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Prison Populism?

Dividing the Races to Benefit the Rich

by LINN WASHINGTON, Jr.

The prospect of broadcast agitator Glen Beck recommending that his audience read a book with ‘Black Power’ in the title might seem less likely than President Obama standing up to the right-wing onslaught he faces daily.

Yet, just as America needs a President Obama who doesn’t castigate critics in his base while constantly caving into his GOP bashers, Beck’s audience needs insights from the historic facts contained in one passage of the 1967 book "Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America."

That single passage could show many among Beck’s audience that they’ve been ‘played.’ That’s urban parlance for deceived?or what, in the Wild West, would have been called hornswoggled.

That passage in question refers to the early 1890s, when severe recession and racial animus roiled America ? a nation then as now steeped in extraordinary disparities in income between the financial elites and regular folks of all races.

Some of those in the early 1890s who were wading through the waters of economic deprivation did the unthinkable for that era: they looked beyond skin color to see a class interest among those of all races being similarly exploited by big-money interests.

That book passage presents an observation from a Georgia Congressman who was a leading populist of that time.

"You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars both," Tom Watson wrote in 1892.

"You are made to hate each other because upon that hatred is rested the keystone of the arch of financial despotism which enslaves you both," Watson noted. "You are kept apart that you may be separately fleeced of your earnings."

Glen Beck and other right-wing manipulators are great at inflaming Tea Party-types against natural alliances across skin-color-lines thus sacrificing their self-interest in furtherance of economic interests sought by the wealthy who hold all outside their class strata with contempt.

Since 99 percent of Tea Party faithful are not wealthy, they are targeted for contempt by the wealthy as surely as are the blacks and other minorities that many Tea Party members hold in contempt.

The wealthy interests that bankroll the Tea Party and push the buttons of their front-men like Beck see a class interest in beggaring U.S. living standards down towards Third World levels.

The Beck’s across America abuse their faithful by blinding them to this beggaring process.

Consider the federal estate tax that had Tea Party members in a tizzy during this past election season. The Tea Party was demanding its repeal, supposedly to enable them to will their hard-earned financial legacies to their offspring without giving a big slice of that small pie to Uncle Sam.

The reality, though: 99 percent of all estates in the U.S. owe no estate taxes, according to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center. The law already exempted the first $2 million in assets from taxation–$4 million for a married couple!

So the Tea Party push that enabled the GOP to make President Obama blink once again in the recently approved tax package that extended Bush-era tax cuts for two more years, secured estate tax breaks sought by the wealthy that only benefited their class by raising the exemption to the first $5 million in assets per person (and $10 million per couple).

Those recently approved tax breaks overwhelmingly benefitted the wealthy ? again ? and will heap billions of dollars onto the federal budget deficit. Reducing that deficit was supposedly the centerpiece of "reforms" being pushed by the Tea Party.

Race baiting broadcast agitators like Beck and Rush Limbaugh have their audiences believing the factually flawed foolishness that the reason they are falling behind economically is because the federal government is fawning over blacks lavishing them with unearned benefits.

The reason for the loss of jobs, homes and dreams of comfortable futures driving white working class (and middle class) ire is not benefits to blacks but naked greed on Wall Street and in the suites of mega-corporations that triggered America’s economic collapse.

Does it need stating that Wall Street and corporate suites are not places infested by non-whites forced into positions by affirmative-action? Black folks didn’t force lobbyist fretted elected officials on Capitol Hill to approve tax breaks to U.S. corporations that off-shore jobs.

Last year the two states with the highest rates of foreclosures were Nevada and Arizona ? not places with huge masses of financially dead-beat blacks dragging those states down economically. The black population of Arizona, for example, is 4.4 percent.

Currently, the city ranking third on the nation’s foreclosure topping list is Modesto, Ca a town with a four percent black population. Even if every black homeowner in Modesto was in foreclosure (which is not true) that city’s list topping status would still involve large numbers of whites.

The Bush Administration successfully blinded many to the reality of its tax breaks benefits.

While those tax breaks put a few hundred dollars into the pockets of the lower two-thirds of American taxpayers, fully one-third of the benefits went to the wealthiest one percent.

And those who were enriched by the Bush tax breaks DID NOT put that money into investments or purchases that trickled down to help Main Street with more jobs.

The Wall Street Journal, in a January 2009 article, reported that the Bush administration registered the "worst record for job creation" of any President since the late 1940s.

Two recent studies graphically show how persons of all colors living on Main Street and its side avenues are losing both economically and educationally.

One study charts the disturbing rate of persons with high school diplomas who are failing to pass the armed forces admissions test.

Places like Washington, DC, Louisiana and Mississippi have the nation’s high failure rates.

For most Tea Party-types that failure rate is easily explained by the presence of large numbers of blacks in those jurisdictions?blacks who are, well, according to widely believed conservative dogma, are intellectually inferior.

But in fact, the same Educational Trust Fund study of those who are not passing the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, also found a 12 percent failure rate among whites in Idaho and an 11.2 percent rate among whites in Wyoming ? two states with black populations of less than one percent.

The failure rates for high school grads from Idaho to Mississippi to Wyoming reflect fundamental failures in the U.S. education system, failure not related to intellectual capabilities tied to skin color.

The nation’s economic meltdown is now exacerbating those structural failures, as states drastically slash funding for education at a time when improved education is urgently needed for both economic recovery and increasing global competitiveness.

Idaho, for example, is among dozens of states cutting funding to primary, secondary and college education.

The results of that other study really underscores 19th-Century Populist Tom Watson’s observation about the "monetary system which beggars" blacks and whites alike.

That Financial Capability Study from the Financial Investing Education Fund found persons of all colors across the nation mired in the grim reality of spending more than their income (using credit) and turning to usurious non-banking entities like pay-day loan services (necessitated by poor credit histories).

Citizens in Idaho and Wyoming, states with few blacks, were found by the Capability Study to be using extortionate non-bank borrowing services at a rate of 23 percent and 35 percent.

The rate of utilization of non-bank services in those western states is comparable to non-bank service usage rates in the Deep South states of Louisiana (30 percent) and Mississippi (34 percent) two states with their large black populations.

As the 1951 petition to the United Nations charging the U.S. government with committing genocide against blacks asserted ? "The prime mover of the mammoth and deliberate conspiracy to commit genocide?is monopoly capitalism."

The signers of that petition–black and white progressive activists–stated that the long-term aim of monopoly capitalism "is keeping the political and economic control it now enjoys over the American people and the American government through emasculating democratic mass movements?and setting one group of Americans over and against another."

American leaders of the early 1950s rejected such coal-mine-canary criticism of capitalism as Communist propaganda, a refrain similar to today when the Glen Beck types attack critiques of the forces driving current economic ravishes as Communism.

Typical of a trend repeated through the course of American political history which has given short-shrift to the working class, 19th Century Populist Tom Watson eventually moved away from his cross-racial populism, embracing traditional two-party politics even offering support to the KKK.

Today true populism in America can be found not in the Tea Party but inside this country’s massive and state budget draining prison system?correctly called the prison-industrial complex.

Prisoners in Georgia ? blacks, Hispanics and whites, including white supremacists fighting together ? just ended a week-long strike.

Those strikers are demanding improvements in living conditions, improvements in substandard medical care, improvement in educational opportunities and better wages.

Linn Washington Jr. is a columnist for This Can’t Be Happening!.