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Caribbean Ministries of Education: In catalyst or paralysis mode?

By Oliver Mills

Raymond Hackett, a Trinidadian educator, has written an article in the Trinidad Express questioning whether the Ministry of Education there is in a catalyst or paralysis mode. He looks at some of the problems faced by the education system, and sees some of these as overcentralisation, too many decisions being made by the political directorate, elitism, and the tendency to seek foreign strategies to solve local problems.

These problems are typical of the Caribbean education system as a whole, and have recurred over the years. One of the concerns I had while a lecturer in education was that each year, with a new group of students, whenever educational issues were discussed, the identical problems were mentioned as areas of concern in each Caribbean island, irrespective of size.

Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. He holds an M.Ed degree. from Dalhousie University in Canada and an MA from the University of London. He has published numerous articles in human resource development and management, as well as chapters in five books on education and human resource management and has presented professional papers in education at Oxford University in the UK and at Rand Africaans University in South Africa.I will now analyse each of the problems mentioned by Hackett, and then discuss whether Caribbean ministries of education are in catalyst, or paralysis mode. Mr Hackett has not discussed very much in detail about this, although it forms the topic of his article.

Where centralization is concerned, Caribbean countries have inherited this form of organizational structure from their colonial past, and it remains a feature of its education system, even in independence. Colonialism was a rigid and hierarchical system, with control as it main characteristic. Centralisation took place because of the need to be in charge, to see everything as a unit, despite unique differences, and to use the same methodology and authoritarian management style throughout the colonies.

This shaped Caribbean systems for a number of years. There was no deviation, despite changes on the ground requiring flexibility. It was felt that sameness meant predictability in outcomes. This was the same philosophy that led to the colonial suggestion for a West Indies Federation, where oneness and being identical were cherished ideals.

We would have thought that independence would change this ethic, but it seemed to have strengthened it. Despite new ideas in the philosophy of management suggesting decentralization, institutional democracy, and creativity, Caribbean educational systems, with the Ministry at the apex, remain centralized, and autocratic, with the same hierarchical structures. Centralisation prevents new thinking, and devalues new strategies and methodologies. It also stunts progress. Educators in this system take no risks, since they fear for their jobs, and feel that promotion through the system would be abridged if they should make any waves. In this limited sense, Caribbean ministries of education are in a paralysis mode. Attempts at new methodologies are incorporated into existing systems, and therefore minimised, having no transformational effect.

With respect to the political directorate making too many decisions more qualified people should make, this is typical of centralized systems. The Caribbean political directorate feels in order to know what is going on, it has to be involved in everything, and be informed about everything. As a result, decisions that should be made by professionals are taken over by the political directorate, who feels it knows everything about the area it deals with, and becomes suspicious of the ideas of others.

With this climate, professionals in the ministries tell the political directorate what it wishes to hear, fears giving critiques of issues, and assesses the intentions of the directorate to such an extent that they know what it wants to here. If you should read Caribbean ministry of education reports, you will see how conservative and controlled they are. Great effort is put into making things look palatable, so as not to jeopardize the jobs of officials, or their standing in the ministry. These officials also fear that if they should speak truth to power, they would be accused of not being team members. The problems therefore persist, while paralysis becomes more embedded.

Elitism is the other factor seen by Hackett as a problem in the Trinidad system, which is also typical of the wider Caribbean. And again, this concept is part of the colonial heritage of the Caribbean, where class origin was determined by colour, wealth, particular professions such as law, medicine and the clergy, and reflected in the elite educational systems of the colonial power. The colonial power transferred its ideas of what was good, and the best to the colonies, reflected in the school systems it built in a hierarchical order, such as primary, secondary and higher education. There were and still are elite schools, based on this historical heritage, and deemed to be the best, whose clients were the wealthy of the Caribbean, since many of the best were, and still are private. Some Caribbean governments tried to minimise this by giving certain scholarships, but the concept of an elite or good school remains a feature of Caribbean education.

