Monday, December 3, 2012

Lincoln, the Movie: What's Missing?

Lincoln, the Movie: What’s Missing? By Gary L. Flowers Executive Director & CEO Black Leadership Forum, Inc. November 22 – 29, 2012 “ ‘Negro History’ is the missing segment of world history” Dr. Carter G. Woodson Dr. Carter G. Woodson was right when he essentially said that Black history is the missing pages of world history. Never was such so true than in the movie, “Lincoln.” While I, as a “weekend historian”, was impressed by Daniel Day Lewis’ portrayal of the 16th President of the United States of America my knowledge of history begged questions: Why were Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman not portrayed or mentioned? Why was the Ancient Egyptian mathematical formula attributed to the Greek mathematician, Euclid? The movie, Lincoln, is politically presidential, yet porous on people who influenced the end of the American Civil War. The holes in the Steven Spielberg’s epic film are rooted in Hollywood’s tendency to omit key historical personalities and events from biopics. History reminds us that Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth all played significant roles in the American Civil War, and thus in the decisions of President Lincoln. For example, in the summer of 1863, Frederick Douglas was invited to the White House and introduced to President Lincoln by Secretary William Henry Seward and Senator Samuel Pomeroy (KS). According to David Blight’s Race and Reunion: Civil War in America Memory, Douglas, said, “I told him I was assisting to raise Colored troops to enlist in the Union Army but was troubled that the United States government would not treat them fairly in three ways. First, Colored troops ought to receive the same wages as those paid to White soldiers. Second, Colored soldiers ought t receive the same protection when taken prisoner. Third, when Colored soldiers perform great and uncommon service on the battlefield they should be rewarded by distinction and promotion as White soldiers are rewarded. Moreover, Douglas relieved public pressure on President Lincoln regarding the Civil War in his speech in Philadelphia three weeks after the President dedicated the Federal Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Douglas did so by saying, “We are not to be saved by the captain, but by the crew. We are not to be saved by Abraham Lincoln but by the power of the throne, greater than the throne itself, the supreme testing of ‘government of the people…’ of which the President spoke at Gettysburg. The ‘Abolition War’ and ensuing peace will never be completed until the Black men of the South and the Black men of the North shall have been admitted, fully and completely into the body politic of America.” Likewise, in October 1864, Sojourner Truth was invited to the White House to meet with President Lincoln. Following her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at a women’s convention in 1853 she was a renowned abolitionist. The meeting of Ms. Truth and President Lincoln at the White House is documented in Berry Horton’s famous painting depicting the president showing Ms. Truth his bible. Another omission of the movie Lincoln involves Harriet Tubman. Her many trips delivering enslaved Black people from bondage to freedom provided Ms. Tubman with knowledge of the terrain of the Confederate states. As such, she contributed mightily to Union strategy in the Civil War. According to Benjamin Brawley’s Harriet Tubman , President Lincoln listened to the ideas of Harriet Tubman. And yet, neither of these significant Black historical figures was portrayed or even mentioned in the movie. At one critical point in the movie President Lincoln justifies his position on passing the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which would outlaw slavery on the basis that “all men are created equal…” cited the Greek mathematician Euclid’s theorem that “things equal to the same are equal to one another.” What was omitted in the movie is that Euclid did not originate the theorem by the fact that Black Egyptian mathematicians at the Library of Alexandria Egypt trained him in 300 B.C. When people erroneously condemn “Black History” as a separatists scholarly pursuit we need to look no further than movies made by Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, and other Hollywood directors who—consciously or unconsciously—omit the contributions of Black people to world history and, thus, give un-earned credit to White scholars as the progenitors of higher thought. We must re-insert Black History in the pages of world history.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Chicago Teachers Have the Right Answer

