Archive for the Playthell on politics Category

On Education for Citizenship

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on February 11, 2014 by playthell

Thomas Jefferson

 “Those who expect to be both ignorant and free, expect what never was and never will be.” 

Whatever Happened to Civics?

For several years now I have been increasingly disturbed by the decline of civics instruction in our public schools.  But when I express this concern most people look at me as if I had suddenly begun speaking in ancient Greek, or some other unintelligible language.  If they are in their forties or younger they appear to have no clue what I am talking about.  I don’t know exactly when it happened, or how those who determine educational policy in our public schools decided to remove Civics from the curriculum.  I just looked up one day and it was gone!

Yet civics was the only course in our educational system that is designed to teach students how our political system works and the proper functions of government.  A vital part of civics instruction is the systematic study of current events, which provides a basis for making intelligent choices once we are old enough to vote.  When I was a boy civics was an integral part of public school instruction, and it has determined my approach to understanding the responsibilities of citizenship as an adult.

The first responsibility of citizenship in a participatory democracy with contending political forces is to educate youself on the issues so that you can make informed decisions at the ballot box. In a racist, sexist, predatory capitalist system where the struggle for the necessities of life is becoming increasingly Darwinian – i.e. dog eat dog and only the big dogs shall survive – making the right choices  in the voting booth is a life and death matter.  One need only look at the Social Darwinst proposals of the Republican Party to recognized the danger facing the working  class in America.  Already they have become invisible; nobody even mentions their name anymore.

For a while, I felt like I was the only one who recognized the end of civics instruction as a crisis that is rendering America’s participatory democracy dysfunctional.  This was clear to me in the results of the first congressional elections after the innaugaration of President Obama, when the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives only two years after their policies had wrecked the nation’s economy. (see: “On Our Dysfunctional Democracy” on this blog)  And what’s more, the most potent force in the New Republican coalition is the “Tea Party,” an ultra-right band of iconoclast who ran on an anti-government platform.

Amazingly, the Tea Party has managed to convince millions of Americans that the government they elect is their enemy.  This has led to the Extraordinary spectacle of masses of struggling Americans voting against their economic interests in the belief that they are striking a blow for freedom.  The full extent of this absurdity was made clear to me when I was traveling in Georgia and came upon a demonstration against “Obamacare” led by a snaggle tooth red neck with a mouth full of rotten teeth.  From the look of things the guy had never seen a dentist in his life., but here he was vociferously fighting against a program that would make it possibe for him to finally visit a dentist.

This absurdity of supporting people and policies that is against one’s interests is repeated in myriad ways by the working class whites who make up much of the Republican base. Why, they even applauded the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case; which is a major step in transforming out participatory democracy in which candidates from all classes could run for public office in an effort to promote policies that address the interests of working people, to a system where only the rich or their representatives can effectively contest for office.

How does one explain this kind of self-destructive behavior?  Why would people vote against their best interests?  And what does it harbor for the future of American democracy? Succinctly put, it is the epidemic of political ignorance among the electorate that propels this self-destructive behavior. Thomas Jefferson warned of this danger during the founding of the American Republic.

“An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight. It is therefore imperative that the nation see to it that a suitable education be provided for all its citizens. “

Given the complexity of American society today, a mass society of several hundred million people composed of diverse races and ethnicities residing in a continental nation extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, Jefferson’s words are far more relevant now than they were in the 18th century, when America was a simple agrarian society composed of small towns and villages about a third of the size we are now.  Hence the study of civics is needed now more than ever, when citizens are confronted with problems of amazing complexity that they are ill-equipped to analyze.

One of the groups that recognize the gravity of this problem and is calling for the restatement of civics instruction is the New York Bar Association.  After studying the problem of widespread ignorance among the citizenry about how our government and politics work, they tell us in a in a recently published document titled Report and Recommendations of the Law, Youth, and Citizenship committee on Civic Education.

“A constitutional democracy flourishes only if the constitution reflects democratic values alive in the citizenry. In the past decade, nearly every measure of Americans’ knowledge, understanding and appreciation of democratic values and fundamental constitutional principles has reflected a shocking level of decline. Despite New York’s adoption of the ‘Participation in Government’ requirement for graduating high school seniors over a decade ago, a sense of political disengagement has worsened in our state due to a lack of civic knowledge and the skills necessary to be an effective citizen.” On this score all the observable evidence suggests that the State of New York is the State of the Nation.

It is this gross ignorance of the legitimate functions of government, as well as our political history, that allows Republican Congressman to feel safe while committing a crime against humanity by cutting eight billion dollars from the federal food stamp program at the same time they are denying a couple of million unemployed Americans extended benefits during an economic crisis where there are no jobs that pay a living wage.

Many of these citizens have worked hard all of their lives but now face hunger and homelessness while these same Republicans give every possible benefit to the rich.   Furthermore, these same Republican shills for the plutocracy are vociferous opponents of minimum wage laws and have voted repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act, while concocting a web of lies to discredit this benefaction to the American people.

A politically enlightened electorate would throw the bums out!  Instead millions of voters know so little about how our government actually works they cannot distinguish the progressive Democrats who have tried to pass Jobs bills based on investment in rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, from reactionary Republicans who only want to cut all government benefits for working Americans and give extravagant tax holidays to the super rich.

Hence we are being told by the political numbers crunchers that the Republicans will not only retain Control of the House of Representatives in the coming elections….but might well gain control of the Senate. This would be a catastrophe, because if these reckless Republican fanatics –  and the spineless opportunists who know that this is foolishness but go along to get along – gain control of both Houses of Congress there is every reason to believe that their policies would wreck the economy again, entangle the nation in more foreign conflicts that extract a high cost in blood and treasure, create permanent gridlock in the government, and perhaps even impeach the President on trumped up charges! If ever we needed an enlightened electorate it is now.

John Boehner
Boehner with crack pipe 
The Worse House Speaker Ever!


Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

Locked Out!!!

Posted in Playthell on politics, Racism and the Mob in Construction with tags , on January 17, 2014 by playthell
   black workers -EVERGREEN-PLAZA-PROTEST-CONSTRUCTION-JOBSBlack workers are fighting discrimination but they need federal intervention
 “It’s economic genocide!   That’s exactly what it is.  What else can you call a situation where able bodied men who are experienced workers and anxious to work are denied the opportunity to work on city sponsored construction jobs that are going on right in their neighborhood.   But that’s just the kinda shit that’s goin down out here everyday.  Then, if you steal something or deal some dope to try to make ends meet, they send your ass to jail.   That’s why the jails are full of young black and Hispanic brothers.   Plus, they encourage us to fight and kill each other over the few jobs they do throw our way.   What is that if it ain’t genocide?”  Vaughn Chambers, organizer for Harlem Fight Back 

A Case for Affirmative Action 

 The Protracted War on Construction Sites in New York City

 The recent news of buildings falling apart piecemeal, or collapsing outright, all over the metropolitan area – Madison Ave, 42 St., 125 street, Brooklyn, Jersey City, etc – has finally alerted the generalpublic to the fact that something is rotten out there on the construction sites.However, Afro-American workers have long been aware that everything wasn’t kosher in this industry.  Many are forced to risk life or limb just to work at their trade. The implications of this situation speak eloquently to the pervasiveness of chicanery and corruption in the construction business, which also results in dangerously substandard work.

As of this writing, the latest instance of murder and mayhem on a construction site – that we know about – occurred sometime around 8:00 am on September 17, 1997. Eric Riddick, a 23-year-old black man, was shot to death on a Diamond Asphalt Company construction site at 214 St. and 91st Ave in QueensVillage, where the contractor was laying sewage pipes on a city financed project. Witnesses in nearby houses say they heard some men arguing and when they looked to see what was going down, one of the men pulled a gun and shot the other in the head several times.  Then two black men sped away in a jeep.

The police confirmed that minority construction coalitions were fighting to control jobs on this construction project and that Riddick was a member of the Queens Minority Coalition. The day after the murder cops busted Ernest White – whom they identified as the leader of Brooklyn Fight Back, a rival coalition, outside his Carnarsie home and charged him with the crime. Although construction workers questioned at the site swore they didn’t know the victim or the assailants, their denials strain credibility because the incident bears such a striking resemblance to previous coalition murders over construction jobs in Queens.

It is an old story. While walking home from work at a construction site one evening in 1989, Richard Harrison, a member of the Queens Community Coalition, was shot through the head several times at point blank range. The decision to go for the head is compelling evidence that, as with White, the assailants intended to murder rather than maim their victims.

The real cool killer calmly drove up on the service road at 116 St. and Van Wyck Boulevard, and then commenced firing in clear view of several horrified witnesses.  It was broad open daylight and the gunman called unnecessary attention to himself by cavalierly driving away in an expensive foreign car with a Chicago license plate.  The brazenness of the act made it all the more terrifying.

The assassin would later have cause to regret his flamboyance because the fly car enabled the police to eventually identify him as Kevin Jackson, leader of the black construction worker coalition to which Harrison belonged.  As crazy as it all sounds, there was a method to Jackson’s madness.  The hit was calculated to instill discipline through fear.

It is a universal management technique employed by Jackson’s role models: the white gangster element who stand in the shadows and dictate so many of the shots in the construction racket – a crew whose secret philosophy and clandestine crimes are poignantly described in Sammy “The Bull” Gravano’s recent best-selling memoir of his life in the mob, “Underboss.”

After it was proven that in 1991 Jackson also ordered a hit on Earl Hicks – a member of the rival Queens Minority Coalition to which the recently murdered Riddick also belonged – whom he had a beef with stemming from an altercation at a construction site, Jackson was convicted of double homicide in Queens Supreme court last July, and sentenced 45 years to double life.

Like Harrison, Hicks got iced walking along the street.on his way to work early one morning, when a hit man called “Little Justice” rolled up on him just three doors away from his house and carried out the contract ordered by Jackson.  Hicks had just kissed his wife and children good-bye

According to Mark Osnowitz, the Assistant DA who successfully prosecuted the case, “There are at least three other murders which have been attributed to Jackson, but we can’t prove it because the witness died.”  Although he was stabbed and shot at on several occasions the star witness died of a ruptured blood vessel in the brain- probably from stress.  Little justice would later meet poetic justice when he was whacked and torched by unknown assassins.  It is not too far fetched to speculate that Jackson may have also ordered that hit because Little Justice could finger him.

At the root of this murderous internecine violence between black construction workers is the struggle for control of the few jobs that the racist mob-ridden construction racket doles out to black and Latino workers.  Prosecuting Jackson was an education for Osnowitz who, like most New Yorkers, knew little about the unbridled corruption, violence and racial discrimination in construction before his involvement with this case.  Reflecting on the situation he says, “Although I’m a white guy, I fully understand why these black guys form coalitions to try and get work.  If I was in their situation I would do the same thing!”

Osnowitz also concluded, “Most of the guys in coalitions started out with good intentions.”  But some were corrupted when they discovered that nobody was minding the store and easy money could be made by entering into unholy alliances with devious white contractors, who are more than willing to pay under the table to keep honest black and Latino construction workers and contractors from demanding their fair share of the multi-billion dollar construction pie.

The scam works like this: a contractor forms a relationship with a particular coalition and agrees to hire one of their members as a “Minority Coordinator;” then the contractor throws in a few jobs for the Coordinator’s goons; in return that coalition will police the construction site and keep other minorities off the job.

While minority workers in general suffer from this scurrilous arrangement it is a lucrative operation for the coalition leaders, who get paid big bucks for saving the contractors from having to deal with legitimate labor problems.  Kevin Jackson obviously did very well financially.  When he was arrested and placed under $350,000 bail, Jackson raised it immediately.

But Osnowitz managed to block the acceptance of the bail money by demonstrating that it could not have come from legitimate sources because according to the records of Jackson’s accountant he made only $10,000 the previous year.  Osnowitz explains Jackson’s behavior, and that of other coalition leaders who started out as honest worker advocates but degenerated into gangstas, with the old adage: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  It’s as simple as that!”

The violence and corruption exposed in the Jackson case is only the tip of the iceberg.  As Oznowitz points out, this is the first case of a coalition leader being successfully prosecuted for committing violence against his adversaries because witnesses are afraid to come forward.  They are as hard to come by as witnesses against the Mafia.

Yet the workers I talked to are unanimous in the opinion that the situation with so-called “Minority Coordinators” is the worse it’s ever been, and that these guys are indeed paid goons whose real role is to keep honest black and Latino workers off the job by intimidation and violence.  “Some of these guys who commit the most serious violence are not even involved with the construction work,” says Oznowitz, “guys like ‘Little Justice’ are hired killers who coalition leaders retain to do their dirty work.”

Even while writing this article I have received constant reports of violence against black and Latino workers trying to ply their trades all over this city.  They told me how pliant general contractors, racist unions, indifferent city agencies and criminal extortionist have become strange bedfellows in the undeclared conspiracy to deny them the right to work.

The situation is such that only when there is a construction boom and labor is scarce can minority workers expect a fair chance at finding a job.  But normally a black or Hispanic worker – who has been constantly overlooked by his union’s business agent when job assignments were being given out – can start in Harlem and travel downtown in search of construction work and encounter “Minority Coordinators” controlling jobs for various coalitions on job sites all along the way.

For instance, in September the Yonkers Construction Co. was doing a bridge repair job for the Department of Transportation on the 138th street viaduct that connects Harlem to the South Bronx, a mostly black and Hispanic area, and the work crew was virtually all white.  One unemployed black worker filmed the site with a video camera in order to document the fact that there were 35 white males, no females, and only 2 black workers on a publicly financed job in their community.

When this worker got together with some other experienced road men and went to the site seeking employment, the project manager referred them to a guy whom a former coalition member described as “an illiterate thug who can’t read or write.” When the black workers asked the project manager for Yonkers why they had to deal with a coalition when the white guys didn’t, they were told it was because the coordinator handled minority hiring.  “But we knew we would just get the run around from the coordinator,” one of the workers told me, “because that’s why these guys are there.  And, just like we thought, we have yet to get a single job!”

On upper Fifth Avenue near Marcus Garvey Park, in the heart of Harlem, there is a Brownstone restoration project where jobs for minorities are controlled by gangster coalitions.   Several workers described the coordinator as an Amazonian woman, “a very butch dyke who packs a pistol on the site,” and has been known to call in armed thugs when their job monopoly is challenged by other black or Latino workers.

However the criminal cowboyism of these coalitions is not confined to areas like Harlem, Queens and the South Bronx, they are just as active downtown.  Their presence is felt even on projects managed by the largest and most powerful general contractors in the business. The level of terror these gangsta coalitions have created became crystal clear on a recent occasion when I was sitting in a room in Harlem with a group of hard-boiled construction workers – who had agreed to talk only on the grounds of anonymity – and they were actually afraid to speak the name of   Some of their adversaries.  Looking around suspiciously at the doors and windows, as if the were expecting goons to bum rush the house at any moment, they whispered tall tales of gun wielding thugs controlling black and Hispanic workers access to construction sites.

They recounted numerous rumbles, with arms ranging from pick axes to pistols, on construction sites all over this city that never made the news.  (The murder of Curtis white was buried on page 34 of the Daily News, which is owned by prominent real estate developer Mort Zuckerman, and the article was so carelessly laid out that it ended abruptly in the middle of the story.)

Brooklyn Fight Back, long headed by Trevor Johnson, whose Mercedes driving enforcer “B-Boy” was one of the most feared coalition goons in the city before he disappeared.  The word on the street ranges from speculation that he took flight to avoid prosecution, to those who are convinced that his pending indictment led to him being poured into the concrete foundation of a glitzy new building in Manhattan.