Just recently, a private church owned school in one Caribbean country got into conflict with the government over an issue with a principal. The school board supported the principal, despite any ideas to the contrary the Ministry of education might have had. There is also still and issue in the Caribbean, over what level of authority its education ministries have over private schools with a denominational affiliation. In many instances, the position of the denominational authorities prevails over the ministries of education view. Here, again, we see how there is a certain paralysis in Caribbean education ministries, rather than taking the role of catalyst to change things. Despite talk of fairness and equality, educational elitism remains a feature of Caribbean education, and the achievement of high grades buttresses this practice, and justifies it. This further translates into political leadership, where many Caribbean leaders are graduates of elite schools in their own country and from abroad. They themselves continue to perpetuate elitism.

Hackett’s final problem is the tendency to seek foreign strategies to solve local problems in Trinidad. Trinidad, like most other independent countries, tends to look abroad for fixes to its problems. Consultants and professional groups are relied on, and the latest strategies for improving education, conceived in a different environment are attempted. Recently a Canadian was appointed Police Commissioner. This is the same in other independent territories we would thought had built up their infrastructures and trained their own people to deal with the challenges of the local environment.

Because others were brought to deal with indigenous problems, without any consideration of local cultural practices, many of these problems have persisted. Colonisation in a more subtle form continues therefore. In the Caribbean, we do not even have faith in our own professionals, despite the change in consciousness independence should have brought. Again ministries of education assume the paralysis mode, rather than being a catalyst for transformation of attitudes and behaviours.

In a wider sense, are ministries of education in the Caribbean catalysts, or are they always in a paralysis mode? In some instances, they have been forced to be catalysts as a result of political and interest group pressure. Ministers of education are politicians, and try to respond to the needs of their supporters for greater accommodation space, the wider use of technology in schools, more scholarships, more furniture, and from teachers who use their unions to advocate for better salaries and working conditions. In a developmental sense ministries are catalysts because they want to be able to equip the education sector with the latest methodologies, and effective strategies to enable the system to be more successful in meeting its goals. This ensures future support in an election.

Ministries are also catalysts when international organisations connected to major funding agencies insist certain reforms should be implemented, for example, the millennium development goals, and done over a period of time to receive funding. They want the funding and the development that comes with it, so they become active in seeing it through. However in many instances, because of inertia, even good intentions succumb to the status quo, and the drag of tradition, despite valiant efforts. Paralysis therefore sets in. Also, although educational personnel might receive the necessary training to carry forward programmes, a weakness of the will causes them to give half-hearted efforts, while advancing excuses why things cannot happen. Development efforts are therefore thwarted. The catalytic role of the ministry is undermined, and paralysis sets in.

In many instances, education ministries are not committed to new innovations, and so the whole purpose of a ministry being a catalyst is undermined. Ministries therefore need to exert strength and more professionalism, with the goal of advancing their societies taking precedence. It is only then that paralysis and inertia will be replaced by entrepreneurship, transforming the education system and the society, while eliminating age old problems and challenges.

September 30, 2010


September 30, 2010 | 3:35 PM Comments  {num} comments

US Census Bureau figures: 2009 income gap in the US highest on record
Related to country: United States

By David Walsh

Figures released Tuesday by the US Census Bureau reveal sharply worsening conditions for tens of millions of Americans under the impact of the economic crisis and the accumulation of vast wealth by a relative handful.

Some of the figures, for particular states and regions, are simply staggering. Michigan residents experienced a 6.2 percent decrease in median income in the course of one year, from 2008 to 2009, while Illinois has suffered a 24 percent increase in poverty in the past decade. More than 36 percent of Detroit’s population officially lives in poverty.

Overall, the 2009 American Community Survey reveals that median household income fell in the US nearly 3 percent between 2008 and 2009, from $51,726 to $50,221. This was the second consecutive year in which household incomes dropped. Median income declined in 34 states, and increased only in sparsely populated North Dakota.

“Thirty-one states saw increases in both the number and percentage of people in poverty between 2008 and 2009,” reported the Census Bureau in a press release. “No state had a statistically significant decline in either the number in poverty or the poverty rate.”

National median income is down 4 percent from its peak when the recession officially began in December 2007. Last year alone, noted the Washington Post, accounted for $1,500 of that average loss.

