The Power of Judges and the Roles that they Play… An Interview w/ Austin Lawyer Ann del LLano

We sat down with Austin lawyer/activist and Southern Shift partner Ann Del Llano and spoke to her about last month’s Supreme Court decision to allow corporations unlimited contributions in elections. She started off by noting that the American public were big losers. She said the average citizen just lost a seat at the table in our Democracy because corporations will immediately have a louder voice and better access to lawmakers.

Ann also laid out some of the possible impacts this decision could have on many Texans. For starters, she noted that Private Prisons could suddenly start weighing in on elections and using undue influence and vast resources to push for harsher and longer sentences that would help increase their bottom line.  She noted that we already have powerful police unions who’ve held considerable sway over politicians, who have found themselves under pressure to be tough on crime in the form of choosing  jail sentencing over alternatives. This trend would increase if private prison corporations who stand to make huge profits from warehousing bodies step into the mix..They would be the ones controlling the candidates and literally writing the laws. 

Ann also spoke on the issue of media corporations and how people’s voices would be drowned out when moves are made to allow them to control the internet and get rid of Net Neutrality.  Here’s pt1 of our podcast…

The Power of the Judges and the Roles that they Play

In pt2 of our podcast we take a sobering look at the enormous power judges have in and outside the courtroom, the roles they play and how the recent Supreme court ruling could corporatize the type of judges elected onto the bench… We talked about the types of corporate influence that hs seaped into the Supreme Court in Texas where citizens going up against corporation rarely win.  Ann expressed her fear that things would get exponentially worse.

We looked at a litany of criminal justice cases where the people accused of heinous crimes were let off by judges. They ranged  from the acquittal of the officers who shot Sean Bell 50 times in NY all the way up to the recent dismissal of a case against infamous Texas judge Sharon ‘Killer’ Kellar .  We talked about how George W Bush being ‘selected’ into office  in the landmark ruling they made in 2000, was the result of his father George H Bush putting conservative justices on the supreme court who would rule in his son’s favor 10-15 years later.  Ann pointed out the recent Supreme Court ruling was the result of Bush jr putting Roberts and Alioto on the court.

We talk about the importance of paying attention to elections and asking hard questions about the judges seeking office, especially in the areas of criminal sentencing. Ann lays out a startegy that voters can follow to start monitoring judges so they can be better informed come election time..

We also talked about how voters in Harris County in 2008 swept out all but 4 judges from office and replaced them with judges who were taking a different approach toward punishment.


Our Thoughts on last Nights Debate Between Farouk Shami and Bill White-Think Outside the Box

Like many throughout the state, last night I tuned into to watch the Democratic debate between business owner Farouk Shami and former Houston mayor Bill White. White is favorite among the Dems and for a state that is politically and culturally changing in many areas, he symbolizes that potential. However, while I’d take White over Mr Good Hair Perry and Cheerleader Kay Bailey, I feel he came across way too cautious and I know I’m definitely not alone in my feelings.

Like it or not.  personality, enthusiasm and just good ole fashion straight from the hip plain talk can go a long way in waking up, inspiring and exciting the legions of people who don’t vote because they feel candidates are not about the business of sincerely addressing their issues and concerns. Far too often people are left feeling like they are being treated as statistics and or part of a voting demographic to be conquered and not engaged. And while I recognize there are policy wonks who will insist that playing to the  pool of ‘likely voters’ is a tried and true method, there’s rapidly coming a day when that won’t work.  That pool is shrinking and politicians especially someone like White is going to have to step out his comfort zone just a bit and connect better with the people. What do I mean by that?

White doesn’t need to show up in fancy clothes or adopt new slang and pretend to be someone he isn’t. But it does mean he has to have a better sense of what large portions of the people he wants to govern are thinking and earnestly address them. A certain part of him has got to be he’s the guy who wanna have that proverbial beer with.  But he also has to be the guy you wanna play basketball with, go shopping with,shoot pool with,  go to the car show or rap concerts with or simply hang out on the corner with.. etc. He has to expnad and understand not everyone in Texas drinks or wants to drink beer.

Governor Rick Perry

 Here’s the bottom line.. Rick Perry excites his base better than White is exciting his right now.. That’s not good.  If White wins the March primary he’ll have lots of people voting for him because they can’t stand Perry or the Republicans in general and not because people who are ready to seriously ride hard for him.. Thats gotta change or its gonna be wrap come November.. It’s that serious and that simple. 

People like to take shots at Farouk Shami and say he’s quirky because of his accent and all that, but lets keep it real. He excited people last night. His straight ahead talk and sincerity made people sit up and watch. He connected big time on two important issues, immigration and the death penalty.  He talked about treating those who are undocumented as ‘Human beings’. In fact he used that word ‘Human’  2 or 3 times… I don’t know what the so called policy experts said or how it polled , but Faraouk connectedwith people who often feel as if they are seen as invisible and even treated as second class or a burden to the rest of society.  Farouk talked about building bridges and not walls with our neighbors in Mexico, much like we do with Canada.  Again that connected. Lots of people in Texas and in fact all over the country can and do relate to that statement.  It went a long ways. It made people in the room I was at sit and pay attention. It made folks go look up Farouk and see what his other policies were. 

Farouk Shami

After Farouk spoke on immigration, as predicted there are the racist types who immediately started making their objections known by talking and texting crazy..There was one Neandertal type woman who immediately started tweeting how incredulous she was at Farouk’s suggestion of us working with and seeing our neighbors to the south as fellow human beings who are often in dire need and not some foreign enemy who needs to be spit upon. ‘Build a Bridge with Mexico? How about sending them to Jail’ she tweeted..   

 Is this the crowd we wanna play to? Isn’t this an outdated way of thinking? Isn’t this very 1980s? Bill White’s response on immigration seemed to suggest that he was playing to that crowd.. Not in policy obviously, but in the sense of him trying to minimize critcism and pushback. That’s not riding for your supporters.. That’s called playing them and people can sense that. As I said earlier, people in Texas are tired of being played.. We say let such people holding attitudes like that woman go back to their caves and let’s build with the people who see the world differently.

 Memo to politicians: Millions of people throughout the state DO NOT see their family, friends, neighbors and the people of Mexico as enemies. It doesn’t matter how many Border Patrol shows they run on TV or how many reports of drug cartels we air on the evening news.. The average person sees things very differently.  If we can get to that point in our thinking we can start to craft meaningful legislation that is benificial for everyone involved. 

Even though Bill White is currently the  favorite, if Farouk’s words  start to get out to the millions who didn’t bother to watch last nights debate, he may get a few folks to go to the polls and give White a serious run for the money. As the former mayor of one of the largest and most diverse cities in the country, White should’ve have echoed similar sentiments as Farouk in an unabashed, undaunted way versus trying to cover all his political bases. Immigration is a human thing at the end of the day, not a policy thing… Its best we recognize that now, before we’re  forced to in the near future… 

 On the issue of the death penalty, Farouk came out the box swinging when he pretty much said ‘Hell naw- we need a moratorium’.  He said too many innocent people have been executed and it’s time for a pause.   That drew loud applause where I was at. His remarks drew praise on the Facebook and Tweeter feeds I was on… When pressed by the lame ass reporter who was trying to play ‘Gotcha’ versus simply asking questions, Shami didn’t waver, he boldly restated his position.. ‘We need a moratorium to on the death penalty’

Meanwhile on the other side of the room, White was again trying to cover all the bases.  He said something about respecting the voters, respecting the process, respecting the courts blah blah blah. He came across wishy washy, like he was kinda, sorta,  maybe willing to let someone off if he/she was innocent.. You could literally see his brain working in overdrive to see how he could best say the ‘right thing’ without offending the over-the-top tea party types who would take him to the woodshed for saying anything less than ‘People on death row need to die’… 

 Taking bold steps and earnestly speaking to various audiences is not being reckless. It’s called being a leader and as far as I can recall, Texas Governors like them or not and trust me I haven’t  liked the last two, have been known to speak directly to their constituents and get them reved up..  White has the advantage of appealing to a larger audience of folks who are currently turned off..and turning them on. It seems like he has yet to go after them, but Farouk did.. and that’s a good thing.. He needs to continue down that path.. 

 One topic that both candidates seemed to miss was on the issue of jobs. Yes, lots of people need jobs. The economy is bad, bills need to be paid , many are barely making it..Everyone understands that. However, what was missing in the discussion was evidence of conversations with communities and people who are out of work as to exactly what they need. It’s more than just having a  job.. It’s about what type of job and whether or not it fulfilling.  Are we talking about entry level  manufacturing jobs, office jobs, green Jobs?  Is this what people are saying they want?

Sound leadership says we go beyond giving people something to do just for a paycheck..  Part of the reason America hasn’t been as competitive as we could in the global economy is because folks feel uninpsired by the work they do. Why not take the bold step of creating jobs that will be here for the long haul because folks working them feel they have a stake in them? We ideally should be playing to their strengths and hopefully developing something that has richer meaning.

For example, to this day, I am hard pressed to find anyone who really knows what is a Green Job.  The common answer I get is ‘installing solar panels’. My mom is who is older and out of work and not in the best of health is not interested or capable of installing solar panels. So what are we really talking about when you say ‘Green Jobs’? Are these entry level positions or something with mobility? Can I one day make partner? Move into management? Be the Solar panel provider versus installer? 