Some of the workers at the rap session admitted to having once belonged to these coalitions.  The consensus description of their modus operandi went like this: Herd a group of hungry young men eager to find a way to get paid onto a bus; promise them a job if they follow the coalition’s direction; give them beer and Marijuana money; arm them with hard hats, crowbars, hammers and a gun here and there; have them sit around all day getting high and listening to gangsta rap on walkmans and boom boxes, and train them to bust heads whenever their crew leaders get a beep from the Minority Coordinators at the construction site.

As one worker put it “After being cooped up on that hot bus all day gettin high, these guys are ready to do near bout anything and feel no pain!”  This scenario does much to explain the causes of the escalating violence that goes on at construction sites around New York City.


These tales of rampant gangsterism and corruption, accented by Vaughn Chambers’ grim charge of economic genocide in this era of triumphant American capitalism, may sound like a paranoid nightmare to most people.  But to black and Hispanic construction workers in New York City – especially Nuyoricans i.e. Puerto Ricans born and raised in New York, and African Americans – it has the disconcerting ring of truth.

Nor is it surprising that gangsta rap should supply the sound track for these contemporary urban dramas.  For it is the music of the dispossessed youth of the post-industrial city, an economic wasteland whose myriad pathologies and tragedies spawned by the struggle for bread is carefully described by Harvard sociologist William J. Wilson in his recent book “When Work Disappears.”

And the brilliant historian of the black laboring classes, Robin D.G. Kelly, a professor of history at New York University, tells us in his seminal book Race Rebels: “Economic restructuring resulting in massive unemployment has created criminals out of black youth, which is what gangsta rappers acknowledge.  But rather than apologize or preach, most attempt to rationalize and explain.”

           Virtually all of the black and Nuyorican construction workers I talked to believe that their plight is the result of a criminal conspiracy at the top.  And it is easy to see why.  Beneath the orderly exterior of the construction industry that the public routinely observes when walking past building sites, there lurks a putrid world of racism, sexism, corruption and criminality.

These vices take the form of gender exclusion and crude sexual harassment on the job, wholesale violation of civil rights laws by excluding non-white workers and contractors, widespread refusal to abide by the prevailing wage and benefit laws, flagrant disregard for health and safety regulations, rigged union elections, and the machinations of the invisible hand of organized white crime, who fix contracts and meddles in the affairs of unions and contractors big time.

Industry watchdogs say that there appears to be a kind of selective morality at work, one that says: “So long as the buildings go up on time everything else is cool.”  The obvious problem with such a position is that it stands on the same moral ground as those who attempt to justify Nazism because it brought about an economic revival in Germany!

That’s why it was so troubling for people who know the real deal, like Jim Haughton and Gil Banks of Harlem Fight Back, to watch the senior Senator from Pennsylvania, Arlen Spector, a Republican, and Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, who was appointed by a Democratic President, buck dancing before the officials of the Building Trades Council at their April Convention.

Spector and Slater seemed to be trying to out-do each other in the extravagance of the government sponsored construction projects they promised, while never saying a mumbling word about the rampant criminality and racism which infests the industry.  But, given the flow of construction money into the political process, perhaps the Senator and the bureaucrat were secretly doing an imitation of the three wise monkeys: Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil.

It is this kind of genuflection by public officials before those who rule the corrupt building business, and the low-life aristocrats of labor who control the equally corrupt unions, that has led many people fighting for economic justice in the construction racket to conclude that the government, whose job is to enforce fairness in the work place, is part of the problem.

Two-time Mayor, Rudolph Guliani, has been suspiciously silent on the issue of racial exclusion in construction, both in his present position as Mayor and when he was the Federal Attorney for Manhattan.  (Some lawyers say Civil rights cases became persona non grata during his tenure in the Federal Attorney’s office.)  And as a result of his 1994 decision not to keep records on the race or gender of those awarded city contracts, the Mayor is destroying the data base upon which future discrimination suits would depend.

The outrageousness of Guliani’s decision becomes self-evident when we consider the fact that the General Contractors Association – the guys who do the heavy construction on infrastructure like bridges, tunnels, subways etc. – has 120 members but when I called to inquire about the number of black and female owned companies in their membership, I was greeted with double talk about not having the figures at hand.

The Mayor’s decision to conceal the racial and gender identities of the contractors who are awarded city contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year can only aid and abet the conspiracy of silence regarding the issue of race and gender equity in the construction marketplace.  This silence on the part of public officials, who are sworn to uphold the law, is perhaps the major reason why contractors and unions feel free to scoff at the law on a wholesale basis.

Rudy’s hostility or indifference to claims of discrimination has resulted in a “gender gap” among educated women, and inspires the chorus of boos which follow him whenever he appears before a black audience.  It is a measure of the racial divide in this city that Guliani receives such high marks from white New Yorkers, while even the endorsements of prominent Afro-Americans like labor leader Stanley Hill of District Council 37, along with Democratic Congressmen Floyd Flake and Ed Townes, could not deliver the black vote to Guliani in the recent mayoral election.

This great racial divide was perfectly symbolized by former Irish basketball great, Al Mcguire, who served as a commentator for the St. Patrick’s Day parade of 1997, standing on Fifth Avenue pouring praise upon the Mayor for doing such a great job running the city, while Gil Banks, whose snow white afro coif and flowing beard give him the look of an old testament prophet, was preparing to lead a group of unemployed black workers and tenants of the Wagner Houses in a demonstration against Vitaka Construction co.  Vitaka, who was doing sandblasting for the New York City Housing Authority, was in violation of Section 3 of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968, as amended 12 USC 1701u, which requires a contractor working in public housing to hire residents and other low-income people in the community.

It is one of many government regulations that are routinely violated by contractors.  Banks was acting in his capacity as a leader of Harlem Fight Back – the original coalition of black construction workers and the prototype of all minority coalitions – which is the polar opposite of the goon platoons who masquerade as legitimate organizations.  Both Assistant DA Osnowitz, and a spokesman for the Major Case Squad of the city’s Organized Crime Task Force, made it clear that not all minority coalitions are criminal organizations.  And Harlem Fight back, which is still mostly black but also admits other men of color and women of all colors, has always been on the up and up.

Banks, a former army engineer, along with founder Jim Haughton – a CityCollege and New YorkUniversity graduate about whom more will be said later – has conducted this type of direct action for over thirty years.  Banks argues that what distinguishes them from the extortionist is quite simple: “Jim and I got involved in this fight with contractors for moral reasons, some of these other guys got in it for money.”

In their protracted and principled struggle against the exclusion of African Americans from meaningful participation in the multi-billion dollar construction business, as workers or contractors, Banks and his colleagues are ignored by the media, spurned by city government and menaced by gangsters.

 The Supreme Court Drops the Ball

Clearly, no sector of the American economy cries out for serious intervention from the federal government, affirmative action if you will, more than the construction racket.  Hence the 5-4 Supreme Court decision in the case of Adarand Vs. Pena, in which the court struck down a Colorado affirmative action program designed to provide minority contractors an opportunity to compete in that state’s construction industry, is based on a false assumption: Such programs are not essential to insuring fairness and equity.

In spite of impressive dissenting opinions a bare majority of the Justices held that the Colorado law was unconstitutional, and they appear to be satisfied that state and federal laws already provide adequate remedies for economic discrimination against non-white minorities and women. 

Yet, even Justice O’Conner – who voted with the majority in Pena and had previously written the majority opinion invalidating the consent decree at issue in Richmond vs. J. A. Croson, ending a set-aside contract program designed to compensate for centuries of slavery and discrimination against African Americans in Virginia, added a caveat: “The unhappy persistence of both the practice and the lingering effects of racial discrimination against minority groups in this country is an unfortunate reality, and government is not disqualified from acting in response to it.”

Justice Ginsburg went further in upholding “Congress’ authority to act affirmatively, not only to end discrimination, but also to counteract discrimination’s lingering effects.  Those effects, reflective of a system of racial caste only recently ended, are evident in our workplaces, markets and neighborhoods.”  And to those who argue that affirmative action equals reverse discrimination as did Justices Scalia, and Thomas – Whom the former Yale Law Dean Vito Calabrisi said was admitted to the school only after they lowered the entrance requirements by 200 points – Justice Steven’s wrote “There is no moral equivalence between a policy that is designed to perpetuate a caste system and one that seeks to eradicate racial subordination.”

This highly contested decision by a bare majority of the Court has given the green light to public officials who are hostile toward the federal government’s efforts to mandate fairness in the marketplace, politicians like Rudy Guliani, who have moved to sabotage those efforts by destroying the public record which provides the evidence of institutionalized race and gender discrimination.

Mayor Guiliani

Rudy Giuliani

He destroyed the public record of race and gender discrimination

In fact, this was precisely the Mayor’s argument in defense of his decision to jettison the public record in an interview with reporter Randy Kennedy, published in the March 4, edition of the New York Times.  Guliani argued that all affirmative action programs were of “questionable legality ever since federal court decisions declared such practices unconstitutional,” and he declared, “I’ve done away with a lot of that race based analysis.”

While the Mayor prattles on about creating the conditions for minorities to “compete on the open market,” Rowan King, an African American heating and air conditioning contractor, said at an August meeting of struggling black contractors “Now they are excluding us legally.”  King estimates that black contractors have received “less than 1% of city contracts” since Guliani became Mayor.

Under the Dinkins Administration construction contracts awarded to firms owned by minorities and women reached 17.5%.  Far more than the brutal racist cops who assaulted Abner Louima in the 70th precinct, white male contractors in this city have good reason to shout, “It’s Guliani Time!”

It is difficult to understand how the five Judges who made up the majority in Adarand V. Pena could not foresee that this would be the real world result of their decision- particularly poor perjured Clarence, who grew up under the southern caste system and should possess the sixth sense about race matters that Dr. W.E.B. Dubois called “double consciousness” – especially when there is a mountain of evidence strongly suggesting that this would be the case.  Much of this evidence was accumulated right here in New York City, the largest construction market in the country.

First there was the harrowing testimony given to lawyers and law professors in a hearing sponsored by The Ad-Hoc Committee for Union Democracy, and then there were Congressional hearings, both of which were held in Brooklyn about ten years before the 1995 Adarand decision.  If those transcripts didn’t convince the Court, there remains the extensive data compiled from several hearings conducted by the New York City Human Rights Commission, the last of which was completed only two years before Adarand.

The Congressional hearings were conducted by the Sub-Committee on Transportation, then Chaired by Congresswoman Cadrice Collins of Chicago, with Brooklyn Congressman Major Owens, a committee member, serving as a catalyst for the investigation. The objective of the hearing was to investigate complaints by minority and female entrepreneurs who were trying to qualify for the $100 million in set-aside contracts provided under the Transportation Surface Assistance Act.

A concrete worker and aspiring sidewalk contractor at the time, I was an intensely interested observer at both hearings.  And I can testify to the fact that the Congressional Committee got an earful of frank talk about the racist /sexist subterfuge that kept the contractors from qualifying for the set-asides, which were designed to give companies like Pena an opportunity to compete.

Perhaps the most disturbing document presented to the committee was a letter which had been leaked by a black secretary at a major Construction Co., one of the giants of the industry, that instructed white general contractors how to go through the motions of seeking out black subcontractors as required by affirmative action guidelines, while simultaneously taking a variety of covert actions to insure that it never happens.  The secretary, who chose anonymity, claimed the letter had been distributed at a meeting of general – i.e. white male – contractors.

When I read the document I had no doubt of it’s veracity, because it explained the mysterious forces behind all the horror stories of racism and duplicity I heard from struggling black contractors on the street, some of whom came before the Committee.  Even a cursory investigation of the charges made by these contractors will quickly reveal the duplicity inherent in the arguments of those who rail against “results oriented” affirmative action, and expose all the talk about how disadvantaged white male contractors are as a result of set-aside contracts earmarked for African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and white women as much ado about nothing!

The main obstacles encountered by these small companies trying to break into Department of Transportation sponsored road and bridge work as subcontractors were: under capitalization, lack of experience, and inability to acquire a performance bond. These problems are still common to virtually all black contractors and they are interrelated, because if a subcontractor lacks experience it provides an excuse for the general contractor to demand a performance bond, which along with insurance costs, is financially prohibitive for companies with limited capital.

If a small start-up company manages to overcome these barriers, a hostile general contractor can easily force them out of business by holding up payments the subcontractor desperately needs to pay for labor and materials as the project proceeds, thus forcing them into default.

These factors are aggravated by institutionalized racism and thus insure that most black subcontractors will not succeed.  On the other hand, working through old boy networks or mob connections, many white male subs are guaranteed success because the general contractors waive the performance bond, advance them adequate capital to start the job, and pay them on a timely schedule as the job develops.  This is the real skinny on how deals are done in the construction racket!

It was well within the means of the Supreme Court to determine if the conditions described in the testimony before these various hearings still prevail.  Failure to do so borders on a dereliction of duty, for that is the factual foundation upon which a just verdict on affirmative action must rest.  Alas, the majority of the high Court Judges, their judgment calloused by ideology, were unpursuaded by the abundant evidence of organized resistance to racial inclusion in the construction industry, which under girded the arguments presented by the attorneys for Pena.

The Adarand decision represents the triumph of a “strict constructionist” majority on the court, which every Republican president since Nixon has promised to bring about.  These Jurist reject the progressive vision of the Constitution held by the late Justices Thurgood Marshall and William Brennen, who viewed the Constitution as a living document which must accommodate itself to the pressing realities of the times.

The wisdom of this approach is as self-evident as the fact that no 18th century theory of government, conceived in a slave society, can operate unaltered in the last decade of the Twentieth Century. Failure to understand this transparent fact is at the root of contemporary controversies ranging from affirmative action, to whether or not the second amendment sanctions the right of private militias to bear military arms.

During his speech before the Building Trades Council – a meeting I watched on C-Span, where the only black face I saw was his – Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater was prolific with pious platitudes about using the considerable economic power of his office, like the $175 billion construction program that his department will administer, to help disadvantaged minority groups help themselves.  But he failed to mention the implications of Adarand V. Pena, although the barriers to minority participation embodied in this decision will make it virtually impossible for the Secretary – who is African American – to carry out his promises.

Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater

Rudy III

A Toothless Tiger?

The difficulties for black contractors seeking to expand their share of government construction contracts after Adarand is suggested by the new affirmative action guidelines issued from the Clinton Administration in August.  In their attempt to “mend it but don’t end it,” the Administration is in the process of making affirmative action programs meaningless to African Americans by including everybody with a grievance.

And for foes of affirmative action, like Mayor Guliani, decisions such as Adarand and Croson have supplied the rationale they need to end it, which the Mayor has done with respect to city contracts.  There is a cruel irony in the Mayor’s choice, because New York City is one of the jurisdictions that could easily meet the “strict scrutiny” standard imposed by Croson and Adarand for establishing affirmative action programs.

Although the Mayor was quite incensed about the 10% discount that affirmative action programs provided minority and female contractors bidding on city contracts during the Dinkins Administration- a provision that allowed the city to award contracts to these companies even though their bids were 10% higher than companies owned by white males – he has said virtually nothing about barring construction companies and unions with Mafia ties from doing business with the city.  (Except in the case of the Javitz Center, which was instigated by Governor Pataki)  This attitude is difficult to explain since, having spent time as a federal prosecutor who specialized in mob investigations, Rudy has to know how influential La Cosa Nostra is in the construction racket.

Married to the Mob

Milicent Clarke, an Afro-American lawyer who recently quit the Federal Attorney’s office in Brooklyn, says that although mob connections are not always obvious in construction unions, her investigations led her to believe “they are all connected in some way.”  This is a chilling observation because many of the sub-contractors come up from the ranks of trade unionist.

To his credit Guliani has driven the mob out of the Fulton Fish Market and the San Genarro Festival, and he has them on the run in the private carting industry.  But the word on the street is that they continue to do as they damn well please in the construction racket.  This view is supported in a report by the CBS news magazine, “Sixty Minutes,” aired on 1/22/95, which revealed that three construction companies working on the new federal court house in down town Manhattan were identified as mob owned by the Federal Organized Crime Task Force!

