he was driving his Volkswagen.  We need to understand that Faulkner made a decision that it was more important to stop Wesley Cook than to deal with the prostitution and drug dealing that he knew was going on every night.

Faulkner then beat Wesley Cook so badly that blood was pouring out of Cook’s head.  Several witnesses testified to the fact that Mumia, who happened to be there at the time, ran across the street, but had no gun in his hands.  O’Connor argues that when officer Faulkner saw a black man with dreadlocks running towards him he pulled out his gun and shot Mumia.  The bullet that entered Mumia’s body was a near perfect shot at his chest and had a downward trajectory.            

At this point Robert Harkins, who first reported the murder to the police, testified that Officer Faulkner grabbed a man who spun Faulkner around and threw him on the ground.  Faulkner’s pants were ripped at the knee and this supported Harkins testimony.  Then Harkins heard three shots.  The first hit Faulkner from less than 12 inches away, while he was on his knees.  The next shots hit Faulkner after he turned over and struck him in the head.

Kenneth Freeman was the man who O’Connor believes was the shooter.  Freeman was Wesley Cook’s best friend and he was in Cook’s car at the time of the shooting.  Freeman had an Afro hairstyle, unlike the dreadlocks worn by Mumia.  Witnesses testified that the man who shot Faulkner had an Afro hairstyle.  O’Connor argues that the motive for the murder might have been the fact that Faulkner had beaten Wesley Cook and then attempted to murder Mumia Abu Jamal.

Kenneth Freeman died in 1985 and his naked body was found bound and gagged in a vacant lot in Philadelphia hours after the bombing of the MOVE home at Osage Avenue.  This police had the audacity to rule Freeman’s death to be a heart attack.  He was thirty-one years old

From this story, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s advanced the following scenario.  They argued that Mumia ran across the street with a gun.  They argued that Mumia then fired the gun hitting Faulkner in the back.  Then, somehow Faulkner took his pistol out of his holster.  Since Faulkner’s gun was defective, he needed to take an extra step to fire the gun.  Then, the D.A. argued that Faulkner fired a near perfect shot hitting Mumia in the chest as he was falling down backwards from the bullet wound to his back.

One obvious problem with this story is that the bullet wound to Mumia’s chest had a downward trajectory.  This would mean that Faulkner would have had to jump up after he was shot in the back.  This argument is patently absurd, but this was the story the D.A. presented to the jury that convicted Mumia of murder.

Cynthia White was a prostitute and the only witness that testified to the version of the D.A.’s story.  Anthony Jackson, who a judge assigned to defending Mumia, established that White had given three stories to the D.A.  Each story came closer to the story the D.A. presented at trial.

Twenty years after Mumia’s conviction Yvette Williams, who shared a jail cell with Cynthia White, signed an affidavit stating that: “Cynthia White told me the police were making her lie and say Mr. Jamal shoot Officer Faulkner when she really did not see who did it.”

Two other witnesses came forward and testified that they were coerced by the police to testify against Mumia. 

Several police officers testified at the trial that they heard Mumia confess to the murder of Faulkner and this became compelling evidence in the case.  However, these officers only made statements about the alleged confession months after Officer Faulkner’s murder.  These statements were made after Anthony Jackson sued the Philadelphia Police Department for brutalizing Mumia while he was in police custody.

However, two of the officers who were with Mumia the entire time of his arrest wrote down that they never heard him say anything.  The presiding Judge Albert Sabo would not allow one of these police officers to testify because he was presumably out of town.  In fact, this officer was only minutes away from the courtroom.

What does this frame-up say about the so-called justice system?

J. Patrick O’Connor argued that Mumia as well as the lawyer Anthony Jackson might have conducted themselves differently at trial and this might have made a difference in the verdict.  While this argument might have some merit, I believe O’Connor is missing an important point. 

The conviction of Mumia Abu Jamal has been appealed and the appellate court did not overturn the verdict.  Therefore something is happening that goes beyond the lack of an effective defense at the trial.     
In the United States, defendants are supposed to be presumed to be innocent until they are proven to be guilty.  If the so-called justice system conspires to coerce witnesses to testify against someone, there is no way that guilt can be proven. 

Anyone who lives in the United States has a better chance of going to prison than citizens of any other nation in the world.  In Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, she argues that Black men have an incarceration rate that is way out of proportion to the crimes committed by Blacks.  This has been documented, but the courts see no problem with this state of affairs.

When we look at the facts surrounding the frame-up of Mumia Abu Jamal, it becomes clear that the entire criminal justice system in the United States needs to be replaced.  As Malcolm X once said, “Either we will all be free or no one will be free.”  While we can all support the demand for a new trial for Mumia, I believe a better demand would be, Free Mumia Abu Jamal Now!