One thing that has always stood out is the entrepreneurial spirit of folks in places like Houston. Known and admired all over the country for its thriving music scene, there are a couple of generations of people who’ve grown up in H-Town wanting to ‘run their own businesses and many do.. I have to wonder if any candidate have tapped into this resevoir of talent  and taken into account their perspectives when crafting job policy?  Have any of these candidates spoken to the entrepreneurs of today’s generation?  What ideas do iconic figures and leaders like a Trae, Bun B, Matt Sonzala, Slim Thug, K-Rino, J Prince, Chingo Bling, Brother Jesse and so many others have to say?

Yes, I realize some of these people are artists, but many those same artists not only have created and provided jobs for the people around them. In addition prior to becoming well known and finacially able to live solely off their craft, many had  to hustle and make do with their own jobs. These individuals have set examples for many who look up to them all over the country. Are we talking to them here in Texas? 

Take a popular artist like Chamillionaire. He was recently in California’s Silicon valley where he  give a keynote about new technology and digital media. He was there opening people’s eyes about new job possibilities. Has anyone running for governor in Texas tapped him to see what suggestions he has?  This is an especially important point  in the age of social media, computers and digital devices. I know people who can flip computers and make them do things they weren’t initially designed to do.. Should we be looking in that direction and finding ways to enhances those skill sets?  

Annisse Parker

In a recent  interview with new mayor Annisse Parker, she talked to us about how Houston is rapidly becoming a destination place for the arts and how she wants to continue moving things in that vein. What does that mean for new jobs? Does Houston become Hollywood South? Do we start crafting new facilities and exploring what opportunities exist in that arena. Do we become a destination place for film festivals, indy media etc..? Its gotta be more than solar panels.. The job I have is writing, broadcasting and basically communicating.. I’m not trying to install some panels.. But I might be willing to work at crafting important messages form a company or agency.. Again we have to think outside the box here in the new Texas and part of that is recognizing what people are needing and enthusiastically embracing.

All in all, there is a great opportunity to tap the untapped and bring them into the process of electing Texas’ next governor. One can play the same old game and go for the so called likely voters.. or we can appeal to those who feel disconnected.. The choice is yours

The New Racial Segregation at Public Schools

The New Racial Segregation at Public Schools

In 1990 over 40 percent of black students in the South attended majority-white schools. Now less than 30 percent of students do — 1960s numbers.

February 4, 2010  |  
Overview: America’s schools are more segregated now than they were in the late 1960s. More than 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, we need to radically rethink the meaning of “school choice.”

So much depends on a yellow bus, winding its way across the North Carolina landscape.

For decades, this was how Wake County integrated its schools. Buses would pick up public school students in largely minority communities along the Raleigh Beltline; in affluent Cary, a Raleigh suburb; in dozens of small towns and unincorporated communities around this fast growing state capital.

Most of the students would travel to schools not far from home. But every year, a few would cross the county to a new school, in a neighborhood very different from their own.

The system won Wake County praise from many integration advocates — but locally, people were less enchanted. In late 2008, a wave of anti-busing sentiment swept in new school board members who promised to support neighborhood schools and keep kids closer to home.

Cathy Truitt worries about what will happen next.

“If we end busing abruptly, we’ll be taking a rapid step back to resegregation,” said Truitt, a retired teacher who was defeated in her bid for a school board seat.

While Truitt worries about the effects of an end to busing, she says voters were exasperated with a system that seemed to randomly reassign their children to schools far from home.

“A child could be reassigned for three out of four years, while another family would go untouched, “ Truitt said. “While people embraced diversity, they were absolutely tired of losing their choices.”

The New Segregation
Stories like that are bound to get a reaction from Amy Stuart Wells.

A professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, Wells has spent much of her career studying the resegregation of American schools — writing the history of the steady march back to separateness that has left our educational system more racially segregated now than it was in 1968.

“We don’t have to accept this juxtaposition that puts school choice on one side and a civil rights approach to integration on the other,” Wells said. “Our approaches to school choice over the past 20 years have been pretty unimaginative — and children are paying for our lack of imagination.”

For Wells and other experts on school integration, the Wake County school board election is just another phase in a long-term, city-by-city struggle over how to integrate our schools. It’s a struggle that the entire country has been losing for the better part of two decades.

Today, one-third of black students attend school in places where the black population is more than 90 percent. A little less than half of white students attend schools that are more than 90 percent white. One-third of all black and Latino students attend high-poverty schools (where more than 75 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch); only 4 percent of white children do.

Things have been better, and not so long ago. In 1990 more than 40 percent of black students in the South were attending majority-white schools. Today, fewer than 30 percent of students do — roughly the same percentage as in the late 1960s, when many districts were still refusing to implement 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education.

That trend isn’t limited just to the South, according to Gary Orfield, director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. According to Orfield, some of the deepest racial divisions in America today are in the Midwest, where old patterns of “white flight” have shaped the suburban landscape, and a new generation of immigrants is settling into communities that were never under orders to desegregate.

Most of the decades-old obstacles to integration still remain. Wake County’s debate over active integration measures is a rarity these days: Most busing programs were killed by white backlash in the 1970s. Our schools are still governed by a hodgepodge of districts, some giant and some tiny, many of which were created as enclaves of white privilege. And Americans still are choosing — or being steered toward — home ownership in communities where everyone looks like them.

And there are new challenges. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively gutted Brown by declaring that school districts can’t consider racial diversity as a factor in school assignments. (Where busing still exists, it’s done on the basis of family income.) And as the suburbs have spread, we’ve seen residential segregation on steroids. “The old paradigm of black cities and white suburbs is no longer true,” said Orfield. “Black and Latino communities are expanding into the suburbs — but they’re concentrated in specific areas. We’re seeing a suburbia that is divided by ethnicity.”

Separate is Still Unequal
Depending on where you stand, the drift back to segregation may be obvious, or it may be entirely invisible. “Many white students attend schools that are overwhelmingly white, and those schools are actually seeing an increase in diversity,” Orfield said. “We have the irony that white students can feel that their educational experience is more integrated, when in fact the level of segregation nationwide has increased.”

In the mid-1960s, 80 percent of American students were white. Today, due to immigration and other factors, children of color make up almost 40 percent of the student body. While the student body as a whole has grown more much more diverse, many majority-white schools have seen only a slight bump in their minority enrollment.

Meanwhile, growing numbers of black, Latino and Asian American students are finding themselves in what Orfield calls “intensely segregated” schools — schools where students of color make up more than 90 percent of the student body. Typically these schools have high concentrations of students in poverty — what Orfield calls “double segregation.” And increasingly there is “triple segregation” as English language learners in poverty find themselves concentrated in certain schools.

“These schools are just fundamentally different from other schools,” said Erica Frankenberg, a scholar on the Civil Rights Project. “In terms of AP classes available, number of veteran teachers, graduation rates — on almost every measure you see an indication of a school in severe stress.”

Students in these intensely segregated environments are far less likely to graduate, or to go on to college. It’s a problem that is well known to many people of color. Frankenberg says its time for the entire country to realize that this is a crisis for each of us.

“If we don’t start educating black and Latino students better than we are doing now, we are going to see an intergenerational decline in the percentage of high school graduates in the adult population for the first time ever,” she noted.

There’s strong evidence that integration could help us eliminate the “achievement gap.” Frankenberg and Orfield both note that the gap was lowest during the late 1980s and early 1990s — the period in history when our schools were at their most integrated.

“We have never been able to implement Plessy v. Ferguson,” Frankenberg said. “Separate schools have never been equal. Yet we keep trying to make a segregated system work.”

A Hidden History of Choice
How do we reverse a 40-year trend, one that is embedded in our residential landscape? And how do we integrate schools when the Supreme Court has ruled that race and diversity can’t be a factors in school assignments?

The solution might be as simple as changing the way we think — particularly the way we think about school choice.

“We need to rethink what choice means, and we need to realize that it isn’t inimical to the ‘civil rights’ approach to integration,” Wells said.

Experts such as Wells and Orfield point out that many fundamentals of school segregation haven’t changed all that much since 1990. There was residential segregation then, and many racially homogenous districts date back to the 1970s.

What did change was a paradigm shift. Court rulings weakened local integration plans, and Americans increasingly began looking for solutions that appealed to their free-market instincts. Charter schools and vouchers began to look like the best way to liberate students from intensely segregated schools — and the best way to create innovative, effective schools.

By and large, it hasn’t worked, Orfield contends.

“Charter schools are the most segregated segment of the school system,” he said. “They often appear in highly segregated areas, and they tend to increase segregation.”

Again, so much depends on a yellow bus. By not providing transportation and other services commonly found in traditional public schools, charters were limiting their student body to kids who lived nearby — and to parents who had the right social networks.

“With charters, recruitment is largely word-of-mouth, and, as a result, these schools aren’t as accessible as they could be,” Wells said.

Orfield notes that charters aren’t bound by civil rights mandates, the way magnet schools are. But even magnet schools — with their implied mission of providing alternatives — don’t have enough capacity to provide parents with a true choice. With waiting lists at every magnet, it’s the schools that are doing the selecting.

“The laissez-faire, market-based approaches of the past 20 years have done a really good job of providing schools with a choice of students,” Wells said. “But they haven’t done a good job of providing students with a choice of schools.”

It didn’t have to be that way, Wells said.