There can be no doubt that when it comes to promoting unfair competition in construction, the mob is a far worst culprit than affirmative action programs ever were.  In fact, in areas where the mob has interest – especially concrete – they have literally wiped out the competition.  It is an open secret among people in the building business, from laborers to CEO’s of major firms, that the Mafia controls the concrete supply.  This holds true even on government projects where the sponsoring agency must accept the lowest bid.

I was provided a concrete example of the roadblocks facing a black man trying to break into sidewalk construction, when I sought to win a minority set-aside contract under the Transportation Surface Assistance Act.  Before I could even prepare a bid an affirmative action officer in the State Department Of Transportation discouraged me.

The officer appeared to be well meaning when he pulled my coat at a DOT orientation meeting in the World Trade Center.  To my surprise, he confidentially told me that unless I had worked out a deal for concrete, I would never succeed because I wouldn’t be able to find the kind of reliable supply that would enable me to complete projects on time.  And he strongly hinted that if one does not have mob contacts the chances of finding a dependable source of concrete were slim and none.  He suggested that I try bridge painting, a trade in which I had no expertise and the cost of performance bonds and insurance is enough to knock a small start-up company out before they ever really get in the game.

After pestering a tight lipped Assistant District Attorney who investigates organized crime and labor in this city, trying to find out if the mob’s role in the concrete business had changed over the last ten years, he finally said that although he would never discuss ongoing investigations, if I really wanted to understand how the mob influences the construction industry I should read Sammy Gravano’s book.  It proved to be a valuable recommendation because this book is a treasure trove of information about mob activities in labor unions and the construction industry at large.  It connects the dots, completing pictures that were only hazy outlines before.

Homocidal Stool Pidgeon Sammy the Bull

Sammy the Bull

Sammy put the Mob’s Business in the Street

Among the compelling revelations of Sammy The Bull, is his description of the Concrete Club.  “Certain concrete pouring contractors were allowed to be part of what was called the ‘Concrete Club.’ says Gravano.  “Each of the families controlled one or more of these companies.  It was the only way they could avoid sudden union problems or cutoffs in concrete deliveries.”  The way the mob controlled who got which contracts to pour concrete was by dictating which companies would be allowed to bid and at what price.  Obviously this scheme would work even on government jobs because they could control the low bid.

Naturally, this monopoly over a building material of such fundamental importance meant the price became inflated.  “If one of them gets a contract for, say, thirteen million, the next thing you know, after he knows he got it, he jacks up the whole thing before it’s over to a sixteen or seventeen million dollar job.” says Sammy.  As a result of this criminal manipulation of the market, the cost of concrete in Manhattan rose to $85 per cubic yard, which was the highest in the nation.  Although there is no way to know for sure, I suspect there is but slight exaggeration when Gravano claims, “It’s not one job, two jobs.  It’s everything in the city.  Every major project in the city of New York controlled by us.  And the prices keep getting inflated.”

While the mob has a lock on concrete, they are also well represented in other areas of the business.  Gravano tells us that when he decided to get in the plumbing and drywall business, Big Paul Castellano – who was the Godfather of the Gambino family in which Sammy was a solider until John Gotti had him whacked and took over – told him “You need entree into the unions, the contractors, anybody, you let me know.  We own them all.  I’ll help you.”  “And he did,” says Gravano, who became a big drywall contractor, forming a partnership with Joe Madonia, a businessman outside of the Mafia who owned Ace Partitions.  They operated on subcontracts from Louie DiBono, a made member of the Gambino family and one of the biggest drywall contractors in the city.

Although these were mostly non-union jobs where they were “lumping the rock” – the practice of paying carpenters based on how many boards of sheet rock they can hang per day, a kind of piece work which is prohibited by union rules and a major source of prevailing wage violations – they still had to pay off union officials because they were employing as many as 200 carpenters at a time. “In the building trades, the key to nonunion labor was Costra Nostra control of union shop stewards, “says Gravano, “many of whom were made members or had put sons or relatives in as stewards.”

I can attest to Gravano’s claims regarding mob success at corrupting the union steward system, which enabled them to beat the workers out of fair wages and benefits, because I witnessed it first hand.  In the mid eighties when I was a member of District Council 9 – Painters, Plasterers and Allied Trades – there was constant talk of mob influence in union affairs.

Now I know that those suspicions were justified because Gravano has identified DC-9 as a fiefdom of the Luccese crime family.  Having observed numerous infractions of union rules on the work floor, I decided to become a steward so that I could defend our rights as workers.  After completing a training course required by the office of Occupational Health and Safety, I was poised to do battle with any boss who failed to live up to the letter of the contract.

But before I could charge out and save the day, my Business Agent, Sonny Kasiniak, a charming cherubic Polish American fellow who appointed the stewards from Local 18, pulled me aside and cut a little jig while whispering this bit of advice: “If you wanna succeed as a steward in this union Benjamin, you gotta learn to dance the way the music plays.”

Not long after I dropped out of the construction racket to pursue the writing game full time at the end of the decade, I heard that the Local President was gunned down gangland style.  The value to contractors of being able to sidestep union contracts is spelled out by Gravano.  He claims, “On average, a subcontractor using union labor might expect a profit margin of 15 percent. With nonunion workers, the profit was 30 percent or more.”  While The Bull is no longer in the construction racket, the practices he describes are flourishing.  For evidence of this claim, one need look no further than the construction project the Brooklyn DA busted up at Kings County Hospital last year.

On April 23, 1997 the Brooklyn DA’s office issued a 328-count indictment against Ahmet Erdogan, Everton Millin and Kachikwulu Nwosu, for fraud, perjury, grand larceny, and violating the New York state prevailing wage law.  Erdogan is the CEO of ESNA International Contractors, a construction company based in the Bath beach section of Brooklyn, while Nwosu and Millin are the principal owners of Enviro Contracting Corporation and E. G. M. Industrial Contracting Inc., the Bronx subcontractors who conspired with ESNA to defraud workers of their legally mandated wages and benefits.

According to the indictment these contractors were defrauding the workers of between $1,000 and $1200 a week.  The bid called for wages and benefits that averaged $1500 a week for carpenters hanging dry wall, but the contractors were paying between $300 and $500 a week with no benefits!

Usually prevailing wage violations are discovered when some outraged worker gets up the gumption to file charges with the Wage and Hour division of the Department of Labor, or report it to the DA’s office.  But, based on statements made to the press, the workers on the King’s County job didn’t even know that they were being robbed.  Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hines’ office became aware of the scam going down at Kings County by accident.

According to Brooklyn Assistant D.A., Dennis Hawkins, who heads the Labor Crimes and Racketeering Units, they were listening to a wire tap trying to bust an illegal gambling operation and heard the contractors joking about how they were fleecing the workers by underpaying them and pocketing the difference.  “Violations of prevailing wage and benefits laws are widespread throughout the city, but DA Hines is seriously committed to punishing the offenders in KingsCounty because they are ripping off the taxpayers as well as the workers,” says Hawkins.

Too bad Hines’s vigilance has not been duplicated by District Attorneys in other boroughs, especially in the Bronx and Queens, because lumping the rock is the dominant practice outside Manhattan.  According to Gil Banks, Harlem Fight Back constantly receives complaints about prevailing wage violations.  “It’s everywhere,” says Banks, “especially on jobs with contractors doing work for giant city agencies like Housing Preservation and Development and the School Construction Authority.  Twenty years ago a carpenter averaged about thirty boards a day, but now contractors who are lumping demand 60 to 80 boards a day.  Painting and tile contractors have speeded up production and are paying substandard wages too.”

The situation is so bad that most black and Hispanic workers I interviewed – who are most often forced to take this kind of nonunion work because of discrimination in their unions – believe that the do-nothing posture of government agencies charged with enforcing prevailing wage laws mean that they are either indifferent to their plight or are in collusion with corrupt contractors to defraud them.

“Maybe it looks that way from their perspective,” says Jack Kelly, the Assistant District Director of the New York office of the US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, “but the problem is that this is a city with a few million workers and several hundred thousand employers, and I only have ten investigators on a good day.  Furthermore, we don’t just investigate the construction industry; we also enforce the garment industry stuff, the Cathy Lee stuff.  We don’t just deal with prevailing wage issues either; we enforce ninety different laws.”

What all of this adds up to in terms of getting a final adjudication of one’s case according to Kelly is, ”If the charge is something that we can handle administratively a settlement can be reached in a few months.  But if the contractor denies that he is guilty of the charge, forcing us to go to court to resolve the matter, it could take years before the case is settled.”  The trouble is that for the injured parties the snails pace of the proceedings calls to mind the old adage “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”  After all, one can go from riches to rags in all that time.

Larry Hartstien, an Inspector with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, dose not offer a reason for optimism either.  “We don’t have the manpower to police all the contracts with the MTA,” says Hartstien, “there are thousands of contracts let every year.  But if something comes to our attention that seems wrong we will certainly take a look at it. When we receive a complaint the first thing we do is to see if we have jurisdiction, it could get deferred out to the state or federal Departments of Labor, it depends on the type of contract that’s involved.”

But Hartstien assured me that his agency was beyond the machinations of local politicians because “We are an independent watchdog agency who report straight to the Governor and the legislature.”  The latter comment never failed to elicit hearty laughter when I repeated it to people who monitor the construction industry.

Ultimately the city government must bear responsibility for the various abuses of workers discussed here, because city regulations allow agencies to do business with non-union contractors.  By law, these contractors are required to maintain safe working conditions and pay prevailing wages and benefits.

When bids estimating the cost of doing a job are submitted to government agencies that sponsor construction projects, the wage and benefit package must be included.  But, as Assistant DA Hawkins discovered, many contractors seek to evade actually fulfilling this mandate because they can inflate their profits by pocketing the difference.  The city government does little to enforce these laws and many interested observers believe this is because most of the exploited workers are black or Hispanic.

The comptroller’s office has ultimate responsibility for policing prevailing wage laws because they have the payroll information, which contractors are required by law to submit.  But while Alan Hevisi, the New York City Comptroller, has demonstrated a willingness to enforce the law when construction workers file complaints with proof of violations, he dose not have the resources to conduct independent investigations of all the construction projects in this city.

Hevisi’s problem is made more difficult due to the fact that most workers who are victims of prevailing wage violations either do not understand the law, or don’t believe anything will be done about it, or are too glad to be working to risk rocking the boat.  The contractors know this and it emboldens the crooks, who are making mischief everywhere.

Finally, the national leadership of the Carpenters had had enough of the manipulations of the criminal element and decided to exorcise the Costra Nostra demons that plagued their union.  On June 26, 1996 Douglas J. McCarron, the General President of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, sacked the powerful president of the New York District Council, Frederick W. Divine, because of Divine’s corrupt administrative practices and his alleged ties to organized crime.

Accompanied by twelve well armed private security men, McCarron changed the locks on the doors of Devine’s posh offices at 395 Hudson Street while the local boss was out of town, seized all records of union activity, then notified Devine that he and his top aids were fired. This was the kind of courageous move that is too seldom seen in big time construction unions.

The events that led to this action provide a good look at the corruption and criminality that infects the building trades. After reading the testimony of witnesses for the prosecution in civil and criminal cases who accused Devine of connections to the Gambino and Genovese families – Gravano also refers to “the Genovese family, who control the carpenters” – McCarron, who had only been elected to the union presidency seven months earlier, concluded that Devine was engaging in activities which were “detrimental to the welfare and interest of the membership.”

Among Devine’s activities which McCarron considered “detrimental” to union members was: secretly raising his salary to $360,791 a year, spending $100 million on a new headquarters building, assigning reputed Genovese crime boss Liborio Bellomo’s brother-in-law Anthony Fiorino to dispense jobs at the Javitz Center, so that a year after Governor Pataki ordered the purge of gangster elements at the Center mob flunkies continued to get jobs worth a million dollars a year while 40% 0f the union membership was unemployed.

But even after McCarron’s courageous actions the New York Post reported in its July 5, 1996 edition that “More than half the workers on a list of mob linked carpenters ousted in the Javitz Center cleanup are still getting plenty of work.”  The records examined by the Post showed that the difference in earnings between mob connected workers and honest union members averaged $8,000 between November of 1995 and April of 1996.  And for Vinny Gigante, the nephew of recently convicted mob kingpin Vincent “The Chin” Gigante, Michael Monaco, a reputed associate of the Genovese mob, and two others, the difference in wages was $18,000.

Furthermore, according to Douglas Banes, the national Vice President of the carpenters union, Devine’s extravagances – which included doling out $60,000 a year to a girlfriend for a no show job and $105,000 to his son to serve as a special assistant – nearly bankrupted the local.  Under Devine’s leadership the local’s treasury went from $6.45 million to $224,000, and the health and benefit fund lost $22 million.  On top of all this the United States Department of Labor is suing the local for diverting $37 million in benefit funds to pay union bills.

It is instructive that it was officials of the national union, with the assistance of armed private security men, who removed Devine and his cronies from power.  The armed security men then stood guard while those officials attempted to reorganize the local.  I was reminded of the fate of the late Teamster boss, Jimmy Hoffa, as I stood outside the “members only” meeting held a few days after Devine’s removal at the Sheraton New York & Towers, which was patrolled by a platoon of gun totin guards and bomb sniffing dogs.  These people had no illusions about whom they were dealing with!  Many observers, this writer included, thought it should have been the law enforcement agencies performing the task of protecting the union officials and Devine should have been in jail.

In October 1996, Devine was finally indicted by a grand jury sitting in Manhattan on eight counts of grand larceny and may finally be put away.  But even these indictments are no guarantee that justice will be done.  Devine’s predecessor was tried on federal bribery charges and beat the case.  And an earlier Council president, Teddy Maritas, simply disappeared while on trial for collaborating with the mob to control the dry wall industry in New York City.

When we examine the cast of murderous characters who controlled the drywall industry on behalf of the Gambino family, it is no surprise that Maritis vanished without a trace.  They had plenty of practice at it.  Gravano cites several tough guys who exhausted their usefulness to the mob and was taken out. In a union with this kind of persistent corruption at the top it should come as no surprise that African Americans, other nonwhites and women – regardless of race – have been unable to get a fair break in the carpenter’s trade.

While there is no telling what percentage of construction unions are secretly in bed with the mob, virtually all the workers I talked to believe, like ex- federal attorney Millicent Clarke, that most New York locals are undercover lovers with La Costra Nostra.  And according to “The Bull” they are right.  Interestingly enough the sins of Devine, as catalogued in public statements issued by the national union leadership, does not include any condemnations of racial and gender bias.  Ironically, as Harlem Fight Back’s Jim Haughton has pointed out, “When whites in the construction industry decided to ignore the laws prohibiting race and gender discrimination they opened the door for other types of criminal activity.”

It is no wonder that the carpenter’s union resisted requests to provide the New York Human Rights Commission with figures showing the racial and gender breakdown of its journeyman work force.  And it is no surprise that, like black iron workers and sheet metal men, Afro-American and Latino master carpenters are still struggling to get work even after earning their union books.  The horror stories are endless.

           Mayor Dinkins Orders an Investigation

Dave dinkins

And Exposed Pervasive Racial Discrimination

The long struggle to integrate the building trades has resulted in numerous Federal Court orders mandating that the unions diversify their membership.  Among the unions who are presently under court orders are: Locals14 &15 of the Operating Engineers, Local 580 of the Ornamental Iron workers, Local 28 of the Sheet Metal workers, Local I of the Elevator constructors, Local 638 of the Steamfitters, Local 40, of the Structural Iron Workers, Local 46 of the Wire Latherers, et. al.  And, like the carpenters, most of these unions also refused to cooperate with the Human Rights Commission’s investigation.

