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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bill Clinton's Legacy - Part III

Money spent by the Federal government does not always bring the anticipated results. There are two shooting stars of Federal spending to buttress this point: First, the Bush administration has spent nearly $500 billion on the Iraq War, with no tangible results, unless one considers the overthrow of Saddam as one of the positive outcomes of the war funding to date. It wouldn’t take much to convince me that he was a cruel dictator that needed to be removed; however, it would be a challenge for someone to persuade me that it was worth $500 billion to remove him. Plus, if we use cruelty as the standard for preemptively striking regimes that are out of step with democratic principles, then let’s line-up the rest of the world’s dictators and select the next one to overthrow.

Second, the government is celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); the Federal agency that was created as a result of September 11th to align all of the intelligence agencies under one department and to protect the homeland. In its first big test to prove the virtue of its creation, it failed miserably when confronted with Hurricane Katrina, notwithstanding that it had one week to prepare for it. To date, DHS has cost the tax payer more than $200 billion.

In two fatal swoops, the Bush Administration has spent nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars in failed ventures. If this were a public corporation, the stock holders would literally demand the head of the CEO on a silver platter. However, since the Bush administration convinced the public that these funding requirements were matters of national security, it has simply been permitted to “print” money to pay the bills. But as we witnessed under Clinton, money for the poor, a dispensable segment of the population, was withdrawn.

The Federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, aka Welfare Reform, effectively eliminated welfare for millions of poor people and removed safety-net programs. A Wisconsin study looking at the impact of Welfare Reform on the state, demonstrated that more than 100,000 children had been removed from the rolls of Aid to Families with Dependant Children and more than 50,000 no longer benefited from Medicaid, despite growing numbers of uninsured children. Food stamps enrollment also declined by more than 70,000 or 41 percent.

Clinton’s Welfare Reform severely weakened the centerpiece of the Great Society; a series of domestic programs established by President Lyndon Johnson. The main objective of the Great Society was to eliminate poverty. This aspect of Johnson’s program provided food stamps, financial assistance and Medical care to poor families; however, they were virtually eliminated under Welfare Reform.

Clinton also signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, aka the Crime Bill that provided $31 billion for increased law enforcement in the United States. Despite the promise of funds for drug rehabilitation, there was only $383 million for drug rehabilitation. Although this may sound like a lot of money, it was only slightly more than 1 percent of the cost of the bill, while $9 billion went to hiring more law enforcement officers and $8 billion went to building more prisons – more than 50 percent of the bill.

I wonder what the impact would have been if the $500 billion that had been spent on the Iraq War had been spent on domestic programs, with $17 billion of that going toward drug rehabilitation and training programs in high crime areas. This country has expressed a willingness to bring liberty to a nation that is more than 6,000 miles away and leans under the heavy sway of terrorist regimes, but will not fight to bring liberty to crime infested areas in its own country. What a paradox. Are you kind of getting the picture of where the black community is on the national priority list? It’s not at the bottom of the list, but it is far, far from its position of the 1960s.

The crime bill also added 52 Federal Crimes for which the death penalty can be imposed, which, again, adversely affects blacks since a black male is more likely to be executed than anyone else.

In November 1991, Congress enacted the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which established guidelines for judges to use when sentencing someone who has been convicted of a crime. The sentencing disparities fell harshest among black drug users. Anyone caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine received the identical sentence of someone found guilty of possessing 5 grams of crack. What was even more bizarre than the 100:1 ratio was that someone possessing 5 grams of crack would be sentenced as if he intended to distribute that quantity. Now I am not a math scholar, but I was able to convert 5 grams to ounces, and I came up with .176 (one hundred and seventy-six thousandths) of an ounce. I would have to believe that anyone caught with .176 of an ounce of crack would intend to use it him/herself and certainly is not intending to distribute it.

The cocaine sentencing disparity immediately became an issue after its authorization under the Clinton Administration. Consequently, the Sentencing Commission was mandated to provide a report to Congress not later than December 31, 1994 (see page 620 of Appendix B of the Guidelines), to address how the penalty levels were applied and to make recommendations to correct the imbalance. Despite this mandate, the bias in the sentencing guidelines for cocaine was not remedied until 13 years later. Don’t misunderstand me; I certainly am not attempting to give criminals a free-get-out-of-jail-pass for breaking the law. I am simply demonstrating that President Clinton allowed racial bias in the sentencing of typically black drug users, and made no effort to correct this disparity during his entire presidency.

And finally, while affirmative action and set aside programs were under severe attack during his administrations, Clinton refused to stand strong to prevent their erosions. Affirmative action and set asides were centerpieces of the Civil Rights Movement, and he simply gave lip service with a clever spin-campaign of “Mend but don’t end.” Well, mending affirmative action and set aside programs has made them vulnerable to all types of assaults from organizations that have been attacking them since they were established in the 1960s.

Although Bill Clinton has been successful in masking his true disposition towards domestic policies affecting blacks, a recent statement about Barack Obama’s campaign for president, may demonstrate his true nature. In a campaign stop for Hillary, he seemed to suggest that the Obama Campaign is the biggest fairy tale that he’s ever seen. Chuckle, chuckle. After nearly 20 years of shucking and jiving[1] the black community, the true Bill Clinton begins to show.

Between black-on-black violence, epidemic proportion AIDS infection rates, high incarceration rates, and Bill Clinton, no wonder some refer to the black male as an endangered species.

[1] Shuck and jive – Not the whole truth; or manipulating something to get it your way; to get rid of, ditch, throw away; to try to shed your true image in favor of a false one; trying to adopt a new social status, pretending to be "all that" + a bag of pentium chips (from the Urban Dictionary).


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