“The problem is that there’s a whole history of school choice that has been hidden and forgotten,” she said. Wells recently co-authored a major study on school systems that still have voluntary busing. Eight major cities — including Indianapolis, St. Louis, Palo Alto and others — still have voluntary busing systems that allow students from intensely segregated schools to choose to attend other schools — even across district lines.

“These programs aren’t thriving — in fact, they’re struggling, politically, to survive — but they’re hanging on in large part because of support from parents,” Wells said.

That includes parents in white, affluent suburbs who want students from other districts to be brought into their schools.

“A lot of white parents in the suburbs bemoan the fact that they’re raising kids in an all-white, privileged context,” Wells said. “Even the kids realize they’re in this bubble.”

For Wells, the voluntary busing programs represent an approach to school choice that once was well known — one most parents have forgotten, or believe to be a failure. And that’s a shame, she said, because for students in these programs, the achievement gap has shrunk.

“Not only do these programs provide meaningful choices, they provide the intangibles — high expectations, higher academic aspirations, exposure to more ways of seeing the world,” she said.

Rethinking Districts
Wells is quick to point out that these are programs that bus students from one district to another. School district boundaries, she says, are “the new Jim Crow,” separating poverty from wealth and white from black and brown.

Frankenberg agrees. She notes that the most segregated states today are the ones with the greatest profusion of districts — a legacy of a post-Brown movement to establish white and affluent enclaves in the shadow of major cities.

Frankenberg, who grew up in Mobile, uses her home state as an example. Alabama has 67 counties and 167 school districts. Neighboring Florida also has 67 counties — and 69 districts (one for each county and two special districts for university laboratory schools.) According to Frankenberg, Alabama is the most segregated state in the South — the only Southern state that consistently shows up in the top 10 of most segregated states.

Consolidating districts in highly segregated areas might be a difficult political battle, but complete consolidation isn’t the only option.

“We need to rethink our attitude toward districts,” Wells says. “The boundaries can be more permeable than they are now.”

In an age of economic hardship, that approach may be more welcome than ever before. Well points to Long Island, New York, which has 125 individual school districts.

“People are starting to understand that this system is wasteful,” she said. “Districts are starting to talk about saving money by consolidating back-office operations. There’s even talk about consolidating certain employment functions, though I’m not sure the union will approve of that.

“If districts can share these services, why can’t we find ways to allow students to attend school across district lines?” she said. “Why can’t we create interdistrict magnet programs?”

A Paradigm Shift
Wells, Orfield and Frankenberg all say they’re hopeful things will change now that America has its first black president. So far, though, the signals from the Obama Administration have been mixed.

Wells says she hopes a new generation of research on the benefits of a diverse education will help “put integration and civil rights back on the public radar.” She cites the work of Scott E. Page, a mathematician who has used computer models to show that diverse groups of thinkers come up with better solutions than homogenous groups.

But the testimony of teachers and parents is just as important. If debates like the one in Wake County reach an unhappy ending, it may be because we’re losing sight of the perspectives that only educators can provide.

“We need to be politically active in seeking a change,” she said. “And teachers need to be prepared share what they know — to explain why diversity is important.”

Tim Lockette is a freelance writer in Montgomery, AL, and former editor of Teaching Tolerance.

Former Harris County Judge Now Holds it Down in the Jails

We recently caught up with former Harris county judge Caprice Cosper and talk to her about her new appointment which has been described as a czar-ship for jails. She says that’s an inaccurate description and talked to us exactly what she does in overseeing the jail system. Her main goals is to deal with prison over crowding which has resulted in more than thousand prisoners being shipped out-of-state. She is also a liason  between her former fellow Harris County Judges and the Harris County Jail. Described as ameticulous hard-working, stern yet fair judge, we at The Southern Shift sat down and talked with Cosper about the types of thresholds she was hoping to reach in order to determine success.

In pt2 we continue our interview w/ former Harris County judge Caprice Cosper. Here she tackles the issue of recitivism and the push to be tough on crime. She talks about how Harris County is in a unique point in history where various stake holder in the justice system recognize there is great need for change. She lays out the steps she and others are now taking to be fair and yet responsible for keeping society’s most dangerous people off the streets.

As we come into pt3 of our interview w/ former judge Caprice Cosper, she talks about the need to rehabillitate non-violent, substance abuse and low level offenders who will one day get out of prison and return to society. 

We conclude our interview w/ former Harris county judge Caprice Cosper. Here we talk about the influence of gang reality shows on TV and how that may actually be an encouragement for wayward youth looking for 15 minutes of fame…We also talk about how women are the largest growing segment in Harris County’s jail population and steps being taken to turn that around. Lastly we talk about about how 1 out 10 Texans is or has been in jail.

Return to the Southern Shift

Scholar Cornel West Goes In on President Obama-Expresses Disappoitment


Scholar, author Dr Cornel West, Professor at Princeton, University has gone in on President Obama. Shortly after last week’s state of the union he released a video where he questions Obama’s commitment to poor people. He points out that the improved economy the President touts still has an un-employment rate of 10% and that 10% is made up of real people who are in dire straits. West also noted that President Obama brought many people into the fold during his campaign, but now seems to have abandoned them to become a technocratic deal cutter.

In the video West warns that if Obama does not take the steps to be more of a leader in the vain of iconic figures like Martin Luther King who has often been compared to, then he will be nothing more than a mediocre President…

Return to The Southern Shift

Did President Obama’s Speech Go Far Enough? Not if You Were Working class or Poor

Last night’s State of the Union address by President Obama came a bit too little too late… Yes, it was perceived as a good speech in many circles but only because he finally focused on the one thing nagging at the heels of at least 1 out of every 10 Americans… We’re talking about JOBS. It had been along time coming and when you compare that with what has thus far been a disastrous Health Bill which caved into the wanton greed and desires of clowns like Senators Joe Lieberman and Bill Nelson, his speech was a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, what was missing, was a discussion of how to help out those who have already been severely damaged by the fleecing of this economy. What was missing was a discussion of how to help those who saw their 401Ks tanked, saw their credit lines cut, saw their credit rating ruined often through no fault of their own. We didn’t hear discussion on how to help those who worked 10, 15 and even 20 years at a job only to find themselves out of work because of downsizing-the result of greedy banks making record profits, giving out billion dollars to top level employees and not helping small businesses get a line of credit to purchase goods and supplies or make payroll. We DID NOT hear conversation on how to help out those people who are part of the working poor and the poor.

I heard President Obama say things like ‘Tax credits‘, and small business loans.. and don’t get me wrong, that’s great if you’re in a position to take advantage of them. But if you spent your last savings on rent and other basic necessities after being laid off and unable to find work or a decent paying job over the past few months, none of these tax breaks do you any good. I was looking for the President to say something like..

1-Renters get a voucher.. landlords get a tax break or some other economic incentive to give tenets a couple of months to save money..

2-Folks who lost their jobs will get paid for job training so they could re-enter a changing job market that requires new technological skill sets. I heard all this talk about Green jobs.. Great, but what exactly is a green job?Installing solar panels? My elderly mom is gonna start installing panels?? Really? If you been working in the office for the past 10 years shuffling papers, you need to get a new skill set.. and that new skill set needs to come not after you get hired, but while you’re looking… Give people some incentive. Help boost their confidence. make them feel useful. Without that, guess, what? You’re gonna have a bunch of out of work, ‘unskilled’ workers who are still in the economic dog-house… All of that compounded by watching uber rich bankers get billion dollar bonuses.

3-There’s been a disproportionate amount of hidden taxes and hidden costs applied to the poor. We saw no break or relief from that. What do I mean? Well, take a city like Oakland where there is high unemployment in many neighborhoods. Last fall the city council seeing the city was strapped for cash, decided to have the police and parking enforcement step up and crack down on any and all vehicle violations. They were encourage to pull up all sorts of antiquated and obscure laws and go after folks to raise money. So all all sorts of folks, especially those in poor neighborhoods found themselves being hit and hit hard. If you were parked in your driveway wrong or on the street at some odd angle or not ‘too far’ from the curb, you saw a hefty ticket being slapped on you. Police officers were zealously handing out tickets for everything ranging from expired tags to not having enough screws on your license plate. Parking officers were combing the streets early in the morning with books and little known rules in hand looking for violators. This of course led to people not coming to shopping centers in oakland where this sort of madness was taking place. Everyone got hurt. If that wasn’t enough the city added to this by raising parking meter rates to a whopping two dollars an hour and expanded the enforcement to 8pm at night. This was a hidden tax that saddled the working poor and poor. We wont even talk about the high bridge tools to go into San Francisco. 4 dollars a pop plus 3 dollar gas is alot when you don’t have.

The final straw was when the city went out and got a machine that reads license plates and checked to see if you had more than 5 tickets, which isn’t hard to have happen in the Bay Area. I got three after the increased enforcement. 5 tickets meant you got your car towed or booted immediately. Lots of poor folks who were choosing between paying for basic necessities and superfluous parking tickets wound up taking what little money they tucked away in December and paying parking fees. Not a good look at all. Very few people could afford to be without a car.

4-We didn’t see the lowering of costs for food or gas prices. In poor neighborhoods prices went up not down, with managers talking about poor people were stealing food so they had to pay for extra security. All of us got hit.