David Raff, a private lawyer, was appointed a “Special Master” by the Federal Court and empowered to monitor three of these unions to insure that they carry out the court’s orders.  Raff, who presently devotes 40% of his law practice to his Special Master’s duties, has gained a unique perspective on the issue of racial exclusion in the trade unions.

Like DA Oznowitz, Raff has been afforded an opportunity to view the consequences of racism in the construction business from a vantage point rarely seen by upper middle class white males.  And what he has discovered profoundly troubles him.  “Based upon my analysis of the State Department of Labor’s statistics, in all of the unions who were under court order, except for those who have a Special Master like myself, the numbers of minorities have actually dropped since the original order due to lack of enforcement,” says Raff.

One reason why these racist practices persist, in spite of many other reforms in big labor, is because they have deep historical roots.  When many construction unions were originally formed – often as craft guilds which later became the American Federation of Labor – most had a clause restricting membership to ‘sober industrious white men.”

Thus virtually all the unions in the building trades have functioned like the infamous “jobs reserve system” in South Africa under apartheid, which legally excluded people of color from participation in the highly paid skilled trades.  Although this kind of blatant racial discrimination is now illegal in the USA, it is pretty much the standard practice in the building trades in New York City, while the Mayor chats mumbo jumbo and looks the other way.

The New York City Human Rights Commission has documented the persistence of these exclusionary policies well in a series of investigations over the years.  The Commission first issued reports on the discriminatory practices in the construction industry back in 1963 and 1967. The last report was issued on December 20, 1993, thirty years after the initial report. “Building Barriers: Discrimination In New York City’s Construction Trades,” is an extensive study which document many of the same violations that originally brought the construction industry under the Commission’s scrutiny.

Since the racism and corruption catalogued in “Building Barriers” largely occurred during the twelve years in which the colorful and pugnacious Edward I. Kotch was Mayor of New York, the ex-Mayor’s vociferous claims that he is opposed to discrimination based on race and gender presents us with an enigma, especially since he is an impassioned opponent of affirmative action to remedy this grievous situation.  However the present Mayor’s response to the report was predictable; he dismissed this massive study as political propaganda designed to embarrass the Koch administration.

It was reminiscent of his response to the famous Mollen Commission report on police corruption. Speaking before a crowd of riotous cops in front of City Hall, candidate Guliani called the report “bullshit!”  Many New Yorkers, this writer included, believe that it is this attitude on the part of the Mayor that is responsible for the crisis in police community relations that emboldened the racist cops who committed the atrocity against Abner Louima.

In their summary statement addressed to Mayor Dinkins, who ordered the investigation, the Human Rights Commission called the multi-billion dollar construction business “a critical area of human rights abuse in New York City…The construction industry offers a textbook study of the pattern, practice and impact of institutionalized exclusion.  It is a story of the failure of business, union and political leadership to insure equal opportunity in an industry that could provide meaningful career and financial opportunities for many disadvantaged New Yorkers.”

The construction industry – which employs around 100,000 workers and generates billions of dollars annually – is an excellent barometer for gauging the effectiveness of anti-discrimination laws because new jobs are starting up all the time.  And while construction unions guarantee wages, benefits and working conditions there is no seniority on most jobs.

Hence with each new project all workers start out on an equal footing in terms of eligibility for employment; they are distinguished only by their skills ratings as a journeyman or an apprentice.  However the level of skill a construction worker can acquire is determined by access to union sponsored apprenticeship programs, which are notorious for their ethnic nepotism and exclusion of women, African Americans and other men of color.

In view of their racist and sexist practices it is no wonder that both contractors and unions resisted testifying before the Human Rights Commission.  And the contractors were even more tight lipped than the unions.  It got so bad the Commissioners felt compelled to apologize for “the lack of hard information provided by contractors in each of the trades.”  Despite issuing invitations to 20 major contractors to submit information on their hiring practices, “only a handful testified or submitted written data.”  Although some unions responded to the invitation to testify, the report states that the main reason why the hearings took two and a half years to complete was because “Many of the unions invited to testify would not come forward until subpoenaed.  Several refused to comply with subpoenas issued in the summer of 1990, leading to a state Supreme Court decision and Appellate Court decision in favor of the commission in 1992.”

A representative sample of the numbers on apprentices and journeymen submitted by the unions tell the story of race and gender discrimination in dramatic fashion.  Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, had around 2,100 apprentices.  Of these 349 were minorities (male and female) and 37 were white females, which totals about 18.4%.

This equaled the percentage of minority men and females of all races among the journeyman in the union, which was 18.2%.  Of approximately 8,340 journeymen 1,465 were minority males and 55 were females of all races.  Of 267 apprentices in the Tile and Carpet Layer trade 204 were white males, 60 (22.5%) people of color and 3 (1.1%) females.

As the Commission noted, in a city with a minority population approaching 50%, these figures connote a widespread pattern of discrimination in the construction industry.  And when white women are added to the mix, the over representation of white males in this well paid work force is a scandal.  And, we must remember, these figures only tell us how many non-whites and women hold union books, they don’t tell us how many of them are actually working.

According to longtime industry watchers like Jim Haughton, the situation has not improved since the report was released in December 1993.  “Racism in the construction business is the worst I’ve seen it since I started monitoring the industry 32 years ago,” says Haughton.

The Illusive Search for a Remedy to Institutional Racism

 The case of local 28, of the Sheet Metal Workers, provides a compelling example of the tenacity of institutionalized racism in the building trades, since even the intervention of government agencies and the courts have not been able to completely eradicate their long standing practices of racial exclusion.  As far back as 1948 the New York State Division of Human Rights ordered the union to remove the restrictive language “Caucasians Only” from its bylaws stipulating who could seek membership.  Yet despite deleting the language, racial discrimination remained the practice.

It took a formal complaint by a black Air Force veteran in 1963, fifteen years later, to spark a City Human Rights Commission investigation resulting in a report to Mayor Wagner, which found that of 3,300 journeyman and apprentices in local 28, none were black!  These developments led to the 1964 ruling from the State Human Rights division ordering the union to end their policy of excluding Afro-Americans.

Blatant discrimination in the sheet metal trade continued on such a scale that by 1971 the United States Department of Justice intervened, filing a suit in federal court charging local 28 with violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  New York City and State governments joined the suit and in 1975 the United States District Court found that local 28 was guilty of discriminating against black workers.

As a remedy Judge Robert L. Carter – who as a young lawyer was part of the team headed by Thurgood Marshall that won the landmark Brown vs. the Board of Education case before the Supreme Court, ending legal segregation in the US – ordered the union to set a quota of 29% minority membership by July 1, 1981.

However, the resistance of union leaders was such that they failed to meet this quota by a wide margin. The City and State requested an order of contempt based on the union’s failure to comply with the court ordered affirmative action plan and the union was found guilty.  Local 28 was fined $150,000 and ordered to establish an Employment, Training, Education and Recruitment Plan.

The union continued to appeal the court’s affirmative action plan however, and in 1986 the case reached the Supreme Court, which upheld the lower courts 29% quota by a 5-4 decision.  It is instructive that the Reagan Republican Justice Department –in which Rudolph Guliani was a prominent member – opposed the court’s order as unfair to whites, although they could offer no remedy for the union’s long history of excluding Afro-Americans and other workers of color.  This was a drastic departure from Republican policy under the Nixon Administration.

The Reagan administration’s hostility to these mandates is typical of those, regardless of party affiliation, who so vigorously oppose affirmative action while offering no effective alternative.  Ed Koch, a life long Democrat who was Mayor of New York from 1978 to 1990, a period when the debate over affirmative action was raging, is an excellent case-in-point.  While insisting that he is no racist and stands for racial justice, he is a bitter foe of affirmative action remedies because he says they “discriminate against poor white males.”

Instead Koch would substitute these effective strategies for vague programs based on economic status that does not privilege sex and race.  The result of this approach is that race and gender discrimination was rife in the construction industry when he was Mayor.  I witnessed it first hand, but the facts contained in “Building Barriers” are a far more powerful indictment than my personal anecdotes.

Hence I will suffice it to say that we “colored guys” were always the last hired and the first fired; women were treated with open hostility by the “poor white males” who acted as if their turf was being invaded by alien creatures, and I have yet to find a black contractor who got a set-aside contract that amounted to more than chump change.  Even now, almost a decade later, the percentage of work – in the private or public sector – which goes to black contractors, is statistically insignificant.  In spite of all the blarney about set-aside contracts!

While it was during the Johnson administration that “goals and timetables” first appeared in the language of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance’s affirmative action directives to federal contractors, the Nixon Labor Department made them specific. In 1969, the Labor Department investigated complaints of racial exclusion in the building trades in Philadelphia, and created the “Philadelphia Plan” as a remedy.  After it was determined that racism in the unions was responsible for the absence of black workers on construction sites, contractors were given the responsibility for correcting the situation.

The plan mandated for instance, that 5-9% of ironworkers on all federal construction jobs in Philadelphia be non-white or female by 1970, and 22-26% by 1973.  Nixon’s Secretary of Labor, George Shultz, said “I had…broken, with a sledge-hammer called the Philadelphia Plan, the quota system (zero) in the skilled construction trades.”  Shultz was anything but a wild eyed liberal, yet he was offended by the blatant apartheid he found in the building trades.

If the Philadelphia Plan had been extended to all American cities, and its provisions rigorously enforced, we would not have many of the problems of racism and sexism, which plague the industry today.  And if the Philadelphia Plan were complemented by court orders to integrate the unions, like those imposed by Judge Carter on Local 28, we would now have something approaching equity.

This kind of affirmative action is critical just now because, according to former Federal Attorney Millicent Clarke, the federal prosecutor’s office is restrained from investigating discrimination in construction by jurisdictional fiat. “I had been told by Jim Haughton, and other people I know who work in construction, that racial discrimination was epidemic in the business,” says Ms. Clarke, “so I started observing construction sites and I saw what they were talking about.”

What Clarke discovered was “a massive case of discrimination.  We attempted to do something about it,” she says. “I’ve been investigating this matter for quite a while now, and we were attempting to bring an action.  However, when we researched the law very carefully we found that the jurisdiction was solely in the hands of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and that we didn’t have the authority to bring the action the way we wanted to bring it.  And the EEOC has basically done nothing!  Congress has given the authority to the EEOC and they are not doing their job.  We cannot go in their stead into the courtroom.”

While the EEOC is restricted to civil cases the federal prosecutors are not, and Ms. Clark said they were launching a criminal investigation.  While she would say nothing about that investigation, she did say, “It won’t bring the remedy you want in terms of racial discrimination, which is a civil matter.”

But, like the state and federal agencies that monitor prevailing wage laws, the EEOC also cries poor mouth and claims it does not have the resources to take on a massive industry like the construction business.  Spencer H. Lewis, the Director of the New York area office of the EEOC and a lawyer who litigated the Local 28 case, says in response to the charge that they are not doing their job: “We have been involved in existing craft union lawsuits since 1976, and we are still involved in litigation in the construction industry.  For us to do significantly more we would need substantially more resources given the fact that we have five statutes to enforce.”

Aside from racial matters the EEOC is charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws relating to age, equal pay, disabilities, and the Rehabilitation Act.  Furthermore, the New York area office covers all of New York State, the five New England States, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

To carry out its mission of enforcing the five statutes under it’s mandate in this vast region, the EEOC has a grand total of 31 investigators: 16 in the Metropolitan area, five in Buffalo and 10 in Boston.  The legal staff of 13 trial lawyers is based in New York City, but they are required to litigate cases in all parts of the region!  Given the size of their jurisdiction, it is all too obvious that they are pitifully under staffed.

The fact that a single major construction company can hire a law firm with hundreds of lawyers, suggests that the civil rights of the protected class’ is not a high priority item for the Congressmen who appropriate the funds which enable the EEOC to carry out its mandate.  Hence, when it comes to enforcing Title VII protections against racial discrimination in the construction racket, the EEOC’s efforts range between farce and tragedy – in spite of the dedication of the director and his overworked staff.

This lax enforcement policy, along with the continuing indifference of Mayor Guliani and other elected officials to racism and sexism in the building trades, is the main reason why after all the struggles by black and Hispanic workers, male and female, discrimination persists and is still growing in unions like local 28.  Scott Green, a black veteran of the Strategic Air Command who has been a member of local 28 for 32 years, knows first hand how hard it is to eradicate racist practices in construction unions.

“No matter what the courts do,” says Green, “the guys who run this union always find a way to get around putting you to work if you’re black.  See, the court can order the union to admit more black members but they don’t monitor the situation to see if the business agent sends us out on jobs.  I have had to stage sit-ins in the agent’s office in order to get work.”  Green says he has resigned himself to being out of work several month’s a year.

I saw him a few days after Labor Day, and Green told me he had gone to the parade and met black workers in many different building trades “and they all said that racism in the industry is the worst they have ever seen.  These white boys seem to feel like they can do anything they want!”  I have heard similar comments followed by detailed horror stories from asbestos workers, iron workers, carpenters, wire latherers, plumbers et, al.

Many labor lawyers and federal attorneys concerned with enforcing Title VII, believe that the best way to solve this problem of enforced idleness of black workers is to change the law so that union officials can be held personally culpable when unions are found guilty of engaging in discriminatory practices.  The idea here is that the mere possibility of personal liability will act as a deterrent.  And preventing discrimination is obviously a more effective solution than litigation, because as EEOC Director Spencer Lewis points out “We’ve been in court for 21 years trying to settle the Local 28 case.”  But, as attorney Millicent Clarke explains, “Changing the law is up to the politicians.”

The upshot of all this is that African Americans are locked out of any meaningful participation in the multi-billion dollar construction business, the only major American industry where workers without a high school diploma routinely make from fifty to one hundred thousand dollars a year.  And the burden of proof falls squarely upon the shoulders of those who argue that this systematic exclusion can be remedied without an affirmative action program based on race and gender equity, with firm numerical goals and timetables.

The best evidence that the Republican ideologues who are the most vociferous opponents of affirmative action programs are not serious about solving the problem of racial and gender exclusion, is their disparagement of numerical goals and timetables, since most of them are businessmen who would never consider embarking on any venture without such quantitative measures of progress.


However, in spite of Ms. Clarke’s observation that the ultimate solution to the problem of Institutionalized racism in the Construction industry and elsewhere lies with the politicians who make the laws, Jim Haughton’s encounter with the black political establishment and his experience with politics has left him cynical about the usefulness of both.

“I don’t regret the political struggles we engaged in,” says Haughton, “but I know now that most politicians are bought and paid for so they ain’t gonna do shit!  But I will not belittle or discourage anyone else from seeking solutions in politics; who knows what can happen.  And anyway, it beats just sittin around on your ass complaining about all the things that are wrong.”

“I know one thing for sure, the last thing the black political leadership in this town is concerned with is the plight of struggling construction workers.  They are too beholden to white philanthropy to take the kind militant stand the situation requires.  Given the desperate condition of Harlem and other black communities in this city these people should be out organizing mass demonstrations.  But what are they doing?  Nothing!  They’re all blow and no go!”  Haughton views the endorsement of Guliani by Congressmen Floyd Flake and Ed Towns as further evidence that the allegiance of black politicians is dictated by expedience.

A talk with Charles Rangel, the Congressman who represents Harlem, revealed that although he has brought “millions” of construction dollars into this city he is as much in the dark about what’s going down in the construction racket as most other New Yorkers.  He too was puzzled by the fact that “When you look at these construction projects you don’t see blacks on the job,” and that contractors seem to prefer “green card people” to African Americans. Rangel did show an interest in the issue however.  He even offered to personally present this article to John Conyers, the black Congressman from Detroit who is the ranking Democrat on the judicial committee, in the hope that it could serve as a catalyst for congressional hearings into the construction racket.