Chicago Teachers Have the Right Answer By Gary L. Flowers Executive Director & CEO Black Leadership Forum, Inc. September 13-21, 2012 Last week, emboldened educators in Chicago who are members of the American Federation of Teachers finally euphemistically said enough is enough and put their collective feet down on the streets by striking against the city of Chicago, and the so-called “reform” of national education favored by the White House and United States Department of Education. Beyond mischaracterizations by the corporate-owned media teachers in Chicago are not looking for a free ride on the reform bus, but are challenging the very structure of American education. In short, the chalk board is divided into two sides: One that enhances and sustains public educators—from pay to preparation, to pensions, and another that would privatize the $600 million American education system to the highest bidder for profit. The question to be answered is whether public education should be privatized? Unfortunately, it seems that Mayor Rahm Emanuel, current Chicago Mayor and former White House Chief of Staff is on the wrong side of the issue. The Chicago teachers have the right the answer. A review of American public educational history is useful. In 1853, against the will of the wealthy and corporate barons the United States established a public school system for all students (in theory). Prior to that only White children of the rich and resourced were privileged to be educated to a high school or college level. Following the American Civil War the Federal Government launched the Reconstruction Period in which public school for Black and White students—albeit separate and unequal—existed. In 1896, The United States Supreme Court ruled in the Plessey v Ferguson case that a racially separate national school system was Constitutional. By the 1930’s Charles Hamilton Houston and Black Civil Rights lawyers challenged the racially separate and unequal national education system that culminated in the seminal Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education, decided in 1954. After Brown, the idea of privatization began by White parents who did not want the children to attend public schools with Black children. White business leaders and clergy aligned to establish all-White, private academies. In the 1960’s such “leaders” realized that their public taxes were going to schools in which Black children were being educated. Thus, the first of education voucher ideas appeared to allow White parents to opt to send their kids to virtually all-White public schools in addition to their private schools. By the 1970’s, courts instituted mandatory busing to public schools to enforce the “all deliberate speed” phrase included in the Brown case. In the 1990’s the concept of Public Charter Schools was developed across the country. The idea was to use public funds to create private schools with private sector money and private investors. Yes, “Public Charter” schools have private investors who seek financial dividends. Public education should be an American right and not a private privilege. In the name of “reform” Charter schools arose as the public school system and it teachers were vilified as failing to educate students. The problem was never the public schools and public teacher unions, but rather the lack of full funding by the federal government and support for public unions that represent public teachers. Currently, the federal government only contributes 9% of public school funding. The other 91% is allotted by state and local educational entities. In many cities Public Charter Schools are used as an alternative threat to public teachers should their test scores not rise. In effect, the White House’s “Race to the Top” educational program forces teachers and school districts to compete for funding. Predictably, teaching the tests to students, and cheating on tests has resulted. Enter Chicago teachers. By standing up to give the right answer Chicago teachers are challenging the entire public school and public union debate. In a revealing sense, the fight that public unions fought in Wisconsin against a right-wing Republican Governor last year is playing out in Chicago against a Democratic Mayor, and by silence the Democratic White House. Hmmmm! If American pubic school students are to compete with their counterparts from China, India, Japan, Germany, and other world powers our nation must declare public education a matter of national security. As such, teachers need to be paid well with livable pensions, public teacher unions need to be supported, facilities need to be upgraded to 21st century standards, and the White House and Congress should support legislation rewards—not punishes—public educators. The children of the resourced will usually do well. But how about the masses of students and the people that teach them? Mayor Emanuel and the White House must get to the head of the class and answer the public/private question right.