Banking and credit card fees which actually increased especially with outlets that got bailouts. For many who aren’t living on the brink, such things weren’t thought about. It didn’t hit the radar. I had one friend say what’s a few extra dollars to pay during a troubled economy? A whole hell of a lot when you have no money. Last night I needed 20 bucks here in DC and all the withdrawal fees were 3 bucks and none of the stores in the poor neighborhood I’m staying took credit cards.. Thats that hidden tax that poor folks get hit with everyday

5-There was no discussion about the crazy costs of payday loans. Lots of folks in the hood know about this. They need a loan to pay for rent or the electric bill or cable and internet bill (all of which have gone up over the past year) and they wind up paying loan shark type fees in order to get that loan.. Thats another hidden cost.I ran into NAACP ben jealous last night and he said it was an issue that needs to be discussed, cause a lot of poor folks are getting clobbered with this..

6-many of the working poor are saddled with taking care of two or three kids and aging parents. President Obama did not talk about that last year. We didn’t hear any discussion about how the new ‘millienium baby boomers who are facing this new challenge will get relief.. Many in this generation have parents who divorced, didn’t have a home to get equity and very little retirement and savings. They’re too old to work, and not really able to make it. Their kids are looking out after their parents as well as kids. I can tell you first hand, that’s daunting. For example, my sister has spent thousands flying back and forth to Miami, looking in my pops who is not able to work other than odd jobs here and there and has failing health. The cost of putting him in an old age home which he absolutely under no circumstances would ever agree to go to was minimum 3500 bucks a month. Completely unaffordable for two siblings and thats just one parent at the same time he needed to be looked after especially when he got sick. Someone had to do it-That someone was his kids who had to save up money fly to another state and take on an unexpected, new challenge that has no blue print to follow.

I can go on and on about these hidden costs that impact poor and working class people all day. People reading this know what I’m talking about. They also know how political posturing and political pimping has resulted in a nasty stigma being attached to those who can barely make it.. For years we allowed high prices news pundits come on TV and essentially blame folks who are not making ends meet. Sadly many of us have adapted that line of thinking and have gone on to blame themselves for not doing so well, until they hit a brick wall and realized that it’s almost impossible to make it under lots of circumstances.

Yes, President Obama gave a good speech if you were middle class- but coming into 2010 there aren’t a whole lot of folks who are in that category anymore. Sure, many may think they are, but in reality unless you have 3-4 months rent in the bank you can fall back on, a healthy 401K that wasn’t decimated during the bank bailout era and you have health insurance, you are NOT middle class. You’re part of the working poor and at any given moment you can slip away and become part of the permanent ‘poor’ underclass.

Lastly I’ll say this… what I’m afraid is by not addressing poor & working poor..a big part of the economy is served-Prison Industrial complex but thats for another article

That’s Something to ponder

Davey D


State of the Union: Why Is Obama Still Clinging Bipartisanship?

Obama restated 2008 campaign promises that were not kept during his first year as president. It’s unclear how he can make good on them in 2010 working with Republicans.

January 27, 2010 |By John Nichols

But don’t accuse the president of veering from the course he charted at a point when his term was new, his popularity ratings were high and Americans took seriously all that talk of “hope” and “change.”

Despite the battering he has taken during his first year in the White House, despite suffering a serious drop in his personal approval ratings, despite the frustration and disenchantment that gave the Senate seat from the deep blue state of Massachusetts to the opposition Republicans, Obama used his initial State of the Union address to renew the call for the health care reform initiative that was the primary focus of his difficult first year in office.

“Don’t walk away from reform — not now, not when we are so close,” the president pleaded with the Congress.

“By the time I’m finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Co-pays will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether,” he declared, in the signature line of his speech. “I will not walk away from these Americans. And neither should the people in this chamber.”

The president admitted that he bumbled the push for health reform, even drawing warm laughter when he said: “I did not choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt. And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn’t take on health care because it was good politics. But remember this– I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I can do it alone.”

He also acknowledged that his first year in office was a tough one: “I campaigned on the promise of change — change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change — or at least, that I can deliver it.”

Yet, Obama still did not seem to “get” the politics of the moment.

Speaking at a point when the year-long effort to enact fundamental health-care reforms has stumbled badly — in the face of united Republican opposition, wrangling between House and Senate Democrats and unfocused messaging from the president — Obama made a renewed effort to find the common ground that has eluded almost everyone in Washington.

Remarkably, the president clung to the hope for bipartisanship that was dashed at every turn in 2009 — either with outright rejection by the “party of ‘no'” or, worse yet, via compromises that handed ultimate authority over policy-making to Republican senators who diverted stimulus funding from job creation to tax cuts for the rich and Democrat-In-Name-Only Ben Nelson and Republican-In-Everything-But-Name Joe Lieberman, who forced the Senate to scrap the public option that was needed to challenge the grip of health insurance companies.

“We face big and difficult challenges. And what the American people hope what they deserve — is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics,” said the president, whose repeated references to bipartisanship made clear that he is not ready to adopt the fighting stance that might rally the Democratic base for a serious fight to use the party’s majorities in the House and Senate to initiate meaningful reforms.

This was not a rally-the-base speech.

It was a speech that, at many turns, sounded as if it was written a year ago — before Obama saw his domestic agenda blocked at so many turns.

It was this tone-deaf quality that made Obama’s speech a less-than-inspired statement.

Even when Obama outlined what sounded like an activist agenda, he generally restated 2008 campaign promises that were not kept during his first year as president.

In particular:

* To suggest a commitment to job creation, he dusted off one of his presidential campaign’s less-impressive position papers on using tax cuts to get small businesses hiring. In particular, the president called for eliminating capital-gains taxes on investments in small businesses and for giving small employers a tax credit for new hires.

* He repeated old promises to create clean-energy jobs and to end aid to businesses that are off-shoring jobs and facilities.

* Even as said “we all hated the bank bailout” (“it’s about as popular as a root canal”), Obama defended the giveaway to big banks as a necessary, even courageous, move. And he only offered up a little of the populism that should have defined the speech, with a proposal to recover bailout bucks by placing a fee on the biggest banks. “I know Wall Street isn’t keen on this idea,” he declared, “but if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need.”

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Young Violinist who Performed for Michelle Obama, Brutally Beaten by Pittsburgh Police Who Thought His Soda Can was a Gun

Sadly 2010 is off to a shakey start with the story of this horrific police beating of an young violinist Jordan Miles who just several months ago played for First Lady Michelle Obama… This comes on the heels of recent stats showing that in 2009 close to 70 people were shot and killed by police in Houston/Harris County in Texas. 20-30 were killed in LA County in California.. An Oakland police officer accused of killing two unarmed men and shooting a third who was in a wheel chair had his case dismissed by a judge..An Austin officer who shot a man Nathaniel Sanders while he slept in the back of his car will not be having criminal charges pressed on him, even after it was discovered he turned off his car camera.. Very disturbing and in many of our minds calls for major investigations and overhauls by the Department of Justice..

-Davey D-

Police brutality charge by teen disturb mayor

Jordan Miles is a 18 year old violinist who played for First Lady Michele Obama

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said he is “very troubled” by claims that a Homewood high school student was beaten by undercover police.

Jordan Miles, 18, was treated at a hospital twice after an arrest last week by three plainclothes Pittsburgh police officers. Police suspected he had a concealed gun and — after a chase and a struggle with the Creative and Performing Arts High School senior — concluded he was holding a bottle of Mountain Dew instead. He was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest, but when officers did not show for a court hearing Thursday, the matter was postponed.

Mr. Miles took several blows to the head and face, was Tasered and had a chunk of hair ripped from his head, his lawyer said. He was walking between homes owned by his mother and grandmother when police stopped him.

Police claimed that they identified themselves to Mr. Miles and repeatedly tried to subdue the 18 year old after he fled.

Read more:

Mother alleges son brutalized by police

By Jeremy Boren and Adam Brandolph

Jordan Miles before the police beating

The mother of a high school senior who performed for first lady Michelle Obama while she was in Pittsburgh in September says her son did not deserve to be “brutally attacked” by police officers outside his home earlier this month.

“Jordan is an excellent kid. He’s very quiet and takes school seriously,” said his mother, Terez Miles, 38. “He knows nothing about drugs, drug dealing or anything like that. He didn’t deserve this.”

Jordan Miles, 18, a senior at the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School, Downtown, alleges that three Pittsburgh police officers beat him during an arrest outside his house on Tioga Street in Homewood about 11 p.m. on Jan. 12.

The city Office of Municipal Investigations is looking into a complaint filed by Miles, whom officers said kicked and elbowed them when they tried to arrest him.

The officers involved in the incident were Richard Ewing, David Sisak and Michael Saldutte, according to court records. Each officer was hired in September 2005 and is paid a base salary of $56,150 a year, the rate for fourth-year officers.

Jordan Miles in hospital after police beating

Police Chief Nate Harper said all three officers were reassigned from their plainclothes unit to uniformed duties. Harper said no further action will be taken until the investigation is complete.

Miles’ mother is “angry” and “frustrated” that the officers have not been more seriously reprimanded.

“I feel like they should be fired,” she said. “There’s no way they can justify what they did.”

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl yesterday called the allegations “very troubling.”

“It seems as if there was a tremendous amount of force used,” Ravenstahl said a day after news broke about the incident. “The question now needs to be answered: Was it appropriate use of force?”

Ravenstahl said the complaint is being taken “very seriously.” If the amount of force the police used wasn’t appropriate, “they will be held accountable,” he said.