It is an event I would welcome, because perhaps they could compile the kind of data that would pave the way for the type of legislation civil rights lawyers say would make their job easier.  Haughton was unimpressed.  He is convinced that the only effective route to change lies in massive grass roots demonstrations and litigation in the courts.

He has already filed a suit against Local 46 of the Metallic Iron Workers, but Haughton has bigger fish to fry.  He is scouting around for a law firm willing to handle a $50 billion suit against the entire New York construction industry, as well as the government agencies who should have monitored the behavior of contractors and insured that they followed the law.

Haughton negotiated with the Center for Constitutional Rights about taking the case, but while they believe the case has merit the Center does not have the resources to take on a case of this magnitude.  This is the kind of class action suit the EEOC should be undertaking.  But as we have shown, due to congress’s failure to adequately fund the agency they don’t have the resources to fight this case either.  “This would be such an easy case to prove, we can supply all kinds of evidence and produce thousands of people who are willing to testify, says Haughton.”

As a result of sending workers on job sites all over the city, and working with small contractors trying to win city contracts, Fight Back has collected evidence on city agencies who have repeatedly employed contractors that violate the prevailing wage requirements of state laws and the federal Davis-Bacon Act, as well as civil rights laws prohibiting racial and sexual discrimination.  Their list includes: Housing Preservation and Development, Port Authority, Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Department of highways.  It is this kind of data, amassed over three decades, that Haughton is using as the basis for his suit.

The $50 billion figure is based on what Haughton’s economic analysis team estimates black New Yorkers have lost because they were denied an equal opportunity to participate in the building industry.  And this includes all classes of Afro-Americans: workers, contractors, and architects.  This could be a precedent setting case because the evidence demonstrates that race matters more than character or credentials in the construction industry, and that in its most fundamental sense the problem black Americans face is caste rather than class.  This nullifies the increasingly popular thesis – vociferously argued by Koch, Guliani, Pete Wilson, et al – that affirmative action programs should be based on class rather than race.

 The Shameful Situation of Black Architects

Nothing demonstrates the caste over class thesis more clearly than the plight of black architects.  The major shortcoming of the NYCHRC report is that it dose not address the plight of Afro-American professionals and entrepreneurs such as architects and contractors, who also suffer serious discrimination.  Some of the most grievous stories we heard in the course of conducting interviews on the construction business came from highly trained black architects.

The tales they tell leave no doubt that race matters more than merit in the marketplace, but not in the way that critics of affirmative action would have us believe. (That being black affords one a special advantage)  The architects had only cynical laughter for those who argue that race is a marginal consideration in today’s economy.

“Every time I hear the argument that America is a meritocracy I can barely contain my rage,” says writer/editor Jean Bond, as we stood engaging in a tête-à-tête in the ancient cobblestone courtyard of the Sorbonne in Paris.  “Race has always been more important than competence or talent in America.”  Having witnessed her father, a heart surgeon, her uncle, a graduate of Amherst College and Harvard Law School, and her son, who holds an undergraduate degree from Yale and a Masters in engineering from Pratt Institute, all struggle against racial discrimination in their professions, the lady knows what she’s talking about.

The most striking case however is that of her husband of over thirty years, the architect J. Max Bond – himself a member of a great American family which includes his cousin Julian Bond – whom she had accompanied to Paris for the annual convention of the American Society of Architects.   One of the most brilliant Americans of his generation, Bond graduated from Harvard with an architecture degree at 19 years old!

He took a Masters in architecture from the Harvard school of design at 21.  He then won a Fulbright fellowship to study at the Institute Des Beaux Arts in Paris – the Alma Mater of Richard Morris Hunt, designer of the famous Whitmore/Peabody mansion and the Vanderbilt Marble House in NewportRI.  After completing his studies, Bond worked with a large Parisian firm associated with the great French architect Le Courbousier, one of the fathers of modern architecture.  Before returning home in 1960, he sent out resumes to all the major New York architecture firms seeking employment and they enthusiastically replied, each hoping they would be the one to bag this star catch.  But that was before they discovered he was black!

The persistence of racial discrimination is a major theme in American history, thus amazingly similar experiences of rejection can be found in the life stories of Afro-Americans from one generation to another.  Hence Dr. W.E.B. Dubois’s experience of earning a Harvard PhD, going on to complete the requirements for the even more prestigious Doctor of Economics at the University of Berlin, then returning to America in 1898 – “educated within an inch of my life”- only to be rejected from one job application to the next, foreshadows the experience of Max Bond three generations later.

“I had all of these interviews scheduled,” says Bond,” but when I showed up they would start apologizing and say ‘There must be some mistake because we’re not hiring.’  The standard line was ‘We don’t know how this happened because we don’t have any work right now.’  Some of them said they didn’t have any work because they were moving.  Now, these were the biggest firms in the business, so I knew what they were telling me was nonsense.  Plus I had the letters of appointment they sent me!  It was obvious that it was the race thing because my credentials were excellent.  I was young and optimistic, so the whole ordeal made me feel pretty terrible.”

Among the firms who suddenly got amnesia or ran out of work were: I. M. Pei – whose founder was a fellow Harvard man – Marcel Brauer (who is now defunct) Skidmore, Owens and Merril, et al.  “Some of these firms did have a token black architect or two but they were never in design roles,” says bond, “they were confined to production work, drafting working drawings of white architect’s designs.

There is still a class system among architects in most companies: The production people who do the drawings from which buildings are built and the designers who create the art.  And it breaks down along racial lines because very few blacks are considered the equal of whites as designers, so we don’t get the opportunities to design.  With very few exceptions this is true no matter what our training or talent; we’re just not accepted in that league.”

After his ordeal with the leading firms Bond says “I begin to check out the smaller companies,” and he eventually landed a job with a firm who specialized in public projects.  Although his race prevented him from working on a lot of choice projects which would have challenged his skill and imagination, Bond is quick to point out that he has had a rich and fulfilling career in spite of the institutionalized racism which continues to pervade his profession. He was a part of the brigade of Afro-American professionals who went off to West Africa in order to help the newly independent nation of Ghana survive.  During his stay Bond designed some of the country’s public buildings and taught at the National Institute of Science and Technology.

For years he managed duel careers as a practicing architect and partner in the firm of Bond-Ryder, while serving as a tenured professor of Architecture at ColumbiaUniversity, where he was Chairman of the department for four years.  Bond left Columbia after sixteen years of service in order to become Dean of the School of Architecture at CityCollege, because he would be able to help more minority students enter the profession.  Now, in his sixties, Bond has forsaken academia for a partnership in a large firm: Davis, Body and Bond.  Still, there is a deep sense of the absurd in his chuckle as he muses “I trained a lot of white architects who went out and got big commissions that were unavailable to me.”

J. Max Bond

Bond Max

Brilliant Architect and Columbia Professor
One Of Max’s Designs

Bond Max, Civil Rights Institute in Bermingham

The Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham

James Strawder Jr. took his degree in architecture from Columbia University in 1972, at his father’s request.  “I was getting a great education at Pratt Institute,” says Strawder, “when my father told me that he wanted me to take my degree from Columbia, because Columbia University owed our family a degree.”

The reason the elder Strawder felt a sense of entitlement is because he had been refused admission to the university thirty years earlier, when he was an army officer returning from the pacific with combat citations.  He took the entrance exam, part of which was in Latin, and easily passed it.  But he was informed by Columbia that they had their “quota of Negroes.”  Hence he felt that his son must earn a Columbia degree as a matter of family honor.

During his sojourn at Columbia James Jr. studied with Max Bond, and his subsequent experience as an architect both reflect and differ from that of his teacher.  There was, however, a qualitative difference in the conditions under which these two black architects launched their careers.  When Strawder came out of college the 8-A program under the Nixon administration mandated affirmative action set-aside contracts on all construction projects that received federal funds.

Hence a few years out of Columbia, Strawder became a partner in the Lewis, Turner Partnership – an African American firm founded by Roger Lewis and Frank Turner – and they were working in an Association with I.M. Pei, as architects designing the massive JavitzCenter. Their participation in the project wasn’t window dressing either.  “We were allowed to work up to the level of our company’s capacity,” says Strawder, “it was a good working relationship.  We worked on all aspects of the design.”

But, with racial barriers added to the normal Darwinian world of the architectural contracting business, the partnership – which became LST Design Collaborative – failed to move beyond the public sector as their major source of revenue.  At the peak of the firm’s activity in the late seventies LST’s billings never exceeded $800,000 a year.  “If we had done comparable work in the private sector our billings would have increased by as much as 50%,” says Strawder.  Due to philosophical differences about the direction the company should take, the partnership broke up in the early eighties and the partners went their separate ways.

Over the last seventeen years Strawder has concentrated on designing low cost housing.  His innovative and humanistic approach to this field has resulted in the construction of excellent affordable housing for hundreds of families in this city.  His work has been featured in the New York Times and received many accolades, including a Congressional Award for Community Service from the office of Congressman Ed. Towns, and the 1997 National Builders Association’s prize for the best designed low cost housing.  In spite of his excellent record however, Strawder is still finding it hard to get substantial work in the private sector, and says that’s the case with most black architects he knows.

Hal Dorfman, President of the New York Society of Architects, estimates that 7% or 8% of all monies spent on construction in any given year goes to architectural services.  That could range from $160 million to over $200 million a year.  But Dorfman had no idea what percentage of those fees go to black architects because they keep no records on such matters.  When I asked him about the number of blacks and females in the 400-member organization, he responded as if it was an impertinent question.  First he said the question was “irrelevant,” then he told me: “As an organization we don’t keep statistics; if you’re an architect you’re an architect.  It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman or otherwise; if you pay your dues and don’t have any felonies against you then you can be a member.”  The most obvious thing about all of this newfound color blindness in record keeping is that it does nothing to eradicate racial discrimination, but only hides it.

According to the black architects I interviewed, the main reason why they continue to seek work in the public sector is that, given the highly segregated social worlds of whites and blacks in New York, African Americans are not even allowed in many of the venues where important private business contacts are made.  “No matter how educated and successful any of us may become,” says Strawder, “we can’t gain entry into the exclusive clubs where the big deals are done because their memberships are restricted to whites only.”

It was in recognition of the advantages that country club membership provided his white colleagues, in terms of being able to attract the kinds of clients which leads to partnerships in his law firm, that motivated Lawrence Otis Graham, a black Princeton trained corporate lawyer, to work as a busboy in a Greenwich Connecticut Country Club in order to see what goes down in these precincts of white power and privilege.  His report on the experience was published as a cover story in New York Magazine, and the kind of racist talk which he reports was common fare among the membership – who are a part of the nations power elite – is worthy of the White Citizens Councils of the deep south thirty years ago.  Except that these are some of the same people who run big business firms in black, brown and beige New York City!

Odd Man Out: Black Contractors

Afro-American contractors are doubly disadvantaged by the lack of access to the social circles where deals are cut; banishment from the country club scene is only part of their problem.  For example, as Sammy Gravano became a power in the construction racket, the princes and powers of the industry assembled at Tali’s – a nightclub he owned in Bensonhurst Brooklyn – every Tuesday night to network and pay their respects to “The Bull.”

Peter Maas, who co-authored Underboss, tells us about “concrete company executives, building contractors and subcontractors, shop stewards in the construction unions and the Teamsters all flocking to eat and drink, to touch base with Sammy.”  Skeptical readers may wish to dismiss Maas’ claims as hyperbole, except that Frank Spero and Matty Tricorico, the two FBI agents on the Gambino Task Force who conducted surveillance on Gravano, verify it.

These are all the elements needed to control a significant percentage of the construction projects in New York City.  The fact that foreign born contractors were welcome at these Bensonhurst confabs, while native born black Americans were not – we need only recall the fates of transit worker Willie Turks and prospective car buyer Yusef Hawkins, two black men who were killed for just being in that neighborhood – reminds us of who has always received racial preference in this country: white people, male or female, native or foreign born.

The importance of these connections to sub-contractors becomes obvious as Gravano describes in detail how the mob determines which companies are awarded subcontracts on big construction jobs around this city.  He tells us that if a general contractor refuses to accept their “recommendation,” of a subcontractor they have ways of persuading them by creating labor and transportation problems which will make it impossible to complete their projects on time.

Since this could cost the contractor both his good name and millions of dollars, they generally go along with the Mafia’s program.  I had been told by project managers for major contractors how the mob can influence the pace of a construction project through their control of concrete, carting and trucking, but Gravano’s detailed squealings fill in the blanks by putting La Costra Nostra’s business in the streets.

When I interviewed former Mayor Ed Koch last August, in his elegantly appointed law offices high above the streets of mid-Manhattan, he showed not the slightest hint of irony as he sat in a bastion of white male power and privilege vociferously denouncing affirmative action programs which privilege non-whites and white women.  Koch’s answer to discrimination in the awarding of city contracts was the Locally Based Enterprise program, which was introduced during his administration.  LBE’s are small firms based in New York, who do business in poor neighborhoods and employ people from that neighborhood.  Koch’s pride in the scheme was demonstrated in everything from his pompous body language to the hyperbolic claims he made on its behalf.

The LBE program sounds good in theory, but the case of the LAQUILLA Construction Company’s dealings with the Health and Hospitals Corporation tell quite a different story.  On April 7, Edward J. Kuriansky, the Commissioner of the Department of Investigations, and Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morganthau, announced that Angelo Sisca, LAQUILA’s operations manager, had pleaded guilty to filing false documents with the city, and Anthony Albicocco, a former vice president with LAQUILLA, “was arrested in connection with the same scheme.”  The “scheme” to which the statement refers involves a $2,495,000 contract awarded to LAQUILLA by HHC to construct concrete decks as part of a $50, 000, 000 renovation project at ElmhurstHospital in Queens.

Former Mayor Crazy Eddie Kotch


A Shameless Charlatan!

The terms of the contract limited the use of subcontractors to 25% of the job, and required them to award the first 10% of sub work to a LBE.  But LIQUILLA, a general contractor who has $135 million in contracts with the New York City Transit Authority alone, subcontracted out 90% of the work to J. Luchese & Son, a white male “non-LBE” contractor for $1,395,000, which guaranteed over a million dollars in profits for LAQUILLA.  More often than not, this is the real deal that’s going down with the Locally Based Enterprise clauses in city construction contracts.  And the Guliani Administration’s decision not to keep records on the race and gender of city contractors is an invitation to fraud.  Evading LBE requirements will be a piece of cake for streetwise general contractors, who can simply set up other white guys as shills.


Racial Exclusion and Affirmative Action Viewed in Broader Perspective


On August 28, the day that Proposition 209 became law, ending all government sponsored race and gender based affirmative action programs in California, Dr. Michael Rappaport, Dean of the UCLALawSchool, appeared on ABC’s Nightline and addressed the questions raised by 209 supporters.  He began by pointing out that students admitted under affirmative action guidelines pass the California Bar at the same rate as students admitted under regular criteria.  Then he demonstrated that admitting students on the basis of economic status will not bring about racial diversity in the University of California because “There are far more poor whites than poor blacks or Hispanics.”  Herein lies the flaw in Rudy Guliani and Ed Koch’s arguments; they amount to a formula for maintaining the status quo.

If the standard for participation in affirmative action programs becomes economic status it will simply mean that poor whites will get everything- just like it’s always been – especially if immigrants are allowed to participate in these programs.  This is already happening in the construction business and it will escalate.  From its inception affirmative action programs were distinguished from poverty programs by a compensatory element based on the long history of government sanctioned exploitation and oppression of African Americans.  To now turn them into mere poverty programs would be a burlesque on the original intent.

Apart from the whining of “angry white males” who wish to blame their genuine failures on “reverse discrimination,” what is most galling to African Americans who have suffered real discrimination all their lives, plus witnessed the racial ordeals suffered by their parents and grandparents, are those whites who claim to oppose affirmative action because it is bad for us.  When Ed Koch made that argument during our interview, I thought of the old Ibo proverb: “Beware of the stranger who comes to the funeral and cries louder than the bereaved!”