The Associated Press, based on an analysis of the Census Bureau numbers, reports that the income gap between the rich and the poor “grew last year to its widest amount on record as young adults and children in particular struggled to stay afloat in the recession.” The US also has the greatest income disparity among the advanced capitalist countries.

The proportion of Americans living in extreme poverty, defined as half the derisory official poverty line, or $10,977 for a family of four, rose from 5.7 percent in 2008 to 6.3 percent last year, an 11 percent increase in the number of people living in dire circumstances in one year. The 2009 figure was the highest level since the US government began tracking the very poor in 1975. To the everlasting shame of the American political establishment, the District of Columbia, home to the US government, has the highest proportion of residents living in extreme poverty of any state or district, 10.7 percent.

The top 20 percent of the population, those making more than $100,000 a year, took in nearly 50 percent of all income generated in the US in 2009, while the 44 million people living below the poverty line received only 3.4 percent. “That ratio of 14.5-to-1 was an increase from 13.6 in 2008 and nearly double a low of 7.69 in 1968” (AP).

The top 5 percent of the US population in terms of income, those making $180,000 or more, added slightly to their annual incomes last year.

The most revealing statistics, however, relate to the wealthiest 1 percent, 1/10 of 1 percent and 1/100 of 1 percent of the population—no news about their gains in 2009 has been reported yet.

New York, Connecticut, Texas and the District of Columbia, along with the territory of Puerto Rico, had the largest gaps between rich and poor. Similar income gaps, reported AP, existed in major cities such as New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Boston and Atlanta. Some 22 percent of Mississippians live in poverty, the highest proportion of any state’s population, and only five states (Alaska, Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire and New Jersey) had fewer than one in 10 residents living in poverty in 2009.

Other social phenomena reported by the Census Bureau are associated with job losses and declining incomes:

• Median property values for owner-occupied homes dropped 5.8 percent in 2009 when adjusted for inflation. More homes are empty, as the share of vacant units has grown every year since 2006, to 12.6 percent in 2009. Fewer people are moving, either from their current homes or their current states. Home ownership declined for the third year in a row to 65.9 percent, from a peak of 67.3 percent in 2006. The average size of a household living in a rental unit has increased since 2006.

• People are delaying marriage, especially in the working class. For the first time since the government began recording such data, less than 50 percent of women 18 and over were married in 2009. The share of adults 25 to 34 who have never been married climbed to 46.3 percent in 2009. “The decline in marriage is greater among the poor and less educated” (USA Today).

• Americans have fewer cars, as the percentage of homes with more than one automobile declined in 2009.

• The poverty gap between young and old has doubled since 2000. Official child poverty is now 21 percent, compared to 9 percent for older Americans. The figures in 2000 were 16 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

• The AP reports research indicating that “lower-skilled adults ages 18 to 34” suffered the “largest jumps in poverty last year as employers kept or hired older workers for the dwindling jobs available.”

• The number of US households receiving food stamps rose by 2 million in 2009 to 11.7 million, the highest level on record. Forty-six states experienced increases in food stamp use.

As noted above, the US Midwest has been especially ravaged by the current economic slump. More than 9 million people in the region lived in poverty in 2009, 1 million more than the year before, and up from 6.3 million in 1999.

Four million people in the Midwest, once a global industrial and economic center, live in extreme poverty, an increase of half a million in 12 months. Nearly 3 million children live in poverty in the area, an increase of almost a third in a decade. Median household income in the US Midwest declined from $54,600 in 1999 to $48,400 in 2009. Eight million people in the region have no health insurance.

The Detroit News noted Tuesday that, “Michigan families have been hit the hardest by the recession, with incomes plummeting and poverty rising at rates seen nowhere else in the country.” Median household income in the state has dropped nearly 21 percent since 2000, or almost $12,000, the biggest decline in the country.

The ranks of the poor swelled in Michigan by 159,000 in 2009 alone. The number of children living in poverty in the state rose to more than half a million in 2009, or 22.1 percent. Approximately 30,000 single-mother households with children in Michigan were poor last year. The state’s national ranking in household income fell from 16th in 2000 to 35th in 2009.