Through his attorney, J. Kerrington Lewis, Miles said he fought to defend himself from what he thought was an attack because the officers did not identify themselves as police officers and they were not wearing uniforms.

“We’ve lived in Homewood all our lives,” Terez Miles said. “I’ve told him to be wary of people that might want to do him harm, but I never imagined it would be police officers that would attack and brutally beat him up.”

In a criminal complaint, the officers contend they identified themselves and that Saldutte held up a police badge attached to a necklace.

Miles suffered a swollen face, hair ripped from his scalp and a twig jabbed through his gum during the incident, his mother said. Miles has not returned to CAPA, where he is an honors student and plays the viola, his mother said.

Jordan Miles recovering

Miles played his instrument for the first lady and the spouses of the delegates of the Group of 20 economic summit when they visited CAPA.

Miles was treated at West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield. Sisak was treated at UPMC Mercy, Uptown, for unspecified injuries, according to the complaint. In a report, Ewing said the officers knocked Miles to the ground and struck him with their knees and fists after an attempt to incapacitate him with a Taser failed.

Police first tried to question Miles because he was outside in a poorly lit area at 11 p.m. and appeared to have a weapon in the right pocket of his heavy coat. The item turned out to be a bottle of Mountain Dew. Police said Miles ran away from them, refused to comply with commands and struggled when they tried to handcuff him. Miles was on his way from his mother’s house to his grandmother’s, where he often sleeps, his mother said.

Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, said the officers should be reprimanded, offering an alternative assignment to the warrant office or desk duty where they wouldn’t have interaction with the public.

“They should just be taken off the street until this is resolved,” she said.

Miles has been accepted to Pennsylvania State University, where he wants to study to be a crime scene investigator, a dream that may be in jeopardy because of the pending criminal charges, his mother said.

“I hope the charges against my son will be dropped. He’s completely innocent,” she said. “I’m just glad they didn’t kill him.”

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How Music Videos Are Changing the Game:Interview with artist Hasan Salaam,director Mark Carranceja, and model Ameena Dove

Music Videos Changing the Game:
Behind the Scenes of “Angel Dust.”
Interview with artist Hasan Salaam,director Mark Carranceja, and actress and model Ameena Dove

Interview by Rebecca McDonald of B FRESH Photography and Media

“…one of the main issues confronting our youth is teen pregnancy, STDs, and HIV/AIDS. The number of people infected is on the rise, so it is important we get the word out…we have to continue to reinforce protection and testing.” -Hasan Salaam

The underground Hip Hop video genre has been quite disappointing lately- forgettable, in fact. Now that video equiptment is affordable, and rappers have aspirations of becoming actors, everyone and their mamas think they can shoot a quality video. No more is the Myspace rapper–now you must watch out for the YouTube rappers. But think again. It takes true passion, innovative thinking, technical skill and a dope team to pull off a quality production that will leave you wanting more, and waiting for the next video to drop.

[Enter rapper Hasan Salaam, director Mark Carranceja of Noisemaker Media and actress and model Ameena Dove].

Since their collabo-cameo on the scene with “15 Minutes,” people have quietly waited to see what they would come up with next. They brought it to the next level with “Angel Dust” off of Hasan Salaam’s album, Children of God. Think Cops meets Quentin Tarantino meets Wong Kar Wai.

“Angel Dust” is a voyeuristic tale of survival. The fusion of Salaam’s lyrical prowess and Noisemaker’s edgy technical vision create the dark and mysterious world of Angel, dominated by red hot passion and gripping pain. The team pulls viewers into a world of real life consequence in less than six minutes.

On Saturday, January 23, 2010, the “Angel Dust” world premier will be held in Brooklyn, NY at Public Assembly(Facebook RSVP: The party will double as an HIV/AIDS awareness concert, for Hasan Salaam’s intention is that “…one of the main issues confronting our youth is teen pregnancy, STDs, and HIV/AIDS. The number of people infected is on the rise, so it is important we get the word out…we have to continue to reinforce protection and testing.” The team is working with LIFEbeat on this event, and it is a moment not to miss in the history of the underground Hip Hop music video genre.

Angel Dust 2Angel Dust 1

I sat down with the three powerhouses this week to give you a glimpse into the world of “Angel Dust.”

B FRESH: Describe “Angel Dust” for those readers who are not familiar with the song.
Hasan Salaam: “Angel Dust” is a collaboration between me and Lord Jamar on my second album, Children of God. It was a story I had been wanting to tell for a minute. Jamar let me hear the track and what I had written already fit perfect and the rest of it just flowed.

BF: Brand Nubain’s Lord Jamar produced the track, and also sings the hook. How did you two link up?
HS: We linked at a show in Richmond VA a couple years back.

BF: Since “Angel Dust” is based on a true story, can you describe the unique experience and challenges of rapping about topics such as stripping, prostitution and HIV/AIDS in a substantial and meaningful way– a way that is frequently void in Hip Hop, even among conscious rappers.
HS: Everything is true except the part about her having AIDS, which I wrote as a precaution. We have not spoken in years. I was with her through all of this. We used to be on the hustle together, so her story, in some ways, was mine as well. I was there for the drugs, the hustle–we were supposed to start a business together and make flicks but we chose different paths, I wound up making music she went out to Cali to pursue the dream of making it in the sex industry.

BF: You state that “Angel Dust” is about “…outlining the painful story of a stripper who is destroyed inside a web of her own escapisms.” The video illustrates a very fine line between stripping and prostitution in the world of Angel. What does her world look like?
HS: Her world is just that, escaping her past of abuse with the idea that if she controls the sex, she can control the men. The stripping was just a way to meet clients. She chased the money ‘cuz she felt the money vindicated her troubles, almost like it was medicine for the pain, not realizing that the pursuit of that caused her more pain due to what she was doing to get the money.

BF: When did you first decide to do a video for this song?
HS: Right after we recorded it. My engineer Mike Marvel was like “Yo! You gotta shoot a video for this one!”

BF: How did you and Mark Carranceja of Noisemaker Media link?
HS: We first started building on the set of the video for “Broke and Proud” w/ Rugged N Raw off his Truth Serum album. I was impressed with Mark’s work from the filming, to the editing, to the final product. After that, we shot the video for “15 Minutes.”

B FRESH: When Hasan came to you about this video, what was your first reaction?
Mark Carranceja: Hasan approached me with “Angel Dust” right after we shot “15 Minutes.” I felt honored to work with Hasan again, considering that there are other music video directors that were probably barking in his ear at the time. After my work on “15 Minutes,” I knew that he trusted me with my vision and believed in my skill as a visual artist, and I knew that Angel Dust was more than just another video. This is the first video that allowed me to visualize a world within a world.

BF: What technical challenges in filming the video did you face? How did you resolve them?
MC: Finding the perspective of the story was definitely a challenge that I needed to overcome when I started filming. I wasn’t sure if I should’ve told this story from Angel’s perspective, from Hasan’s point of view, or from a third person. I shot from all three perspectives and I kept finding myself going back to a voyeurist’s point of view. It felt comfortable and it allowed me to film loosely, meaning that I would shoot without a treatment and without the hassles of shooting in a coverage-based fashion. I took some cues from Wong Kar Wai and Lars Von Triers’ technical approach to filmmaking– I allowed for actors to explore improvisation instead of having some set direction that they needed to follow as if the actors were trained circus animals. [Laughs] Overall, Angel Dust is largely built on improvisionational technique. It was imperative that I established a narrative perspective because it sets the tone and cadence for how the story is told.

BF: The glamorous and dark sides of this lifestyle are touched on in a span of about six minutes. Describe the directing and editing process.
MC: As a filmmaker/music video director, I prefer to shoot for the editing room, meaning shoot as much as I can on set so I have options to play with. Allowing myself to film loosely and giving the actors room for improvisation gave me the opportunity to shoot as many takes as I wanted to. I already have a reputation for being a perfectionist, so having more control over what I wanted to see seemed like a dream come true for me, and a nightmare for the actors I worked with. Filming loosely also kept true to the voyeuristic nature of the narrative, as it allowed me to use the lens of the camera as an eye looking through a peephole of a world corrupted by sin, indulgence and debauchery. My approach to editing this music video was done in a non-linear fashion. Since the video is heavily driven by the narrative, a non-traditional approach to editing a music video had to be taken. I was forced to edit this video in the middle, at the most integral part of the story. From there, I worked my way outwards and started filling in the blanks.

BF: What was it like working with Ameena Dove, who plays Angel?
MC: This is my second go around working with Ameena Dove. She, too, is a perfectionist and I enjoy working with an intensely passionate individual like herself. She always came prepared on set and showed that she was emotionally invested in the character from the first to the last take. I look forward to working with her on a future project sometime this year.

BF: What was it like playing Angel Dust? What did you need to do in preparation for the role?
Ameena Dove: Playing this character was challenging at times because Angel lives in a secret world that is taboo to speak of, much less live in. The research to prepare for the role wasn’t easy to find. I wanted info on the hard core lifestyle, so I watched quite a few documentaries, read plenty of articles, walked the strip and of course picked Hasan’s brain to find out what she was really like. I loved playing the character because she has so many elements: She’s strong, sexy, yet weak and vulnerable.

BF: Have you worked on other films or videos and how does this experience compare?
AD: I played an exotic dancer in a short film called Calamity, but it was a very brief part and much different. The other roles (besides these 2) were PG-13. Angel was different and pure due to all her characteristics.