Ideally, some affirmative action programs should hire people who are unqualified and train them for the job, as is called for on construction projects in public housing, and other affirmative action programs should help highly trained black professionals like James Strawder and Max Bond, or millionaire businessmen like Quincy Jones, gain access to markets previously closed – and Presently beyond their grasp – because of the color of their skins.

Thurgood Marshall and Co-Counsels at Supreme Court
Thurgood III
After winning Landmark Brown Decision 1954
Mr. Justice Marshall
He defended Affirmative Action as a Just Remedy

As for those who argue that race based Affirmative Action programs are unconstitutional, I refer them to the opinion of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the greatest civil rights lawyer of the twentieth century.  Writing in the case of the Regents of the University of California V.  Bake, Marshall said, “For it must be remembered that, during most of the past 200 years, the Constitution as interpreted by this Court did not prohibit the most ingenious and pervasive forms of discrimination against the Negro.

Now, when a state acts to remedy the effects of that legacy of discrimination, I cannot believe that this same constitution stands as a barrier.”  Having argued 32 cases against institutionalized white supremacy before the Supreme Court and won 29, more than any other lawyer, Marshall was singularly qualified to address the question of compensatory policies.  Which Affirmative Action, from its inception, was intended to be.

On the other hand, the arguments of those whites that oppose race based affirmative action programs rarely rise above sophistry or subterfuge.  Most of them love to cite Shelby Steele, Clarence Thomas, Walter Williams, Wardell Connerly and Thomas Sowell as evidence that blacks also oppose affirmative action.  The fact that most of these have benefited from affirmative action, or that their views are about as popular in the black community as the opinions of Jews who think Israel should be returned to the Palestinians are in the Jewish community, is routinely ignored.

That’s because the main reason why whites usually refer to these guys is to demonstrate that one need not be a racist to oppose affirmative action.  But whether these opponents are motivated by racism, or a sincere but misguided notion of racial justice, is irrelevant.  At the end of the day it remains a distinction without a difference, because the result will be the same: African Americans will remain the odd man out.

Uncle Justice Thomas

Clarence thomas

He betrayed the Legacy of Thurgood Marshall

The 90,000 discrimination complaints presently before the EEOC nationally – only 3,000 of which are whites claiming “reverse discrimination – demonstrates that the problem of racial exclusion goes far beyond the construction business.  Aside from their pervasiveness, what is most alarming about these racist episodes is their diversity.  On Wall Street, the financial capital of the world, discrimination is so widespread that Jesse Jackson’s Operation Push has set up a special office to police the area.

Harold Doley, the first African American to purchase an individual seat on the New York stock Exchange in 1974, thinks it is an idea whose time has come.  Before Jackson’s arrival on the street, suits had already been filed against the investment banking firms of Dun & Bradstreet and Smith Barney. And black employees are suing Morgan Stanley, alleging that a racially hostile environment is responsible for the company being “almost 98% white.”  They have publicly claimed that E-mail exchanged between their white colleagues read like messages from Ku Klux Klan klaverns.

The Disney company is being hit by an anti-discrimination suit brought by Afro-American employees and, even as I write, sixty Minutes is airing an expose on the Avis car rental franchises owned by John Dalton, in North and South Carolina, who ordered his employees not to rent cars to any black customer no matter how good their credit.  Several Avis employees at headquarters in Tulsa Oklahoma said that top management was told of this situation as far back as the late 1980’s, but they did nothing to correct it.

Blacks in rural America, who have remained in the farming sector as family farmers, are also struggling against institutional racism in the Agricultural Department, which is forcing them out of business at three times the rate of white farmers.  This fact was well documented in an in-depth report by CBS television’s morning news of 7/17/97, which included extensive interviews with black farmers, coverage of their demonstration in front of the White House, and examined a recent report which supports the farmers claims of systematic racial discrimination in granting the operating loans all small farmers need to survive.  A contrite Secretary of Agriculture appeared on the program and pledged that the Agriculture Department will sin no more.

No Peace down on this Family Farm
A Black Farm Family
They too faces racial Discrimination

The facts put forth here represent only the tip of a mountain of data supporting the claim that racist practices against African Americans are flourishing in every sector of the economy.  Added to this alarming scenario is the fact that a recent analysis of the FBI’s data base by the distinguished investigative reporter David Burnham, published in the August 11-18 edition of The Nation, revealed that of 12,000 civil rights complaints filed with the FBI, the agency secured only 60 convictions.

Although the fact that the FBI itself recently lost a racial discrimination case brought by black agents must be figured into the equation, the main reason for such a paltry conviction rate by “the greatest investigative agency in the world” is that the standard of evidence set by the supreme court in recent decisions make it increasingly difficult for the injured parties to prove discrimination in a court of law, especially where employers do not keep thorough records on the race and gender identities of their work force.  That’s why most thoughtful black Americans – this writer included – suspect that the “color blindness” which has become the credo of born again racial egalitarians will simply render them invisible, while failing to bring about racial equality.

           Whites who are charged with the responsibility of enforcing anti-discrimination laws easily recognize the fundamental logic of this suspicion.  “You have people who stand up in front of the press and talk about how they are firm believers in equal employment opportunity,” says David Raff, “but they are destroying the institutional and factual underpinnings we need to bring that about… Discrimination is much more sophisticated today than it used to be.  It requires a much greater ability to analyze records and documents in order to prove the case in court.”  Hence the African American fear that so-called “color blindness” disguises white racism and promotes the status quo is justified.

Yet, even so, every now and then a company is caught with a smoking gun and we are provided a glimpse of the racist practices that are so ubiquitous in corporate America. For example, due to the cooperation of Bruce Lundvall – a renegade white executive angered by the news that he was being downsized – the evidence of racial discrimination at Texaco, presented in the legal suit brought by Afro-American employees, was so compelling that it resulted in a $176 million settlement and obstruction of justice indictments against several top executives.

And on August 7, the courts also awarded the plaintiff’s attorneys $19,000,000 in fees – a hefty tab which Texaco was ordered to pay.  The prohibitive costs associated with this case is instructive, because it tells us that the legal option is beyond the grasp of most Afro-Americans who are victims of discrimination in major corporations, a list that is growing in spite of the swelling chorus of denials from white Americans.

In her thoughtful essay, “Ideology and Race in American History,” Columbia University history professor, Barbara Fields, offers an explanation for the disparate views of white and black Americans: “An understanding of how groups of people see other groups in relation to themselves must begin by analyzing the pattern of their social relations…” That’s why the vast majority of black Americans simply don’t believe that most white Americans will do the right thing unless required to do so by strictly enforced laws.  They have over 300 years of solid evidence upon which to base that skepticism.

It is a matter of historical record that from 1619 to the Omnibus Civil rights bill of 1964, the law had always been employed to arrest or retard the advancement of African Americans.  The lone exception is the decade between 1866 and 1876, the post-Civil War period known as “Radical Reconstruction.”  And what is most frightening to those of us who have studied the details of that period is that it shares so many striking similarities with the present.

The Reconstruction was an attempt to re-order American society after four years of the most destructive warfare the world had yet seen tore this nation apart.  The issue then, as it is now, was what to do with millions of African Americans who were no longer slaves but were prevented from reaching social, political and economic equality with whites by the laws and customs formed over several centuries of white supremacist government.  In the period from 1866 to 1875, the Congress attempted to remedy this situation by extending full citizenship to black Americans through the passage of seven civil rights bills and adding the the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the constitution.

But the elections of 1876 brought white reactionaries to power and the great reversal of fortune began.  The greatest defeats came at the hands of the Supreme Court, which issued a series of devastating decisions culminating in the Plessy Vs. Ferguson case of 1896, the infamous “Separate But Equal” ruling, which established a legal caste system locking African Americans at the bottom of American society for the next 68 years.  The analogy between the events of the mid-19th century and the great Civil Rights revolution of the 20th century, as well as the white backlash which is still unfolding, are all too obvious.

          The Ku Klux Klan
ku_klux_klan Klan and Nazi’s…Alive and Well!

 Contrary to the increasingly popular belief that race based affirmative action programs are creating antagonisms between white and black Americans, the real problem is the failure to adequately address the unresolved and combustible issues of racial exploitation and inheritance, which, like Banquo’s ghost, continue to reappear and threaten the domestic tranquility.  It is those who argue against affirmative action that are creating support for a much more divisive issue: the growing movement for reparations.  This remedy is being introduced on the floor of Congress in a bill sponsored by John Conyers, even as I write.

            Reparations as a remedy for racial inequity is rapidly gaining support from mainstream African American organizations, including the NAACP, the oldest and most influential, because most multi-generational black Americans believe that the Civil Rights bill and less than thirty years of halfhearted affirmative action programs, from which some others have benefited more, are inadequate compensation for centuries of official transgressions against them and their ancestors.

To these swelling ranks of black Americans – most of whom are, according to the Urban League, a couple of paychecks from poverty – whites who argue against race based affirmative action increasingly resemble the gambler who is caught cheating after he has bankrupted every body else in the game, who were forced to play by his rules in the first place, but when the gambler is exposed in the act and finally confesses his crimes, instead of making restitution to the people he has robbed, the cheater promises “I’ll play fair from now on!”

Looking candidly at the situation in the construction racket, and pondering how it reflects the situation in other industries, I am reminded of the opening lines from Dr. Dubois’ timeless classic, “The Souls of Black Folk.”  This elegant collection of erudite essays on Afro-American life was published in the third year of the twentieth century.  It was a time when segregation was the law, lynching was in fashion, and America was going through her industrial revolution.

Now, three years til the end of the century, de-jure segregation is gone, lynching is out of style – although many will argue that it has been replaced by police brutality – and America is a post industrial society undergoing a technological revolution which poses a different set of economic problems and political prospects in an evolving global economy.

Yet, except for the italicized words, Dr. DuBois’ statement is quoted  preisely because for the majority of African Americans – blue collar, white collar and professional – the meaning of being black in America today, 94 years after the publication of “Souls”, has not fundamentally changed to the degree where Dubois’ warning is no longer relevant: ”Herin lies buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black at the end of the Twentieth Century.  This meaning is not without interest to you gentle reader; for the problem of the Twenty First Century is the problem of the color line.”     



By: Playthell Benjamin
Written in 1998, New York
Posted on the Commentaries 1/16/2014
San Francisco
  ** Note: This essay was originally written for the New Yorker, who refused to publish it upon completion.  I believe it is because this analysis of the construction industry impaled too many sacred cows and endangered powerful financial interests.  It was too long for any other journalistic publication.  So it has never been published before now.  My decision to post this study was sparked by a report on the blatant exclusion of Afro-American contractors from the multi-billions of dollar constructions going on in San Francisco (See the Black Boycott)  And from reading about the situation I can discern the same forces at work that I found in my investigation of the construction industry in New York 16 years ago.

Look What They’ve Done to My Party!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on December 22, 2013 by playthell

    The Commander-In Chief would be P O’d!

General Dwight David Eisenhower: Great Republican

 Ike would be Banned by Today’s GOP!

One of the great ironies of American political history is that Dwight David Eisenhower – US Army General, Supreme Commander of the Allied forces that defeated the Nazis, and Republican President of the United States – would now be a pariah in the Republican Party, much like former US Army General, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff, National Security Advisor, and Secretary of State Colin Powell.  He would be labeled a RHINO – “Republican In Name Only” – by the radical right-wing zealots in the Tea Party faction that has seized control and drives the agenda of the Republican Party.

Alas the Republican Party has become a very different place, a place where thoughtful reasonable leaders are an endangered species.  And although the Republican establishment, whose agenda is driven by the prerogatives of the plutocrats, is beginning to fight back in a desperate attempt to save the party from disgrace and impotence, it remains to be seen if they can restrain them from further self-destructive actions.

With their party’s public approval ratings at an all-time low after forcing the recent government shutdown, and their failed presidential bid in the last two shutdowns, the big boys with their heads on straight have decided to stand up to the far right fanatics whose inflammatory rhetoric and reckless actions have endeared them to the white Lumpen-proletariat, struggling lower middle class, racist and nativists of all stripes, and hard core anti-tax and regulation zealots in the business sector. The Republican establishment  has created a grotesque political Frankenstein that is now out of control; despite the tough talk from House Speaker John Boehner  and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last week, it remains to be seen if they can calm the Tea Party monster before it devours their political future.

The mindless Tea Party fanatics who reject science and are contemptuous of the public interests have turned the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight David Eisenhower into the “Grand Obstructionist” Party of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell.  The party whose conservative wing was once represented in the media by Ivy League-trained intellectual, prolific writer and master of the English language William F. Buckley, whose PBS television show “The Firing Line” was a real forum for high-brow intellectual discourse, is now represented by the ignorant verbal arsonist, shameless charlatan,  and porcine dope fiend Rush Limbaugh, who according to his mother “failed everything” during his brief tenure in a local college, and appears to never have entertained a serious thought in his life.

Not only have the Republicans strayed far from the party of Bill Buckley, it is hardly recognizable as the Party presided over by Dwight Eisenhower.  These are not merely cosmetic difference but involve matters of real gravitas. We can surmise what Ike would have thought of the ideology and policies of the present Republican Party based upon what he thought and did when he was President.  A few examples will suffice to demonstrate the difference between the GOP then and now.  An examination of Ike’s views on civil rights, organized labor, the arms industry, foreign military intervention, government investment in infrastructure, and especially the contentious matter of taxes, will reveal that on all of these critical issues Eisenhower was almost diametrically opposed to the views of the contemporary Grand Obstructionist Party.

For instance, we know, based on his refusal to be lured into foreign military adventures such as the Suez Crisis, that there is no way a cabal of neo-con intellectual eggheads like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle in a think tank like The Project for a New American Century could have talked Ike into invading Iraq on cooked up “evidence.”  And I have no doubt the General would have had little sympathy or much patience with the outrageous destructive policies proposed by the poot-butt Tea Party gang that have seized control of his party.

The mere idea of Republican congressmen shutting down the federal government because they couldn’t get their way through the regular processes of orderly governance would have appalled him.  This was, after all, a man who had laid his life on the line to defend the democratic process bequeathed to the American people in the US Constitution – which President Obama, a constitutional scholar, explained so well in his speech after he signed the bi-partisan bill passed by Congress just before the midnight deadline.  As a military man Ike revered order and respected the chain of command, hence it is safe to assume that he would have supported President Obama’s position.

I can envision no circumstance where Ike would have supported the behavior of the Tea Party zealots who shut down the government and threatened to destroy the “full faith and credit” of the USA by fooling around with lifting the debt ceiling, an event that could trigger a world-wide depression.  It is unthinkable that Ike, a serious and responsible leader, would have been down with any of this embarrassing and dangerous foolishness that threatens our national security and is making the USA a laughingstock around the world.  Yet some members of the GOP in the House and Senate led by Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, supported by a hefty Tea Party faction in the House, are threatening to do it again after the holidays!  They would have been able to conjure no more potent enemy than Ike.

From what we know of Eisenhower’s tenure as President we can be certain that he would be flummoxed and outraged at the Republican controlled House’s refusal to appropriate any funds for President Obama to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, and provide jobs for a multitude of unemployed workers, although it is obvious that the nation desperately need both.  We can say this with certainty, because we know that President Ike presided over the building of the nation’s interstate highway system, one of the largest publicly financed infrastructure construction projects in American history.

Hence there can be no serious question that he would have been enraged by the fact that the Republican shutdown will cost the nation around 24 billion dollars with no benefits, when these same Congressman have repeatedly rejected President Obama’s $21 billion request to rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure and put a multitude of Americans to work!  I am certain that Ike, like me, would have thought it an absurdity that ought to be a crime.

