Issue Number 20 - December 12, 2002




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Just as infant mortality rates are the best indicators of the overall health of a society, unemployment rates reflect a range of social ills. When a particular group suffers persistent joblessness over the course of generations, the problem is systemic and closely related to the value the society assigns to the group.

Official unemployment among Black men hit 12% in November, twice the overall jobless rate. The pattern has been consistent for the last forty years, varying little and never for long. Journalists and social scientists have grown old discovering the same Black-white jobless ratios "in good times and in bad." The numbers paint a general picture of African American status in the national life: Blacks are twice as likely to be jobless because they are effectively viewed as half-men, the verdict that society renders in myriad ways filled with caveats and diversionary details, but that consistently results in the same racial breakdown in unemployment, decade after decade.

The infant mortality analogy is useful. Even dramatic expansion of emergency medical services, for example, will put little dent in the infant mortality rates of societies where sewage flows in the streets, shelter and diets are inadequate, and civic structures, weak. In such societies, babies will be stillborn or die before their fifth year because of many reasons, but they will surely die in large numbers with or without emergency clinics. The frequency of their deaths reveals the overall health of the society.

Black infant mortality in the U.S. is roughly two and one-half times that of whites, a figure as maddeningly consistent as racial unemployment ratios. Taken together, these numbers sketch the outlines of a matrix of societal oppression that does not change in its essentials and ultimate outcomes.

In this context, the only thing that is dramatic about November's double-digit Black unemployment is that more whites are becoming disconnected from the workforce - a harbinger of discontent among those whom the society values at the full-man rate.

The crunch

As Bush-Cheney-Halliburton eagerly anticipate their $200 billion Iraqi war-and-occupation-for-profit (see Rule of the Pirates, December 5), an alarming number of state governments face insolvency. According to the Dec. 9 issue of Time magazine:

"The states are running an aggregate deficit that is expected to reach $68 billion by June 30. In the meantime, the states have pressed Washington for money to pay for things it has demanded - among them, homeland-security initiatives, election reform and broader Medicaid benefits for the poor. Beset by federal deficits, the Bush Administration is unlikely to provide much help at a time when it is focused on tax cuts and a possible war with Iraq."

The proverbial "crunch" is coming. For California, the crisis means $10.2 billion in cuts to virtually every program of value to poor and working people, and the certainty of a further round of reductions. Education will be gutted under Governor Gray Davis's budget, thousands of the poor will lose health care coverage, and state workers face massive layoffs.

The picture gets darker. The Bush version of Homeland Security excludes issues of job security, health security, or any of the basic essentials of a just and secure society. Rather, the states are facing a federal mandate to find yet more dollars to protect the "vital national infrastructure" from terrorist attack. The potential cost of defending these domestic corporate "targets" is... limitless.

Homeland Security officials alerted state executives to the scope of the new burdens they are expected to bear, at a meeting of the Western Governors Conference, in Las Vegas. Public dollars must be found to protect "150 refineries, 152,000 miles of oil pipelines, 194,000 miles of gas pipelines, 4,194 offshore refinery platforms, 100 ports that receive foreign oil, 10,800 bulk storage plants and 170,000 gas stations," according to American Petroleum Institute spokesman G. William Frick. And that's just the oil industry list.

States are not equipped for these kinds of duties, but private security firms will mushroom to meet the demand - at public expense. Add untold billions to the cost of eternal war between "us and them." Be sure to list who profits and who loses.

Great expectations

Having very little historical experience with the ways of Black billionaires, African Americans reacted with disappointment, sadness and some anger to news that BET will soon purge its programming schedule of the few items of value currently offered. "BET Tonight with Ed Gordon" and "Lead Story" will be terminated this month. "Teen Summit" will air until tapes of the show run out early in the new year.

NNPA News Service national correspondent Artelia C. Covington provides an excellent article on the final but logical collapse of all pretense of community service by BET. The cable channel's nightly news show will survive, Covington reports, "because it has a production contract in place with CBS News, whose parent company also is Viacom." BET founder Bob Johnson sold the company to Viacom for $3 billion two years ago, pocketing as much as $1 billion dollars in the deal.

Did the big white corporation impose its will on Johnson? It is painful to hear this question posed seriously. The sale was the culmination of Bob Johnson's career as a dealmaker. In that, he has been wildly successful. BET has been a universal disappointment to African Americans because of Black expectations of Johnson. He has acted no differently than any other player in the ever-merging communications industry. As long as African Americans cling to the dream of group salvation through the individual efforts of Black businessmen, they will find themselves repeatedly "betrayed."

As Bob Johnson once told C-Span, "If I help my family get over and deal with the problems they might confront, then I have achieved that one goal that is my responsibility to society at large."

Bob Johnson is far more concerned about George Bush's opinion than that of BET's viewers or the Black public at large. (See BET's Black Billionaire Trojan Horse," October 3.)

Black Press USA for BET story

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