BF: What is your investment in this video?
AD: Well, it’s my first feature film, so hopefully if film makers/directors enjoy it, I’ll receive more leading roles. I’m happy, of course, to have worked with Hasan & Mark again– they’re family so they make it feel like it’s not just work. [Laughs]. And considering the premiere is helping to aid in HIV/AIDS awareness? I couldn’t ask for more!

BF: There is a point in the video where you are crying. Talk about the emotions and process of bringing to life issues that Angel faces, and how you address them.
AD: [Laughs]. Crying was interesting! I played Nina Simone’s “Spell On You” over and over and thought of something completely different to get the tears flowing. When I heard “ACTION!” Angel took over me. It was an outer body experience… It felt amazing.

BF: What was the feeling on set while shooting “Angel Dust?”
HS: It was blessed. Everybody was focused and sincere with their performances. Nina, who played young Angel was amazing! Her first time on screen and she was the most professional one there. It wasn’t your steryotypical video set despite the wardrobe and subject matter– everyone was respectful and understood the message.

MC: As a director, I was focused on getting what I needed to get done, so I am usually numb to any extraneous pressure that occurs on set. I was fortunate enough to work with like-minded individuals who believed in the greater good of the project.

AD: It was shot in many different locations but over all–it was a little of everything. The set was glam at times, raw and raunchy, depressing, uncomfortable, realistic, funny… Most of all… Productive!

BF: What challenges did you face while filming? What victories?
HS: No budget, no permits, but we never have those, so fuck it!!!

MC: Wrapping up another collaborative effort with like-minded artists is always a victory. As a director, I am eager to show this video to the public and present a fresh perspective to the music video genre that seems so… uninspired.

AD: Challenges were the RT 1/9 scene in Jersey City. It was very cold because we shot in the winter so we (the girls) froze our butts off in those little dresses! [Laughs] For me personally, it was making sure I portrayed her exactly the way Hasan wanted. There is a fine line between strength and vulnerability, so finding that balance was crucial. The victory of it all was also on RT 1/9 when a cop thought the street walking scene was real and asked us to stop filming because we stopped traffic all the way to the Pulaski Skyway! That’s when I knew we had something utterly genuine.

BF: You all made noise on the scene with the video “15 Minutes” off the same album, Children of God. In contrast, this video looks like a movie. Was this intentional, and did the production of the video feel like a film?
HS: The intention was to make this one better. That’s what we shoot for every time. Since this is a true story, we wanted it to have more of a film feel to it.

MC: Hasan wanted a film-like look to the music video, so he choose me to direct the project because of my penchant for creating work that has a cinematic aesthetic to it.

AD: It definitely feels like a film because of Mark’s remarkable camera angles, technique and editing. Match that with Hasan’s innovative ideas and soundtrack… I say we have one hell-of-a movie!

BF: What was your favorite part about filming?
HS: Watching all of the other artists whether it be Mark, Dove or any of the other actors make my vision come to life. At certain points it was like life re-lived.

MC: Overcoming uncertainty.

AD: Crying and most definitely watching my niece act for the first time! I’m EXTREMLEY proud of her! She’s an amazing kid, so intelligent and in-tune. She stole the show with her performance as a young Angel Dust!!

BF: What do you want people to walk away with after watching the video?
HS: The sense that we are all children of God. No matter what we do or where we are in life– that’s who we are. Also, there are consequences for our actions, people make mistakes and we all have a story to tell. Some are more harsh than others.

MC: I want viewers to feel like they entered a world. And I want music video directors to step up their game.

AD: I want to remind everyone that no matter what our path is, we are all CHILDREN OF GOD. Thank you Hasan & Mark for allowing me to take part in that message. PEACE.

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There would be No Barack Obama if this Woman hadn’t Set it Off-Remembering Shirley Chisholm

My homegirl, journalist and scholar Erinn Ransom hit me up and astutely reminded me that today marks an important footnote in history-Sadly it’s been forgotten by many. Its not in the small confines of Black History month and nowadays we’re at the height of football season..But it should be noted that today was the day that Shirley Chisholm declared her run for presidency back in 1972. As Erinn noted this was the jump-off of a path Barack Obama would eventually follow…

For me, the one thing I always liked about Shirley Chisholm was and will always be one to admire and emulate.. She made it clear she was Un-brought and Un-bossed.. That’s how we should all live our lives.. I know I definitely try to.. If Ms Chisholm was still around and running the country today I highly doubted if there would’ve been any Wall Street bailouts and bonuses on tax payers dollars with so many people in need.

Here’s some background info on her

Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm was an American politician, educator and author. She was a Congresswoman, representing New York’s 12th District for seven terms from 1969 to 1983. In 1968, she became the first African-American woman elected to Congress. On January 23, 1972, she became the first major party African-American candidate for President of the United States. She received 152 first-ballot votes at the 1972 Democratic National Convention

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Immortal Technique: (Reflections on the Haitian Revolution & Present Condition)

(Reflections on the Haitian Revolution & Present Condition)
By Immortal Technique

Since the recent tragedy that has befallen the proud and persevering nation of Haiti, there has been an outpouring of support followed by a few disturbing falsities being spread about the history of the island and its people. I wrote the following to shed some light on events during and around the Haitian Revolution. Please remember memorizing and reiterating should never pass for learning. Deciphering the significance of individuals and events is what truly teaches us not just about history, but also about ourselves.

There is a wide spectrum of beliefs behind what has caused Haiti to suffer ceaselessly over the years. Some see the problem as being mostly political, bad governance, modern day colonialism, and the perceived necessity to make an example to the world of what a successful slave revolution will get you. There are even those on the fringe who cling to an ancient superstition that the island was freed by a mythological pact with Satan (video) In order to shed light on the issue I am forced to go back in time. Obviously not to the beginning of occupational history, but far enough to give others a realistic perspective on Haiti and it’s struggle.

We join a story centuries in the making. It is the year 1794 and the scent of musket powder blows over all of Europe. The French Revolution may have changed the face of the world, but its unintended consequences that influenced its colonies would come to overshadow France’s own glory. It was during this year, on the 4th of February, that France’s First Republic Convention (under pressure from massive slave revolts) decided it had to transcend the stumbling efforts of the ‘enlightened monarchs’ of Europe and abolish slavery. Yet in the customary fashion of our own Declaration of Independence’s “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal,” the gesture, much like these words, became a glaring example of self-righteous insincerity. Equality, the fraternal twin brother of Independence, was aborted at the fetal stage of development and the Revolution came to betray itself.

Francois-Dominique Toussaint

Known then as “Saint Domingue” (French for Santo Domingo,) the colony that we now call Haiti, yielded great fortune to those who possessed her. It was rich with sugar, cotton, tobacco, cocoa and other valued resources. So much so that the European Superpowers of that day fought bitterly against each other to control the island and her inhabitants. After all, the African slaves living on Saint Domingue were the proverbial engines that ran the machine. From among them appeared a man who was born a slave but who would become free and lead all his countrymen toward that same destiny. He was a glitch in the matrix, an act of nature, and a mistake to be corrected in the eyes of the islands autocratic semi-feudal society. His name was Francois-Dominique Toussaint soon to be heralded, “L’Overture.”

As a former servant and carriage driver, he had abstained from participating directly in previous uprisings stemming from the refusal of slave masters to honor “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.” He had waited patiently and then allied himself with other rebel leaders who had risen to the task of overthrowing colonial rule. His ideas were innovative and his guerrilla tactics highly disciplined. No wonder then that he rose through the ranks of the rebellious forces so quickly.

Before fighting alongside the French against other colonial powers, Toussaint had been in league with the Spanish, who along with Great Britain were at war with France. The Spanish were used as a support system for his designs when white colonials refused to endorse the full rights of citizenship to free blacks given by the French edict of 1792. In other words, for Toussaint they were there to serve his vision rather than him serving theirs. Having so many different nations vying for a piece of the pie proved a difficult task to navigate. To his credit, Toussaint had managed to out-maneuver them all, cleverly using their own tactics of pitting one against another. But when Spain and England did not follow through with their promises to free slaves, he discarded his allegiance to them.

After grueling and hard-fought campaigns against the Spanish and British, he took control of the French Colony. Toussaint promoted reconciliation among the races, which wasn’t any easier then than it would be now. He also engaged and renegotiated better terms of trade with Britain and the new American Republic alike. Catholicism was adopted as the national religion and slavery was abolished. The news traveled around the world like lightning- the African Slaves were undergoing the course of reversing 300 years of domination.

As news of the Independence of Haiti was circulating, the reaction was mixed. Toussaint’s actions openly received the approval of Alexander Hamilton, who saw Europe’s weakening in the West as an opening for America’s bid for commercial supremacy. He even aided in the drafting of the precursor to the island’s first constitution in 1801. However, when Thomas Jefferson came to power, American support was reined in. Jefferson openly own slaves and had even fathered children with the now famous girl he owned, Sally Hemmings. But much more than his personal stake in legitimized servitude, it was the perceived international threat that most likely shaped his opinion. The surrounding colonies and his new Republic being destabilized by the idea of a successful slave revolt obviously frightened him. His assertion being that their freedom would suddenly cripple the economy built around them. He is quoted as saying that it was necessary at all costs to “confine the plague to the island.” I guess “My emancipation / don’t fit your equation.”