Unlike most of these know-nothing buffoons who now control the policy agenda of his party, people with little to no experience in government or military leadership, Ike was a developed leader molded in the military chain of command and steeled in the fires of a world war when the fate of the nation was at stake had the Fascist Axis powers of Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire won World War II.  Hence he possessed a vision and wisdom that the present Republican leaders are innocent of, and the nation is paying a dear price for it.  A poignant example of this is how Ike learned the critical importance of building a modern super highway system on the “Cloverleaf” model from his wartime experiences in Europe.

Waging war against Nazi Germany, Ike witnessed the rapidity with which they could move large amounts of men and materials over great distances while fighting on two fronts.  Hence it was in the heat of battle that he discovered the great value of having a highway system that enables motor vehicles to enter and exit without disturbing the flow of traffic.  Thus when he became President he built a highway system modeled on the German autobahn, with rest stops along the route that will allow a driver to go from New York to California without ever leaving the highway.

The interstate system contributed to an increase in the GDP – Gross Domestic Product – by dramatically facilitating the shipment of goods throughout the country. Today 80% of all the products on the shelves of our stores are delivered by trucks. This is a poignant illustration of the value of investing in the nation’s infrastructure; it is a lesson that has been lost on the pugnacious Republican Neanderthals who presently have a stranglehold on the appropriations process in the House of Representatives.

 The German Autobahn
Ike’s Model for the American Superhighway
On a California Super Highway
Ike’s Gift to America

Nothing demonstrates the dramatic difference between the way President Eisenhower viewed the role of government and the contemporary Republican Party’s stance than the matter of taxes. Whereas the House Republicans, egged on by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, are prepared to shut down the federal government and destroy the “full faith and credit” of the United States in order to prevent the plutocrats from paying a 37% tax rate, Ike taxed them at 91% and thought they were fortunate, given all the blessings of living in America. After all, he spent the prime of his life as a military man prepared to sacrifice life and limb to protect this country that had made them so rich for a peon’s pay. 

The General retained his wisdom and Perspective…
images (1)
……after he entered politics

While cutting taxes is the first priority of the Republicans in Congress today, despite whether it will decrease incomes by laying off hundreds of thousands of government workers performing vital services to the public, and dangerously slash government spending – which recent history has shown will lead to economic chaos – President Eisenhower made his views on taxation crystal clear in a news conference of February 17, 1953.  “And now, our last subject: Taxes.”  Ike told the assembled reporters, “in spite of some of the things I have seen in the papers the last 8 or 9 months, I personally have never promised a reduction in taxes. Never.”   Lest we forget, at the time the tax rate on top earners – people like Mitt Romney – was 91%….today a Republican can lose their seat in congress by voting for a 37% tax rate on the plutocrats!

He would clarify his views further in the following comment  “The fact is there must be balanced budgets before we are again on a safe and sound system in our economy.  That means, to my mind, we cannot afford to reduce taxes, reduce income, until we have in sight a program of expenditures that shows that the factors of income and outgo will be balanced.  Now that to my mind is sheer necessity.”  We can clearly discern the Republican concern with balancing the federal budget in Ike’s remarks, but here it is a balanced and reasonable concern.

In today’s Grand Obstructionist Party, cutting taxes has become a dangerous obsession that threatens the economic health of the nation, as Republicans in Congress engineer reckless budget sequesters and threaten the destruction of the world financial system with arbitrary shutdowns of the US government for ideological reasons.  From his own statements on the matter of Taxation we can safely assume that Ike would have been with Obama in the present budget battles.

However for many Americans, this writer included, it was the position President Eisenhower took on race, federal law and state’s rights that is his greatest legacy.  Although it has become conventional wisdom in some quarters to say that Ike was a racist and cared not a whit about Civil Rights, his actions say otherwise…and action speaks much more profoundly than words.  And since I have no way of reading his mind, I shall rely on the facts.  The fact is that President Eisenhower appointed both Chief Justice Earl Warren to the Supreme Court, and Judge Ronald Davies to the Federal Circuit Court.

Thurgood Marshall and Team: George Hayes and James M. Nabrith

Thurgood Marshall and Team

Aall smiles after winning “the Case of the Century

Frederick Douglass pointed out nearly a century earlier, “History holds no more august claim than where there is no struggle there is no progress….The struggle may be moral, or it may be physical, or it may be both, but there must be a struggle!….Power concedes nothing without demand, it never has and it never will.”  This warning would prove true in the ending of slavery and the fall of segregation.  For had the NAACP Legal Defense Fund not waged a relentless struggle against legal – i.e. de jure – segregation over several decades the case of Brown v The Board of Ed would never have come before the supreme Court.

Under the able leadership of Charles Hamilton Houston, a former US Army officer and a graduate of Harvard Law, the NAACP had built up a formidable body of legal decisions against the system of segregation.  Facing an uphill swim because when he began his litigation segregation was legal under federal law, Houston developed a strategy to first prove in the federal courts that “segregation is inherently unequal.” Then topple the wicked system.  To accomplish this Houston decided to attack the southern states case by case and force them to live up to the letter of the law by providing “equal facilities” for Afro-Americans as specified in the Plessy Decision of 1896.

Aware of the fragile economic predicament of these underdeveloped southern states Houston calculated that the system of racial segregation would eventually fall from the financial burden it imposed.  To prove his case Houston became one of the first lawyers to introduce film as evidence in an American courtroom.  And he won some stunning decisions, such as the University of Texas Law School case, which resulted in southern states with segregated graduate and professional schools in state universities, being required to pay for the graduate and professional education of Afro-Americans from their states who sought higher education elsewhere.

When the Brown Case finally reached the Supreme Court its potential for mandating a radical change in American race relations was such that it was billed in the press as “The Case of the Century!”  The lawyers who argued the case for the NAACP were students and protegees of the great Charles Hamilton Houston.  The lead lawyer Thurgood Marshall had been a colleague and apprentice of Houston’s who either founded or shaped both the Howard University Law School and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.  His co-council James M. Nabrith Jr.  had been a professor on the Howard Law faculty since 1936, where he offered the first formal course on Civil Rights in 1938.  George E. C. Hayes, the third lawyer in the victory May 17, 1954 photograph standing on the Supreme Court’s steps, was a second generation lawyer from Richmond Virginia, had worked with Houston at Howard Law, form which he was a 1918 graduate.

Hence they were the reigning experts on Civil Rights litigation.  Added to their masterly legal arguments the lawyers introduced Amicus Curie briefs by Dr. John Hope Franklin and Dr. Kenneth B. Clark, two distinguished Afro-American academics.  Franklin. an authority on American history and race relations, wrote a historical overview of black oppression in the US.  Clark was a psychologist, who along with his wife Dr. Mamie Clarke, conducted the famous “Doll’s Experiment” which purported to demonstrate the deleterious effects of racial segregation on the psychological development of Black children.

When the Court ruled in favor of the NAACP’s case it was a momentous moment in American history, it’s significance can be easily gaged by the fact that the entire evil racist system of de jure racial apartheid collapsed in less than ten years!  But if Ike had not appointed the jurist he did to the federal judiciary, all of their brilliant litigation might have come to naught.  After all: The law is whatever the Supreme Court says it is!                           

Chief Justice Earl Warren
earl Warren
His Court ended de jure School Segregation
Judge Ronald Davis
He ordered the immediate integration of Central High

It was the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown vs. The Board of Education in Topeka Kansas in 1954 that outlawed de jure segregation in the nation’s public schools, and the order to integrate Central High School in Little Rock Arkansas issued by federal judge Ronald Davies, on September 3, 1957, that led President Eisenhower, acting as Commander – In – Chief of the US Armed Forces, to order federal troops into the south on a combat mission since the dreaded American Civil War.  The historical record leaves no doubt President Eisenhower would have preferred to have left the enforcement of the Court order to the state.

But when Oral Faubus, the Governor of Arkansas refused to enforce the order of the Federal Court, offering some bogus argument about it contradicted state law, Ike issued him a warning that the order must be enforced, and when Faubus called out the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the black children from going to school, Ike federalized the national guard, removing them from the authority of the Governor and placed them under the US Army chain of command.  Then he ordered the 110th Airborne Division to pacify the city, which had exploded in white riots, and enforce the court order by escorting the black children to school.  The paratroopers – a crack army combat force – escorted the children through the screaming, menacing crowd, with fixed bayonets!  All of the white south was enraged, but the southern rednecks were the Democrat’s problem back then, when they were known as the “Dixiecrats,” they are now all in the GOP and are known as “The Patriots’ Tea Party.”

After a Clash with bayoneted Paratroopers
 Fixed Bayonets
The rabble quickly retreated to their hovels

And the Black Students

Black Students escorted

Were escorted to class!
                The angry white mob became a sideshow
Little Rock crackers
accenting the heroism of black students

The Little Rock Nine

The Little Rock 9

They became heroes to people around the world

By his actions we know that Ike would have had but little patience with the kind of “State’s Rights” blather we hear from Republicans these days; which is driven by the Tea Party faction.  These far right iconoclasts hail from the same states that provoked the Civil War in the 19th century, and waged a bloody resistance effort against the movement to gain full Civil Rights for Afro-Americans as spelled out in the Constitution – especially the 14th and 15th Amendments.

Hence it should come as no surprise that they are the most reactionary section of the country at the dawning of the 21st century and have produced a political movement, aided by the Republican Party, which shamefully pandered to their racial resentments and anger which now threatens to destroy them. Since I have written about this transformation elsewhere I won’t belabor it here.  For those interested in a succinct analysis of how this transformation occurred read: “Hailey Barber is a Lying Fat Redneck” on this blog.

Despite the fact that it is the democratic presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson, that have received sustained accolades for the dramatic progress in the Civil Rights of Afro-Americans during the 1960’s,  it was President Eisenhower that revived federal interest in the Civil Rights question.   This is no mere conjecture; the evidence bears it out.  Aside from appointing Judges whose rulings overturned the Plessy v Ferguson Decision of 1896, the notorious “Separate but Equal” opinion, which legalized racial segregation in the United States, nullifying the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, he also passed the first Civil Rights bill since the Reconstruction era a century earlier.

He also was the first president to appoint a black presidential Aide with the selection of Fred Murrow in 1955, and his appointment of Attorney George E.C. Hayes to the Public Utilities Commission of the District of Columbia, was the first time an Afro-American had such an important position in a municipal government in a century! The appointment made the Civil rights attorney the highest rankning black official in D.C. city government.

Thus based on the historical record of Dwight David Eisenhower’s tenure in office, it is reasonable to conclude that he would have been as out of place in today’s Republican Party – which has descended from the Grand Old Party of Abe Lincoln to the Grand Obstructionist Party of McConnell and Boehner – as a priest in a whorehouse!

Dwight David Eisenhower
 10365_66cm 027
Republican President of USA
Old Soldiers Never Die!
Eisenhower Salutes
And history will not allow this one to “just fade away.”

The Majority Leader Flexes His Muscle

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on November 22, 2013 by playthell
Harry ReidThe former Boxer puts on the Gloves

 The End of American Democracy?

We are on the verge of a paradigm shift in the way the Senate of the United States operates as Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada who serves as  Majority Leader, has announced his intention to dramatically change the rules governing how business is conducted in that august body.  Although he is a former boxer, like most prize fighters I have known he is a mild mannered outside the ring.  Hence he was forced to take the action he announced today. Now Republican Senators in the Grand Obstructionist Party will no longer be allowed to filibuster Presidents Obama’s appointments to critical government posts and the lower courts of the federal judiciary.

The numbers tell the story of why this action had to be taken.  As Senator Reid said in explaining his decision: In over 200 years of US Senate deliberations the Senate has employed the filibuster to block presidential appointments 168 times, but half of them occurred during the five years of the Obama administration!

The Majority Leader underscored his point by citing the great disparity in the numbers of appointments confirmed by the Senate of President Obama’s predecessors – Bill Clinton and George Bush – within the same time frame.  He reminded the American electorate by the 4th of July in his second term the senate had confirmed 80 of President Clinton’s nominees.  And by the 4th of July in his Second term President Bush had 118 of his appointments confirmed.  But by the 4th of July this year, only 34 of President Obama’s nominees have been confirmed.   These numbers supply irrefutable evidence for Senator Jeff Merkle’s contention that the Republican’s in both Houses of Congress have been exceeding their constitutional authority by “waging war on the presidency!”

However changing the senate rules to suppress the promiscuous abuse of the filibuster to thwart president Obama’s efforts to govern the country according to the vision he campaigned on, and was elected to enact, is a double edged sword.  This point seems to escape the majority of those who have been calling upon Senator Reid to take this step – which is popularly known as “the nuclear option” – and now vigorously applaud his actions.

While it is unquestionably the best way to end the Republican efforts to nullify the results of the last two presidential elections by employing the filibuster to block President Obama from implementing his policies and appointees, when the Republicans regain control of the White House and the Senate, as they inevitably will alas, it could pave the way for them to finish their effort to transform the United States from a popular democracy where the people can regulate the power of capital through government policy, into a plutocracy where the filthy rich not only own the country’s wealth but also control government policy by electing their shills to office.

The Supreme Court – which is stacked with Republican appointees – has laid the groundwork for this in the Citizens United Decision, which nullified all laws limiting political spending by corporations and allowed them to make their contributions anonymously.  At the same time the court has struck down a critical section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which required the states with a history of racist voter suppression to pre-clear any changes in the voting laws with the Justice Department.  It is difficult to overstate the disastrous implications of this decision.

The Voting Rights Act was passed in the heat of a national struggle that embarrassed the US around the world and placed American diplomacy at a disadvantage in competing with the Communist Bloc, led by a nuclear armed Russia, for the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of non-white peoples in the emergent nations newly liberated from European colonialism.  With the collapse of the Communist Bloc racist right wing politicians need not worry about what the Russians think about domestic American politics, thus they are unconcerned with world opinion.

Ironically, the party that has made opposition to “judicial activism” a sacred cow now applauds one of the most blatant acts of judicial activism in history.  It will literally change the character of American politics.  The ultimate tragedy is that all of this is taking place right out in the open yet the majority are too addicted to the pleasures of wine, song, bread and circuses to notice.  Thus in their ignorance they do just what Thomas Jefferson warned an ignorant electorate would do: “Elect and return the worse people to office!”

Thus it falls to the enlightened sections of the electorate to oppose them; which means that should the Republicans capture the White House and the Senate, and the Democrats control the House of Representatives, they will have no choice but to become obstructionists and behave like the Republicans are acting now.    Minority leader Mitch McConnell’s threat to use this procedure to confirm Supreme Court nominees appointed by Republican presidents when they regain the majority – something the Democrats have stopped short of – insures that the House Democrats will have to act as a check on Right-wing Republicans.

Mad Mitch: Leader of the Disloyal Opposition
Mitch McConnell
An Unreconstructed Red Neck who vowed to wreck the Obama Presidency

At the moment however, this action will be exploited by Republicans to confirm a narrative about President Obama that they invented out of whole cloth: That he aspires to be a dictator or king!   Yet any objective observer who has been paying attention to American politics know that President Obama deeply reveres the Constitution –on which he is an authority – and entered the presidency as a champion of bi-partisanship.   Indeed, he has been so willing to compromise that he has been accused of “selling out” by his supporters in the left -wing of the Democratic coalition.  

But the Republican Party is in the hands of right-wing ideologues who view compromise, which is essential to governing in a divided government, as betrayal of their cause – which is to prevent President Obama from enacting his program.  Already the verbal arsonists in right-wing media are hysterically ranting about the “Obama dictatorship.

Alas, the majority of Americans are clueless about the deeper meaning of the gridlock we are witnessing in Congress – the polls show that they blame both the Democrats and Republicans – but serious scholars of American governance know better.  In his scholarly tome “It’s Worse Than It Looks,” Norman Orenstein, one of the most knowledgeable scholars of the Congress, places the blame for the increasing dysfunction of the US government right where it belongs: On congressional Republics!