Friday, June 8, 2012

United Airlines' Unfriendly Skies for Black Pilots

United Airlines’ Unfriendly Skies for Black Pilots By Gary L. Flowers Executive Director & CEO Black Leadership Forum, Inc. May 31-June 7, 2012 Last week twenty-four long-term employees of United Continental Holdings, United Airlines, and Continental Airlines filed a lawsuit in San Francisco, California alleging race discrimination, retaliation and harassment in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and State Fair Employment laws. I vividly remember United Airlines television commercials of the 1970’s featuring the phrase “Fly the friendly skies of United.” In 2012, the skies appear to be anything but friendly for Black pilots as they seek an employment policy from United Continental that allows them to be promoted to the management ranks, as their White colleagues are so often elevated. The issue basis for the lawsuit is not new. In 1976, a consent decree was issued to United Airlines for race discrimination against African American employees. The 1976 consent decree stalled in 1995. In 2010, African American pilots and Operations Supervisors who were members of the United Coalition for Diversity filed Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints for discrimination. Following the EEOC complaints, United Airlines hastily hired three African Americans for management positions. But that is not the point. United Airlines—the world’s largest airline—does not know its own history relative to promoting Black pilots. In an official 2012 United press release one of the Blacks quickly hired for the management position of Chief Pilot for the Northeast Region, Captain James Simons, Jr., was falsely touted as the “first” African American Chief Pilot at United Airlines. Wrong! Actually, Captain Alfonzo “Rick” McCullough was the first Black Chief Pilot at United. Ironically, in 2012--the same year that Americans lauded the much-heralded feature movie, Red Tails, which highlighted the competence, courage, and commitment of Black pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen in the 1940’s who faced blatant racial discrimination—Black pilots are still fighting for equal opportunity as their colored colleagues did some 70 years ago. United airlines cannot salute the Tuskegee Airmen in magazine ads and simultaneously refute evidence of current racial discrimination. Like the Tuskegee Airman today’s Black pilots are extremely competent. While piloting airplanes may have been their passion through U.S. Air Force and other training routes to the Captain’s chair those who filed suit are extremely qualified to serve in management. For example, 22 of the plaintiffs have Bachelor’s degrees, 3 have earned Masters of Business Administration (MBA’s), 1 has a Masters of Science, and 1 has a Masters of Arts. Yet, by being passed over for management positions at United and Continental Air Lines none of them seem to “qualified” for jobs their less-credentialed White colleagues now occupy. And America wants to claim we are a “post-racial” nation! Predictably, African Americans and people of color are woefully underrepresented in managerial ranks in proportion to their total numbers in the United workforce. Worst still, there seems to be an air (pun intended) of retaliation for “whistleblower” pilots. Of the 13 pilots who filed EEOC complaints in 2010 none of them have been promoted to management despite filing scores and scores of applications. The three Blacks who were hired in 2010 either did not complain or were brought in from outside of United’s ranks. What United pilots are seeking can be summed up by the words of Captain Leon Miller who said, “The struggle for inclusion at United Airlines is a long-standing issue that many have tried to address over a long period of time…we must break the glass ceiling and stop retaliatory actions, and make a corporate culture change that is truly inclusive.” Amen. In 2001, following evidence of racial discrimination at the automaker Toyota USA I had the experience of organizing informational pickets in 24 American cities with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. As a result, Toyota admitted being a bad actor in the transportation industry and committed to a 10-year 8 billion dollar diversity plan throughout the company. While airlines are somewhat different than automakers the principle developing a measurable plan for inclusion is in the best tradition of American ideals. United may learn a lot from the Toyota model. The United States of America was founded on the principle of I pluribus unum (out of many, we are one). The same should hold true for Black pilots in the so-called friendly skies of United Airlines.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Supreme Court Arguments on Health-Care Law

Supreme Court Arguments on Health-Care Law
By Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
March 25-31, 2012

This week, the Supreme Court of the United States hears arguments on the Affordable Care Act (health care reform) proposed by the Obama Administration. Since his inauguration, President Obama has framed health care reform as his signature domestic policy priority.

A brief recent history of health care reform in the United States of American reveals that our nation is one of few global nations, which allows private health-care companies to profit from providing health services. In most other industrialized countries around the world, government, referred to as a “single payer” system, provides health care. Under such a system all citizens qualify for health care paid for by the government. Good idea.

I believe health care should be a right of every citizen, rather than a privilege for those who can afford to pay for health services. I do not believe “health profiteers” commonly known as health care insurance companies should exist. Think about it: Why should we pay health insurance companies (in the middle) when paying directly to health providers such as doctors and hospitals is cheaper?

In 2009, the debate over health care reform in America briefly focused on a “public option” for Americans, which would have allowed citizens to choose purchasing government-issued health care or buy health care services from a private provider. Ultimately, the Obama Administration chose neither a single-payer system nor the public option, but offered a plan to financially penalize people who do not buy health insurance from private providers.

Immediately thereafter, individual states filed lawsuits asserting that the Obama plan would unconstitutionally force Americans to purchase health care. The states argued that the federal government was going too far, and it should allow states to choose how and from whom citizens would buy health care. Thus, sets up this week’s argument between the federal government and states in the Supreme Court. At issue, is the constitutionality of the “individual mandate”, and whether private insurance companies can refuse to cover people because of their medical history or charge higher premiums for those who have had previous conditions. In a practical sense, the arguments center on the power and authority between states and the federal government to regulate services to the people.

The portion within the Affordable Care Act that has garnered most attention is the “individual mandate.” Under the law, effective in 2014, the 33 million American citizens and their descendants who currently do not have health insurance must be covered. If not, people would have to pay a penalty, referred to as a “shared responsibility” payment. The name “shared responsibility” comes from the fact that medical payments of uninsured people who get sick are born by the government and taxpayers. Therefore, the proposed penalty provides an incentive for individuals to “share” in the responsibility of health care costs. The Obama Administration argues that individuals who pay the penalty are not in violation of the law. However, those who do not secure health insurance and do not pay the “shared responsibility” payment would be lawbreakers. Hmmm?

If the federal government can “strongly insist” that individuals purchase private health insurance it should rescind the anti-trust protections that health insurance companies now enjoy, allowing such companies to unfairly collude on health care premiums. In short, Congress should regulate excessive profits by health care companies as it does for other American industries. As long as there is a profit incentive within our nation’s health care industry America will remain a sick society.