Napoleon Bonaparte

By 1801, Toussaint was in full control of Saint Domingue. In a moment of perhaps self-preserving foresight and/or genuine altruism, he advanced onto the Spanish side of the island. His army defeated the remaining white colonial powers and freed all the slaves, showing the people of color the first glimpses of freedom they’d known practically since the time of Columbus. He rejected the ancient custom that dated back to the Middle Ages, of sending his children as hostages to his ‘Suzerain’ as a symbol of fidelity. He further declared his intentions in a famous letter addressing Napoleon himself. It was titled: “From the First of Blacks to the First of the Whites.” In it he pledged his loyalty to France. He stated firmly that slavery would be utterly annihilated; that he (Toussaint) would remain governor indefinitely (a suggestion from Hamilton and then Sec. of State Pickering). Furthermore Saint Domingue would be a free and independent state. The correspondence must have come as a shock to then Consul Napoleon. It was probably the sheer audacity of a former slave proposing terms of independence, albeit in the most polite and articulate manner, that struck him. This man was obviously more dangerous than he could have ever imagined. Toussaint and his people represented something that had to be proved false no matter the cost.

See the very existence of their independence showed the entire human race a side of history that we are only now truly rediscovering. European society had relied mainly on creating divisions and the spread of epidemics, not simply superior military prowess to overcome the indigenous populations of Africa and the Americas. The Haitian Revolution exposed the façade of European invincibility, and it tore away at their justification for invasion on the grounds of Christianization. The mythology of racial superiority began to take the shape of an ancient death mask from classical antiquity.

Napoleon would hear no more and dispatched his brother in law Gen. Charles LeClerc to the island with a huge force of infantry troops and warships. His stated intention was to secure the new state. At first confrontation ensued, but they arrived at a truce once Toussaint promised that the French would not attempt to reinstate slavery. However, the moment he let his guard down he was almost immediately betrayed. Toussaint and his entire family were arrested. Restoring the island to France’s control, LeClerc had Toussaint sent to prison in France. But this was just the beginning. He quietly moved to begin the process of re-enslavement. “Since terror is the sole resource left me, I employ it…destroy all the mountain negroes, men and women, sparing only children under twelve years of age,” read his report to Napoleon.

The Mulatto

The French now shifted their focus on using the former so called “Mulatto” people who Toussaint had defeated in previous military campaigns to maintain control of the island. They, the “Mulatto’s” had been at odds with elements of the Revolution earlier although they had suffered almost equally from the torments of slavery. The very concept of the “Mulatto”, that still to this day plagues the African, Latin American, Caribbean, and so Called West Indian world, merits an explanation all to itself.

The Latin ‘mulus,’ became the Old Spanish or Old Castillian ‘mula,’ finally evolving into the Spanish and Portuguese “Mulatto,” that symbolized the reverse anthropomorphic semblance of a human being. A mule is the physical combination of a horse and a donkey. This part is simple enough. But the symbolic nature of this has a racial connotations that tear apart our society even today. The horse symbolizes the White European, elegant, regal and highly valued. And the donkey embodies what they thought the purpose of an African/Indigenous slave should be; a beast of burden to be worked until the day that ‘it’ dies.

The combination of a horse and a donkey create a species that rarely if ever is capable of reproducing. The male is always born sterile, and the female is exceptionally similar in this way. Hence the idea that nothing good can come from them. This concept then became permeated in the portrayal of the “tragic mulatto” in 19th century American literature, leading into classic Hollywood cinema. It is a theme symbolized by the downfall of a “Mulatto” or “Quadroon/Octoroon” attempting to pass for white. It also focused on the conflict of those trapped between two races. Those who despised and pitied their darker half and their own skin color, while needing the approval of whites to validate themselves. In most of the stories peace is only found for the said main character in death. The very definition of its existence solidified the role of White and Black in the American caste system, whose remnants we all still presently reside in. It also laid out the role of Blacks to themselves, without many of them even to this day understanding the loaded straw man argument about race posed within the terminology.

It was the Haitian Revolution that challenged the very idea of slavery and the existence of a lesser man. It put the “enlightenment” of Europeans on trial, and forced America to confront what she was becoming as opposed to what she was supposed to be. The usage of concepts like the “Mulatto” were necessary for late 18th century white society to put institutionalized racism on life support for another 150 years, and create a violent split in the psychology of Mother Earth’s first children.

They had used a traditional stratagem inherited from the Romans/Byzantines of understanding an empire’s limited capacity for multi-dimensional warfare on a global scale, and employed the service of a smaller state to outflank its opponents in conflict. Only this time it was not using the Visigoths to fight the Huns (Battle of Chalon, 451 A.D.) or the Cumans to fight the Pechenegs (Levonium, 1091 A.D.). Napoleon and those that served his court were innovators of the worst kind. They perfected what other colonial powers beforehand had only begun. They created virtual new age “foederati” for their designs by ripping a subsection out of the very people they sought to subjugate. In return for cooperation, the French promised the desperate “Mulattos” more rights and more privileges in what they painted as a new Saint Domingue. Effectively this action created a safe haven for racism that is even now nestled like a neonate Viper storing the poison of generation after generation. The idea built itself within the conscious and subconscious mind of an enslaved people, to keep them in bondage psychologically even if they found themselves physically free. This is evident not only in the continued degeneration of Black and “Mulatto” relations well into the mid 1800’s under Jean Pierre Boyer, but in present Black & Latino society’s obsession with skin color.

In other words, the French colonization efforts efficiently solidified adding dimensions to racism and the notion of racial superiority by creating a different “race” in our own minds. It was wicked and brilliant in its service to the cause of reducing man to property as it was to being duplicitous to the so-called ‘Mulatto’ himself. For in the end he was closer to his Master in his eyes only. To the French he was still little more than an animal, subject to an active and de-facto ‘Code Noir’.

(The cruel logic of the seemingly schizophrenic reflections in King Louis XIV’s Code Noir of 1641, is regarded as a predecessor to the U.S.’s Black Codes, which shaped the legal standing of former African slaves in the post civil war Era. It covers everything from the immediate persecution and expulsion of Jews, to laws concerning a slave’s position, methods of torture and capital punishment that could be implemented.)

Click to read the Code Noir

Jean Jaques Dessalines and Black (Slave) Rage

Tricknowledge, is a late 20th century Harlem terminology for an old cosmopolitan strategy. It is used to describe an imperial power not having the physical force to conquer a people, and therefore resorting to the art of deception to achieve victory. Calculating lies are used to manipulate the target into compromising positions before it is attacked. Yet even with all of her elegantly worded deception, sweet-accented mandates, and counter-mandates, France would only hold the beautiful island prisoner for a few more fleeting moments of history. Once the Revolution was set into motion there was no opposing inertia capable of stopping it. Toussaint may have been taken under arms to France where he lived incarcerated, in a frozen fortress near Bensancon (eventually succumbing to pneumonia although some suspected poison), but the Revolution rolled on. In fact, right before Toussaint’s death, a perhaps karmic parting gift of yellow fever swept Saint Domingue weakening the French garrison and even claiming the life of Charles LeClerc.

Jean Jaques Dessalines

Napoleon’s Saint Domingue police state barely lasted a year, until it became blatantly evident that slavery was to be reinstated just as it had been on Guadeloupe. In the end, after watching the brutal conflict and horrific mistreatment of his own people, it was one of Toussaint’s young General’s, Jean Jaques Dessalines (who had ironically allied himself with LeClerc when Toussaint was captured), who decided to emerge as the leader that would avenge his people. Truthfully though, and perhaps more important to his own soulful vanity, he really sought to avenge himself. To hear him described by the contemporary European authors of his time, he sounds like the very manifestation of chaotic violence. But every scar has a story, and Dessalines had many scars. In fact a large percentage of his body was covered in painful grooves, partially healed lacerations and whip marks that made some of his skin look like it had melted over itself. He had received some of these in very visible places, and even the most sensitive areas of a man, for his perceived ‘insolence’ as a slave.

It is said General Dessalines would look upon his scars in the mirror and cry out in rage before battles. Then crashing into his enemies he fought with the valiant nature of a man seeking freedom, and persistent fury of a heart that would only be quenched by vengeance. His aim became to ensure the small Revolution’s continued success at any military cost. He was determined to maintain it by implementing the same campaigns of terror that the slave owners had recently utilized on him and his people. And this is what terrified white Europeans to the core of their being. Provoking most landowners and slave masters to flee. Some of them though, daring to look, must have surely seen a piece of themselves in him and been rattled. This is thought to be what initially led to the invention of stories about his pact with the devil and deals with voodoo spirits, as these then served the impertinent need to differentiate his actions from theirs.

To better understand how the slaves were treated and what exactly he sought to repay to his former masters for, I chose this famous quote from Henri Christophe‘s personal secretary. He, who was once a slave, describes in sick details the daily torture inflicted on the enslaved Africans of Saint-Domingue by the French.

“Have they not hung up men with heads downward, drowned them in sacks, crucified them on planks, buried them alive, crushed them in mortars? Have they not forced them to eat shit? And, having flayed them with the lash, have they not cast them alive to be devoured by worms, or onto anthills, or lashed them to stakes in the swamp to be devoured by mosquitoes? Have they not thrown them into boiling cauldrons of cane syrup? Have they not put men and women inside barrels studded with spikes and rolled them down mountainsides into the abyss? Have they not consigned these miserable blacks to man eating-dogs until the latter, sated by human flesh, left the mangled victims to be finished off with bayonet and poniard?”