The upshot of all this is that America is becoming ungovernable right before our eyes; the longest functioning democracy in history is becoming unworkable. And when future historians, far removed from the political passions of this moment, interrogate the government’s records from this period seeking the cause of this catastrophe, they will discover two things. The collapse of our democratic political process was self-inflicted, and it was the work of impassioned right-wing ideologues in the Republican Party who approached negotiations with the attitude of a suicide bomber!

They will point to the fact that American style popular democracy – which I believe has the potential to be the best system of governance in the world – is only possible with an informed electorate who choose representatives that are committed to serving the best interests of the majority of American citizens.  And they will marvel at the extent to which working class white Americans were persuaded to cut their own throats by supporting politicians promoting policies that were opposed to the interests of their class and hastened their demise.  It is the very definition of dangerous folly!


Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

November 22, 2013

The Twenty Four Billion Dollar Fiasco!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on October 17, 2013 by playthell
Boehner John Republican Caucus Boehner’s Republican Caucus is a Hot Mess

 The Cost of Governing by Crisis

Although the nation narrowly averted a catastrophe last night when the Congress passed a bill to end the federal government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling, thereby saving the nation from financial ruin, it was a very costly fiasco.  The credit rating agency Standard and Poors have calculated the cost of the government shutdown and near default; we lost 24 billion dollars out of the American economy and reduced economic growth by one percent!   This money could have been put to use refurbishing the US infrastructure, or providing research funds for President Obama’s alternative energy project, or much needed improvements to the nation’s schools, to name a few.

It is doubtful whether the Tea Party fanatics will be chastened by this boondoggle.  If the comments of Texas Senator Ted Cruse – a shameless, reckless, charlatan – is any indication these arrogant ignorant churls have learned nothing.  Hence we will be confronted with a similar Scenario shortly after the New Year begins, since this budgetary fix only extends to February.  A lot can happen to alter the picture by then, but the way it looks right now we are headed back into the same quagmire from which we barely escaped.

Despite the fact that President Obama confidently assured us this kind of crisis would not happen in the future at the conclusion of his press conference announcing the end of the present dust up with the Grand obstructionist Party, events may prove his assessment a bit too optimistic.  Trying to reason with these people is like attempting to negotiate with suicide bombers, because in their twisted minds there is no positive role for government to play beyond police functions and the maintaining the military.

It is a backward view of the role of government that can only impress anarchists and numb skulls. If we look at the anti-government fanatics in the GOP we find an abundance of impassioned but clueless ideologues, and among these are people who are convinced that life will be just fine without a well-functioning government. It is a puzzling phenomenon, especially if you have flown across this country from coast to coast as I just did twice.

From my window seat I marveled at the size and complexity of this great nation: the many miles of highways, the railroads, the great cities and suburbs, the forest and rivers, the towns high in the mountains, the enormous amounts energy required to fuel this massive economy, the millions of gas guzzling cars and trucks, the many farms required to feed this nation, the massive factories that dot the landscape, etc.  It takes a special species of fool not to recognize that such a vast continental nation needs a massive federal government to manage its affairs.

One needs only look at the chaos in the little agrarian nation of Somali in order to recognize the importance of a strong central government.  And I suggest that those Republicans who wish to live in a country with no government should emigrate there, just as Somalis who wish to live in a country with a strong government routinely immigrate here.  But the truth is that all these people love government when they benefit from it by getting funding for their pet projects.  None of them are willing to lead a fight to close a military base in their district, or to end farm subsidies if they are from an agricultural state.   and none dare mention reducing social security, veterans or Medicare benefits.

The best example of this hypocrisy is the “sweetener” in the bill just cobbled together by Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell.  Even as old Mitch was making an emotional speech against government spending he had attached a multi-billion dollar allocation for his state – an act of shameful duplicity.  Yet it serves to demonstrate the indispensable role of federal funding to the well-being of the states and exposes the folly of the anti-government rhetoric and actions of the political incompetents in Grand Obstructionist Party.

Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC’s early show Morning Joe and the model of a “reasonable,” Republican, seemed genuinely shocked to learn that the bi-partisan bill hammered out by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that saved the nation from default, and the myriad calamities that would have spawned, contains a 2.5 billion dollar allocation for a river dam’s project in Kentucky.

The fact that this project is located in McConnell’s home state raises eyebrows among observers of Republican politics, and the hackles of Republican politicians who just shut down the federal government in a protest against government spending.  Already McConnell’s adversaries in the Tea Party are sharpening their axes in preparation for his beheading, and it serves the hypocritical rascal right!

A Scurrilous Scoundrel
Mitch McConnell

Caught with his hand in the Pork Barrel!

 Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
October 17, 2013

A Party of Pootbutts!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , on October 16, 2013 by playthell

Boehner shutdown

The Weeper of the House and his Tormentors

 Sacrificing the Public Interests to Save their Seats

As I write Senate Majority Leader and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are announcing a deal on the budget resolution hammered out in the Senate.  But despite their optimism Republicans who control the House of Representatives, and thus are invested by the Constitution with the sole power to generate appropriation bills to fund the government and pay the nation’s bills, continues to fiddle fuck around while the Federal government remains shut down due to their refusal to fund its operations and we are still careening toward default, and event that would destroy “the full faith and credit” of this nation for the first time in our history.

Given the dominant position of the US in the world economy a default would almost certainly lead to a world-wide financial collapse, as foreign economies would fall like a deck of cards, ushering in a global depression.  The recovery here at home – which the Republicans caused and has done everything within their power to block President Obama’s policies to end it – is still in progress and could easily be wiped out by such a cataclysmic event.

Yet House Speaker John Boehner, the strange orange colored man whose proclivity for tearful outburst in public has earned him the sobriquet “The Weeper of the House,” refuses to put a bill to end this impending disaster by bi-partisan vote.  As of this moment, from all appearances, Boehner, a man who appears to have no sense of history or vision for the future; no clue about the imperatives of this moment; no fidelity to the public interests; has bowed to the will of the lunatic Tea Party clique with no higher purpose than keeping his position as House speaker.  The public interests be dammed!

While it is true that the far right Tea Party zealots have turned the Grand Old Party Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight David Eisenhower into the “Grand Obstructionist Party that is making the US ungovernable, the Republicans have long been inept at managing the economy.   The Great Depression of the 1930’s resulted from a bank crash under Herbert Hoover, and the Bush crash at the turn of the 21st century also resulted from a banking crisis, both resulting from Republican economic policies.

It is also true that it was under democratic Presidents that the country was guided out of the Republican depressions.  Since we have had only two economic collapses on this scale it is fairly easy to figure out which policies would lead to recovery; the blueprint had been developed in the 1930’s, the government must become the employer and bail the economy out. The Works Progress Administration created by the New Deal legislation was the major vehicle for delivering government sponsored jobs. And they did a lot of useful work, and there is plenty of work that needs to be done in rebuilding the US infrastructure.  However the Republicans opposed Franklin Delanor Roosevelt’s New Deal programs that brought the country out of the economic disaster which, at its peak, saw one in every three Americans out of work and millionaires jumped from rooftops as the saw their fortunes evaporate.

Although Roosevelt was a patrician wasp, he was accused of being a communist and a traitor to his class.  Barack Obama, being African American and from the working class has been vilified with all kinds of scurrilous charges ranging from being a secret operative of Islamic radicals out to do the US in, to a communist intent upon “socializing” the US economy.  These kinds of arguments can only appeal to the ideologically deranged, the abysmally ignorant and the pathologically racist.  Most of the Republican establishment – battered and bruised as it is – knows better than this but dare not argue against such dangerous nonsense – just as most are afraid to vote to fund the government and stave of default by raising the debt ceiling.

The sad truth is that the Republican members of Congress are terrified of incurring the wrath of the Tea Party and their big money backers; whose influence has been greatly expanded due to the disastrous Supreme Court decision in the “Citizens United” case which declared laws limiting campaign spending are a violation of the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. And they are even more afraid of what David Fromm and other GOP intellectuals have called the “Republican Entertainment Complex.”  This fear makes Rush Limbaugh, a porcine airhead and dope fiend, the “de-facto” ideological leader of the Republican Party.

The fact that there is no evidence that Limbaugh is able to sway elections seems lost on the cowardly crowd in the Congress. Desperate to keep their seats they are willing to play Russian Roulette with the American economy.  Already their folly in shutting down the federal government has resulted in millions of dollars added to the interest payments on our treasury bonds, consumer surveys are predicting a significant decline in holiday spending, and the Chinese – who hold 1.3 trillion in American treasury notes – are calling for the scrapping of the US dollar as the standard international currency, and the credit rating agencies are threatening to reduce the US credit rating, which will dramatically increase the interests our government must pay on treasury bonds.  All of this will raise rather than lower government spending with no tangible benefits for the added cost.

Yet in the face of this impending calamity the majority of Republicans who know their behavior is folly and could wreck the international financial order, as well as their party, while throwing the nation into depression, have been too intimidated to do the right thing.  They have messed around to the point that a single Senator, Ted Cruz, a megalomaniacal charlatan from the backward state of Texas, could enter into a prolonged speech thwarting the will of the Senate to act, and single handedly push the nation into default by missing the deadline for raising the debt ceiling.

However Cruz has just announced that he will not take any action to block the legislation.  A total fraud who quotes Ronal Reagan verbatim without attribution, certain that his audience is too dumb to recognize it, he is trying to put a victorious face on his capitulation but it is a defeat!  His blatant hypocrisy is worse than Sarah Palin’s, because the Alaskan barbarian is an airhead who is too stupid to know that she is spouting bullshit, but Cruz is the product of Princeton and Harvard and knows better.  Alas, the Grand Old Party has indeed become the Grand Obstructionist party, a haven for pugnacious ignoramuses and impotent pusillanimous poot butts who are afraid to act in the best interests of the nation…. even when the majority of the American people will applaud their actions!                                                                                                          

 The Pusillanimous Poot Butts!!

Boehner's Nemisis

They Know as much about governing as a mule knows about playing a fiddle!!!


Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
October 16, 2013 

The Worst House Speaker Ever?

Posted in Playthell on politics on October 3, 2013 by playthell

John Boehnoer

A Reckless Charlatan

 Boehner’s Name will live in Infamy!

Based on the most recent polls the Congress of the United States has a 10% approval rating from the public.  This is the lowest rating on record!  And that was before the Republicans shut down the federal government in a fit of rage, much like a spoiled child who throws a temper tantrum when they can’t get their way.  Only much more is at stake in this tantrum, for the fate of the nation hangs in the balance.

The path the GOP – Grand Obstructionist Party – is taking could well cost lives among the population for whom government benefits are a lifeline.  People such as a mother in Utah – a white American mind you – who explained on MSNBC today that without a special formula her twin babies could die, because it would cost her $750.00 to get it otherwise….and she can’t afford it!

These kinds of stories abound.  There are, for instance, nearly a million civil service workers, people who provide vital services to the American people, that have been locked out of their jobs.  And what is worse several Republican members of the House, the scoundrels who caused this crisis, are now saying that they are not sure whether they will vote to pay these workers for their forced layoff!   This is not only reckless and stupid, it is amoral and evil.   The path the Republicans have chosen is a classic example of folly…in fact it is not too much to say it is criminal folly.

In this instance I am not employing the term “folly” in the usual sense, which the dictionary defines as “a thoughtless or reckless act,” although it certainly meets this definition, but in the sense the historian Barbara Tuchman defines it in her Pulitzer Prize winning book “The March of Folly.” According to Ms. Tuchman, a two time Pulitzer Prize winner, Folly is when a nation chooses a policy that all the objective evidence suggests will lead to disaster.  By this standard the Republican Party is engaged in the extremist folly.

Unable to get its way through the normal democratic process provided by the US Constitution, the Grand Obstructionist Party has decided to use the routine practices of governance such as passing a budget to fund the lawful activities of the of the federal government, and raising the debt ceiling, to re-litigate policy issues that they failed to achieve through the normal process.  In other words, since they were not able to achieve their policy objectives by electing like-minded people they are now trying to force their will on the nation by shutting down our national government altogether.

As is often the case when governments engage in folly it eventually leads to tragedy.  And that is where we are presently headed at break neck speed.  Already poor children who depend upon food stamps, surplus government foods, hot meals at school, and community food pantry’s are going hungry as I write.  And needless to say, while this crisis affects millions of Americans of all races the victims of this Republican folly are disproportionately black…especially women and children.

It is critically important that working and middle class Americans understand what is happening here, because the Tea Party Republicans who are driving the GOP’s legislative agenda are full blown anti-government fanatics who feel that they are on a mission to drastically reduce the federal budget by any means necessary, and they are supported by the voters in their specially designed right-wing Congressional Districts.  There is nothing more dangerous than a group of self-righteous fanatics on a mission.

The extent of their fanaticism is such that these people not only refuse to compromise, they are so reckless they cannot even accept partial victories.   Like all fanatics, whether motivated by sacred or secular ideologies, they want all or nothing and appear quite willing to cut off their nose to spite their face.

President’s original budget request for 2014 was over one trillion dollars, but the Senate Democrats, with the President’s consent have reduced it to almost half that sum in the present budget to a little over 900 billion dollars in an attempt to compromise with the House Republicans in order to pass a budget and fund the government.  The figure they agreed to is actually close to the numbers in the budget proposed by Paul Ryan, which President Obama ran against and won!

Yet although President Obama was reelected on his platform the Republicans in the House, most of whom represent gerrymandered districts – which is to say “safe” Republican districts created by election commissions appointed by the Republican governors in those states, many of whom were elected because they pledged to fight President Obama’s policies.   So they are insulated from the wrath of the national electorate.

This bit of political chicanery has resulted in a situation where the radical far right-wing minority in the Grand Obstructionists Party can blow up the federal government and plunge the nation into one crisis after another without fear of retribution at the polls.   But as their folly in shutting down the Federal government begins to inconvenience citizens who are on holiday in Washington and find national monuments – like the World War II veterans who made a pilgrimage to that sacred shrine honoring their sacrifice and found it closed.

This is why the Republican iconoclasts are attempting to restore funding to select parts of the government to avoid enraging the public; but President Obama will not play that game, he knows that it is folly to try and finance government operations on an ala carte basis.  The Republicans – shameless charlatans that they are – are now running around posing for pictures with the vets and declaring themselves the true friends of the armed forces, although they have recently cut millions in funding for veteran’s benefits from the federal budget.

With all of the chaos the government shutdown is causing, which is damaging to the nation and might fatally injure the Republican Party’s chances at winning the Presidency, the question all thoughtful people are asking is: Why doesn’t Boehner just pit the budget resolution on the floor for a vote by the entire House and end the crisis the members of his caucus created.

The answer alas, is that Boehner is a man who privileges personal ambition over the stability of the nation, because he knows that should he put the bill up and it is passed by a bi-partisan vote he will be stripped of his Chairmanship.  And that’s too great a price to pay for a lower middle class guy from a mid-western hick town who has ascended to a level beyond his boyhood dreams; hence he is drunk on the intoxicating opiate of power.  Boehner loves being Speaker of the House, and he appears all to ready to sell his soul to keep it.

By placing personal ambition over the public interests, Boehner has demonstrated that he is unfit for a job that requires just the opposite.  That’s why he may well be the worst House Speaker ever.   Since he has the misfortune of following Nancy Pelosi wielding the Speaker’s gavel, whose record of accomplishment during her brief tenure in office is one of the most impressive of all times, historians will have little trouble pointing out just what an ineffective sad sack he is.  No wonder he’s always crying.

The Weeper and the Speaker: Johnny and Nancy
John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi
Contemplating their place in History?



Playthell  G. Benjamin
October 3, 2013
Harlem, New York