According to US census officials in Detroit, with whom a WSWS reporter spoke, while the overall poverty rate in the city is 37 percent, for those under 18 it is 51 percent.

In neighboring Ohio, the official poverty level reached nearly 16 percent in 2009, or one in six residents. Nearly 1.5 million people in Ohio are now counted as poor, up from 1.2 million in 1999. Seven percent of the population (800,000 people) lives in extreme poverty in the state, an increase of 45 percent. Nearly 200,000 more Ohio children were poor in 2009 than in 1999. Median household income fell more than $7,000 over the same period.

In Indiana, 14.4 percent of the population lives in poverty, or some 900,000 people, up from 560,000 in 1999. The number of those in extreme poverty in Indiana in 2009 (400,000) was up 60 percent over 1999 (250,000). The child poverty rate increased by 68 percent (from 11.7 to 19.7 percent) in the decade 1999-2009.

Poverty increased among Illinois residents by nearly a quarter during the same 10-year period. In Chicago in 2009, more than 10 percent of the population lived in desperate poverty and 31.2 percent of children were categorized as poor.

Florida experienced the second sharpest decline in household income in 2009 after Michigan, 5.7 percent, while in California in 2009 one in seven people lived in poverty.

In the face of widespread—and growing—economic suffering, the American political establishment remains cold and indifferent, concerned only with defending the wealth and privileges of a tiny minority. As of late Tuesday afternoon, neither the White House nor any leading Democratic Party website carried a response to the Census Bureau figures, which register a portion of the impact of the greatest economic crisis since the Depression of the 1930s.

The author also recommends:

The failure of American capitalism: Forty-four million living in poverty in the US
[17 September 2010]

29 September 2010


September 29, 2010 | 6:04 PM Comments  {num} comments

IMF-ILO conference warns of political upheavals

The fear of social and political upheaval haunting ruling circles around the world was graphically expressed at a recent joint conference of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) that reviewed the worsening global levels of unemployment and poverty.

Laszlo Andor, the European commissioner for employment and social affairs, told the conference in Norway that 2010 had been an “annus horribilis” for unemployment. “But if we fail to act,” he warned, “2011 may still turn out to be the annus horribilis for social cohesion”. In other words, Andor’s fear was that mass joblessness could bring a mass upsurge of class struggles and political crises—next year.

The figures presented to the conference speak for themselves. There are now over 210 million workers jobless globally—the highest level in recorded history—a 34 million rise in the past three years. Around 80 percent of the world’s population has no social welfare of any kind. Approximately 1.2 billion people, or 40 percent of the world’s labour force, do not earn enough to keep themselves or their families above the $2-a-day poverty level.

What particularly concerned Andor and other top officials was that much of the increased joblessness has been in the advanced economies of Europe and the US. In the US, the official number of unemployed has risen from 7.5 million to more than 15 million (half of these are long-term unemployed)—a level not seen since the Great Depression. Across Europe, there are now more than 23 million unemployed—a 36 percent increase since 2007.

IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn told the gathering that the global financial crisis had left a “wasteland of unemployment”. He said that having a job was “often a matter of life and death” and warned that rising unemployment could lead to violent conflict.

Featured speakers included Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, whose governments have already confronted strikes and mass protests against their IMF-dictated austerity measures. Zapatero warned the audience that long periods of high unemployment could set off “a crisis of pessimism” and “lack of confidence” in governments across Europe.

The ruling classes in Europe and internationally are acutely conscious of the extreme social and political tensions being generated by sharply declining living standards. Hostility to established political parties has been expressed in recent elections in Britain, Australia and Sweden that resulted in hung parliaments. In the US, the Democratic Party is facing major losses in mid-term congressional elections in November. Protests and strikes have not only erupted in Europe but have also emerged among the super-exploited in Asia—garment workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia, and car workers in China.

The conference document highlighted the potential for political radicalisation among young people who have been especially hard hit by job-shedding. In 2009 alone, the number of young people out of work globally rose by 6.6 million. Youth unemployment in Spain is officially 40 percent. In Italy, Sweden and France, it is currently around 25 percent and about 20 percent in the US and the UK.