His preferred mechanism for punishing European colonials, many of whom were former slave masters, was indeed ruthless. He implemented “Black Rage” as both his foreign and domestic policy, which meant the absolute destruction of the white colonists, soldiers, and civilians. Before him others had angrily suggested this sort of retribution but none had the gall to carry it out. After all, ideologues may design a Revolution and dismantle an empire verbally, but ideas are powerless without the hand that wields them mercilessly. In the end a combination of this, and allowing remaining whites to live without owning any property and having little say in government, was the result.

I make no attempt here to justify the actions of Jean-Jaques Dessalines, but a person cannot be made a slave unless they are terrorized and de-humanized. Unless they are mentally, spiritually and in many cases physically castrated, unless their women are raped before them and children are sold and tore from the womb in front of their eyes. He did in essence what he was taught to do by those that shaped his world.

His collective punishment & scorched earth policy frightened the remaining white colonials to such a degree that most migrated en masse to the other side of the island or to the mainland. General Dessalines fought many battles and eventually claimed the independence of Haiti on January 1st, 1804. During this time period he had ravaged the Eastern side of the island and having swept away all opposition, made himself Emperor in 1804. His absolute rule inspired anger and resentment, and only 2 years after his coronation he was assassinated. The country divided itself between North and South until power was consolidated again. The legend of Dessalines came to life upon his death. Stories grew out of the resentment of the white exiles that had once owned his people and now happily welcomed his demise. Even the “Mulatto” section of Haiti that never received his trusting and felt shunned by him. His immediate demonization followed in these circles, without a thought or a backtracking moment in history to consider what were the circumstances caused him to be. No context that showed the nature of the slow functional genocide of his people.

Just silence. And that silence without context continues even today while people suffer one of the worst natural catastrophes that has ever be known to mankind.

Extortion of Haiti

Not a word from proud France who defied the American War machine over Iraq, but has kept silent over these two centuries when concerning the 150 million gold francs it extorted from Haiti in 1838. The number was later lowered to 90 million gold francs but the factual story behind the extortion goes as such. Under the guise of a cessation of hostilities (a promise to curb re-invasion), repaying indemnities and for the loss of “property” (slaves) during the Revolution, France demanded payment. And of course since Haiti had no such sum in their treasury at the time, French bankers eagerly paid the first 30 million gold francs at exorbitant almost mafia-inspired interest rates. So high that it was not until 1947 that Haiti was actually able to repay THAT particular “loan”. By the mid to late twentieth century the IMF’s policy of changing it’s agricultural focus and conditional foreign aid had since indebted the island nation beyond ruin. In the wake of this current tragedy, I believe France should immediately repay the blood money it stole years ago no matter its legal apprehensions of reparations. This isn’t about reparations for slavery it’s about the over 20 billion dollars in the modern equivalent paid to a reinstated tyrannical king. It is not the pinnacle of restoring Haiti, but the beginning of repair.

Jean Betrand Aristide

I would be remiss to not pause here and point out that this was written as a moderately detailed historical account of events in and around the Haitian Revolution. It is not the entire history of the island and does not go in depth into the modern self-defeating racial and political schism between Haiti and the Dominican Republican during the mid 20th century. I purposely steered clear of recent events concerning Jean Bertrand Aristide because it deserves an article on it’s own. I also cannot and will not lay the blame solely on Europeans for the condition of Haiti. The French themselves cannot be demonized anymore than the Spanish, English, Portuguese or Belgians, etc. for their role in colonization. Although to rule out foreign intervention for Haiti’s condition would be ignoring a huge amount of independent variables that affect the equation. While military backed World Bank policy has always kept the island as an economic vassal, the mismanagement of resources and corrupt leaders also bled the nation dry.

At some point we have to accept the personal responsibility for repairing the framework of society ourselves, and not relying on the people that ruined our indigenous civilizations to fix them all the time. Brutally repressive dictators, such as Duvalier, who were allowed to exist by the U.S. because of their stance against Communism, must be put into their proper context as well. They are not simply a Western invention, but rather the natural order of bequeathing absolute power to an agent of “stability,” an experiment that could easily be repeated in our own Republic. And so we as a nation cannot claim ignorance in our understanding of this political formula anymore, whether at home or abroad. The sad truth is that we as a public entity or a people may understand this relationship and dissect it now, but our own government has recognized it since the founding of the nation.

We may sometimes point to these historical figures and attribute superstitious characteristics to them in order to either justify or vilify their position. My main problem is when it starts becoming obvious that our own government uses complete and utter falsities to promote a military objective. The following is an account written by a Soldier who participated in the ousting of then President Aristide, it sheds light on the deliberate dissemination of such information:

If he (Dessalines) really made a pact to deliver his nation to absolute evil then why only the leader of the one successful slave revolt on the hemisphere? Why just him and not every other military commander throughout history that faced insurmountable odds? And when is that sort of such vindictive and violent force ever justified? See, that my friends- is at the very core of what Haiti and it’s historic Revolution truly represent. That undiluted tactic of delivering oneself from slavery and oppression through physical force. The French Revolution beheaded their King they did not pay his family restitution. The American Revolution gave Britain no reparations and in fact collected the land of it’s Indigenous allies after England ceded it without so much as a word to the Native American’s still living there. Yet only in modern history have enslaved people of color been trained to think suffering through the worst of what an oppressor can punish them with is the only way to gain legitimacy or victory.

Are we tragically “Mulatto?”

Are we as Black and Indigenous people only noble and righteous in an emasculated form of confrontations against such a fate? Are we only correct in our undertaking of a non-violent approach to confronting Imperialism or Fascism? More of white America praises Martin Luther King Jr. as peacefully resistant and the preferable alternative to Malcolm X’s truth without modesty. More would rather hear the scholarly Fredrick Douglas than experiencing the fear-invoking Dessalines. I do not seek to discredit the legacy of either Douglas or King. We are all indebted to the vital parts of the struggle for freedom that they played historically. But why are Europe and American spared the same constant criticism by present day historians. Would we turn the other cheek to Hitler? What would a non-violent march and a hunger strike against the Confederate South have accomplished? Without colonial militias, Native American Warriors, and the French & Spanish Armadas, wouldn’t the (U.S.) Constitution have ended up as British toilet paper? As a matter of fact, if Ghandi’s tactics had been used in the American Revolution, wouldn’t he have been lying in a ditch in Virginia some 234 years ago? Without the purchased attention of a global media outlet is shaming the world even possible? And even if we managed to procure one, how could a profit margin be replaced by a soul, when that’s the one thing that a multi-national news corporation will never have?

I believe a balance is always necessary, and that might never makes right. It just makes right now. Having the power to take land, force payment or enslave others doesn’t make your cause justified. In fact I would argue that an oppressor who lies to his slaves about their ten thousand year old history, and presents them as a fraction of a human being to all, is in truth more savage than that which he has reduced his fellow man to. Strength and power are the tools that can reinforce a document, a government, a people and a nation. Without them there is only the word, and unfortunately we are not as evolved as we would like to believe because we do not respect words, not even the words of God when we write them in our own image. We are taught to only respect fear and violence.

I am not arrogant enough to claim to have all the answers, but I come rather humbly myself to pose these questions so that you may discover the answer. May we repay the slave master by acting like the slave master? Or have we already gone this route before? Perhaps in our forgotten history we have already employed these strategies amongst ourselves. Can it be that we treated each other this way when Rome was yet to be conceived and Greek civilization was still an adolescent student of Egypt? Why is violent Revolution coupled with diplomatic conflict settlement only the recourse of the Super powers alone? Why is it presented to us as fruit from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden? Perhaps it was our oppressor’s pact with the devil that made it so. These are question that are easy to answer only if a personal bias already exists within us, they are harder to answer when they speak to all of humanity, and what it reflects about the future of our species.

The earthquake itself did not discriminate by skin color when deciding who would die in the collapsing buildings. It cared nothing for their religion, family connections, or politics. Corrupt diplomats have perished within the same epicenter as innocent hardworking families and dedicated public servants. The old and the young perish together subtracted from both sides of the equation. Our evolution is the rediscovery of the past not an invention of a mythical future. Will we always be a petty small people as a complete and single human race that we do not look beyond what is obvious in our faces as opposed to what is obvious in the actions that our hearts strive us towards?

As I look at the proud, resilient and suffering nation of Haiti. I have heard every sort of theory for this tragedy, an act of God, HAARP, and even superstition backed by the hands of social senility wielding faith. In the end I am left to ponder what role did the world’s super powers play in burying Haiti before the Earthquake, and what sort of role will we now play in digging her and our own collective human soul out of the rubble?

Beyond this though I think we should begin to seriously change the way that we look at each other around the world. We are a global community, a single race of people who might one day all become Haitians.

To all my brothers & sisters, those that have lost family and are suffering.

My Condolences along with Revolutionary Love & Respect,

Immortal Technique

Felipe Coronel

Check out the website...Every Drop Counts is a grassroots organization assembled in response to the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti….A group of young artists and activists in Chicago came together with the goal to raise funds in order to send filtration equipment that will provide sustainable, clean bathing and drinking water (Thus, the name Every Drop Counts.)

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