The document warned: “Personal joblessness experience translates into negative opinions about the effectiveness of democracy and increases the desire for a rogue leader ... [This] extends to individuals who do not experience unemployment themselves, but live in a country and period with high unemployment. High and long-lasting unemployment therefore represents risks to the stability of existing democracies.”

Millions of young people—whether jobless or not—are starting to see for themselves that parliamentary democracy and the established parties are nothing but a screen for the interests of the wealthy corporate and financial elites. That disaffection can be exploited by parties of the extreme right that rail against the banks. However, in speaking of “rogue leaders”, what the ruling elites really fear is the rise of revolutionary sentiments among workers and youth, and genuine socialist parties committed to the abolition of the profit system.

The inability of capitalism or its political representatives to offer any solutions to working people was reflected in the poverty of the conference discussion. Of course, the delegates had to feign concern for the unemployed. But these are the very IMF officials, government leaders, corporate CEOs and trade union bureaucrats who are responsible for creating the jobless “wasteland” over the past two years.

As for proposals, the final conference statement promised to work on “employment-creating growth” and “a minimum social protection floor for people living in poverty”—right at the point where major corporations continue to downsize and governments are slashing budgets. It also called for more “social dialogue” and better “tripartite solutions”—that is, the even closer collaboration of the trade unions with governments and big business in imposing the agenda of austerity.

Two decades ago, amid the triumphalism in bourgeois circles that surrounded the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe, commentators described 1989 as an “annus mirabilis”—a year of miracles that marked the death of socialism. The International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), the world Trotskyist movement, was alone in declaring that the collapse of Stalinism represented the end of all nationally-based programs and foreshadowed a profound crisis of world capitalism.

European Commissioner Andor’s declaration that next year could be an “annus horribilis for social cohesion” is a call to arms to the capitalist classes. For all the talk at the ILO-IMF conference about the political dangers facing “democracy”, the ruling elites will not hesitate to resort to their own methods of extra-parliamentary rule to impose pro-market policies and retain their grip on power.

The bourgeoisie and its representatives are extremely conscious of the political dangers posed to their interests by the worsening global economic crisis. The working class must begin to develop its own political counteroffensive on the basis of the perspective of the ICFI to abolish the profit system and establish a world planned socialist economy.

Richard Phillips

28 September 2010


September 28, 2010 | 9:20 AM Comments  {num} comments

Obama administration invokes “state secrets” doctrine to defend the assassination of US citizens
Related to country: United States

By Tom Carter

The Obama administration invoked the “state secrets” doctrine Friday in an effort to halt court proceedings that call into question its policy of “targeted killings” of individuals around the world, including US citizens.

In April of this year, President Barack Obama gave the order for the “targeted killing” of Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi. Al-Awlaqi, who was born in New Mexico and attended US universities, is a US citizen.

On orders from Obama, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) fired a cruise missile at a meeting al-Awlaqi was attending in Yemen, but al-Awlaqi survived. While hundreds have been killed in Obama’s “targeted killing” missile attacks, the attempt on al-Awlaqi’s life marked the first time in US history that a president officially ordered the assassination of a US citizen.

The Obama administration claims that al-Awlaqi, now in hiding in Yemen, is a “senior recruiter for Al-Qaeda.” Al-Awlaqi’s father, who remains in the US, told CNN, “I am now afraid of what they will do with my son. He’s not Osama bin Laden, they want to make something out of him that he’s not.”

In July of this year, the Obama administration added al-Awlaqi’s name to the “Specifically Designated Global Terrorist” list. This list was created by the Bush White House via executive order in September 2001 and has been maintained by the Obama administration. Once an individual is designated a “terrorist,” his or her assets can be summarily frozen and seized, and it becomes a crime to render services to that person. Any person can be placed on this list simply on the say-so of the president.

Because Al-Awlaqi has been placed on the “Specifically Designated Global Terrorist” list, it is illegal for any lawyer to represent him without a special permit. According to new laws enacted as part of the so-called “war on terror,” a lawyer who provides legal services to someone on the “Specifically Designated Global Terrorist” list without a permit can be charged with the crime of “providing material support for terrorism.”

(The recent spate of FBI raids on the homes of anti-war activists was also justified on the grounds that law enforcement officials were searching for evidence of “material support for terrorism.” See “FBI raids homes of antiwar activists.”)

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights were granted permits in July after substantial delay. They filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration in August on behalf of al-Awlaqi’s father, Nasser al-Awlaqi.

The lawsuit, Al-Awlaqi v. Obama, charges that Obama’s policy of issuing extrajudicial death warrants to be carried out by the CIA violates the US Constitution and international law. The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution provides, “No person shall be … deprived of life ... without due process of law.” Numerous international treaties and conventions, many dating from the aftermath of the Second World War, prohibit assassination.

Nasser al-Awlaqi demands the disclosure of standards employed by the administration to determine who is targeted for assassination, and seeks to prevent the assassination of his son.

The position taken by the Obama administration is unprecedented. Vince Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, told the New York Times, “The United States cannot simply execute people, including its own citizens, anywhere in the world based on its own say-so.” Director of the ACLU National Security Project Jameel Jaffer observed, “The United States is not at war in Yemen, and the government doesn’t have a blank check to kill terrorism suspects wherever they are in the world.”

The brief filed by Obama administration lawyers on Friday in Al-Awlaqi v. Obama is chilling in its open endorsement of numerous authoritarian precepts, including the “state secrets” privilege. The Obama White House also takes the position, echoing those taken by the Bush administration, that courts have no authority to interfere with the executive branch in the exercise of its wartime powers. The brief included a “classified” annex, which cannot be read by the public.

The Obama administration contemptuously refused even to confirm that a “kill list” that contained Nasser al-Awlaqi’s son exists. “At every turn,” Obama’s lawyers wrote, “litigation … would risk or require the disclosure of highly sensitive and properly protected information to respond to allegations regarding purported secret operations and decision criteria.”

The legal arguments of the Obama administration not infrequently take on an Orwellian character. At one point, Obama’s lawyers argued that the elder al-Awlaqi lacks standing to bring the case on his son’s behalf, and that the case should not be allowed to proceed unless the son initiates the proceedings personally.

Obama’s lawyers promise that “if Anwar al-Awlaqi were to surrender or otherwise present himself to the proper authorities in a peaceful and appropriate manner, legal principles with which the United States has traditionally and uniformly complied would prohibit using lethal force or other violence against him in such circumstances.” This from the same regime that has already attempted illegally to kill Anwar al-Awlaqi with a cruise missile!

The legal positions taken by the Obama administration over recent months are noteworthy both for their far-reaching implications and for their outright contempt for basic democratic principles, as well as constitutional and international law. According to the Washington Post, investigative reporter Bob Woodward comments in his upcoming book Obama’s Wars that top officials in the Obama administration were even less concerned than their counterparts in the Bush administration about the consequences of the implementation of a policy of assassination of US citizens by executive order. The Obama administration simply brushed these concerns aside.

The position taken by the Obama administration Friday comes on the heels of the adoption of the “state secrets” doctrine by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month. In that case, Jeppesen Dataplan, the Obama administration successfully invoked the “state secrets” doctrine to block a lawsuit that threatened to reveal the involvement of defense corporations in “extraordinary rendition” torture operations. (See “Obama’s victory for torturers.”)

Judge Michael D. Hawkins, whose opinion was overturned in Jeppesen Dataplan, cautioned that the “state secrets” doctrine advocated by the Obama administration “has no logical limit.”

The Obama administration lawyers cited the Jeppesen Dataplan case extensively in their brief on Friday.

As the global crisis of capitalism intensifies, the ruling class in the US is faced with rapidly eroding support for its policies of endless war abroad and self-enrichment at all costs at home. As popular opposition intensifies, the political establishment and all of its official institutions march towards more and more dictatorial forms of rule. In this context, the Obama regime’s assertion of the power to unilaterally issue a death warrant for any person anywhere in the world, and for that decision not to be reviewed by any court, should be taken as a dire warning of things to come.

The author also recommends:

Obama’s victory for torturers
[10 September 2010]

Federal appeals court adopts Obama “state secrets” doctrine to block torture case
[9 September 2010]

27 September 2010


September 27, 2010 | 8:48 AM Comments  {num} comments

President Barack Obama needs a black male friend!
Related to country: United States

By Jean H Charles:

I have been discussing with my sister Maggie that President Barack Obama needs a black male friend to debate internally important national and international issues without the glare and the intricacies of politics and of protocol. I read recently an essay by Maureen Dowd, the celebrity New York Times columnist, entertaining the same idea. My suggestion can now come out of the kitchen table and enter into the public arena.

Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to building a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol.comPresident Barack Obama needs a black male friend who is neither an official nor an employee of the United States government. Abraham Lincoln did have his black male friend -- he was Frederick Douglass. He helped Lincoln come to the difficult decision that the Emancipation was good for the nation and good for the black people. Douglass recalled that friendship with a telling anecdote. While visiting with the president, Governor Buckingham of Connecticut was waiting for some time to also visit with Lincoln. As Douglass wanted to leave to yield his time to the Governor, President Lincoln insisted, “Tell Governor Buckingham to wait, for I want to have a long talk with my friend Frederick Douglass.”

Lyndon Johnson did have his black male friend. He was Dr Martin Luther King; he helped Lyndon to engage into the building of America by endorsing the civil rights legislation that creates the sense of appurtenance as bedrock of the nation. Richard Nixon had his black male friend, Art Fletcher, who drafted the Philadelphia plan that proposed goals and timetables to achieve full integration of blacks into the making of America.

President Bill Clinton had his black male friend, he was Vernon Jordan. He may be remembered for his role in helping Monica Lewinsky, the young intern accused of a paramour relationship with the president, land a job, but discreetly Jordan helped Bill Clinton to be dubbed the first black president through his involvement and his frequent trips to Africa.

President George W. Bush did not have a black male friend but he had Condoleezza Rice to tell the king that sometimes he has no clothes. Indeed, without being attributed the proper credit, President Bush did for Africa much more than any other US president.

President Barack Obama needs his black male friend. He will help him to redress the state of the black world at home and abroad and he will help him to make America look good abroad. The black situation is bleak on both counts.

At home, the typical young black man has his baseball cap upside down; his pants at the bottom of his derriere, his gold chain heavier by the pound, humming a hip hop song that in his dreams will make him the next millionaire. He may have only a high school diploma and has not worked for the past five years.

He is the second chapter of a generation that has been in and out of the jail system for petty thefts, drug dealing and gang activities. While the black women have remained in school, they are now the target of young black males, who are recruiting wild girls into a club for mischief and even prostitution.

If this is not an issue of national security, wait to hear the international case where in the Caribbean or in Africa the state of the black world is as bleak as in the United States.

During the Reagan administration, the Caribbean nations used to receive a minimum of 3 billion dollars per year in support and assistance from the United States; some twenty years later, the Caribbean is receiving only 350 million dollars, with the bulk of the money going to Haiti, supporting a failed state with a failed government that cares little for the welfare of its people. The criminal returnees, the drug dealers, dispersed from Colombia and from Mexico, have found a fertile land in the Caribbean to create havoc amongst peaceful citizens and buy voting power, compounding the problem of governance and democracy with a veneer of criminality that will permeate all the units of civil society.

The case of Africa is not better, with autocratic leaders that refuse to yield the seat of power to a new generation of technocrats educated abroad and ingrained with a sense of fairness and hospitality for all. Most of the countries of the old continent are still languishing in poverty, malnutrition, civil warfare and pure theft of the national resources by unscrupulous investors linked with the national oligarchy.

The first black president of the United States has a moral obligation as strong as the one that anguished Abraham Lincoln to get involved in incrementally changing the state of the black world at home and in the world. A good black male friend with the courage of Frederick Douglass, the leadership of Dr Martin Luther King, the cunning and the discretion of Vernon Jordan should help him to achieve that feat.

September 25, 2010


September 25, 2010 | 2:51 PM Comments  {num} comments

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