Friday, April 25, 2008

Awe Without the Shock: The Sean Bell Ruling

A Funeral Rather Than a Wedding: Photo of Sean Bell's coffin by Robert Mecea of Newsday

We couldn't allow today to pass without issuing some comment on the acquittal of NYPD Officers Gescard Isnora, Michael Oliver, and Marc Cooper on all charges related to the fatal shooting of Sean Bell and the wounding of his two friends. There are several details that have made this case particularly gripping and indicative of the piss poor relationship between New York's "finest" (that was hard to type) and those they "serve" (read: surveil) of a darker, poorer, and unconnected hue.

The not guilty verdicts, issued by a judge (who should know better) rather than a 12 person jury (who in the past has proven just as unreliable) have provoked two standard emotionally interconnected and somewhat incompatible reactions from those who identify with the defendants, which is most of the black people we've talked to. There is the seething, raw anger at the law reinforcing the police, in this case those of New York, with the idea that they are immune to any appropriate consequences for poor action and murderous judgement on their part. That anger runs right alongside the hard earned cynicism that knows verdicts of not guilty would be reached regardless of the evidence. Why? Because the law and the government behind it have a special relationship with black men (and other disfranchised people) that has altered in scope but not in its fundamental rules. To be blunt about it, if you have power equivalent to ownership over something, you can kill it.

Details such as shaky prosecution witness testimony, an unsurprisingly corroborated NYPD defense, liquor-fueled circumstances, shifty motives of the acquitted officers, and machismo-driven hubris make this case stand out from others among which it will forever be categorized. Added to that is the larger story of a young man who was hours away from becoming a husband and who died not for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, but for being somewhere he had every legal and social right to be. So if it wasn't the wrong place and the wrong time, then it must have been the wrong people present. Enter the NYPD. We won't gloss over an officer being rammed with a car. Of course we can't gloss over 50 shots being fired by detectives who should know how to handle themselves under immense pressure - especially the kind that they purposely court. Whatever the circumstances, justice has not been served in this case. And most black people did not expect it to be. Thus, there is awe at what the police get away with in front of God and everybody (remember they were acquitted on ALL counts) and yet the shock of injustice at a situation of this type wore off decades, if not centuries ago.

Because two of the charged detectives were black, many want to argue that it's not about race. We'll get into that on March 5th. However, the mixing of black men and excessive force is an old one and just as in the case those who killed Sean Bell, served cold.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

All Emissions Ain't Made Equal

If you don't give a damn about greenhouse gases in the nation and specifically California, this little tidbit won't do much for you. For the rest of us, The Los Angeles Times is reporting a conflict of interest that should raise some eyebrows for those in the Golden State who remember rolling blackouts under ousted Governor Gray Davis. Here's the quick-n-dirty version: During Earth Day, a proposal was delivered by the Transportation Secretary Mary Peters that specified how the federal government would reach fuel-economy standards passed by Congressional legislation last year. The proposal seeks an average of around 36 mpg for cars in 2015, with light trucks (read: SUVs) reaching nearly 29 mpg. No problem, right?

Wrong. Buried within the hundreds of pages that comprise this proposal is clear language declaring that states CAN NOT set their own emissions standards. What does this mean? For around 60% of the country, it means very little -if anything. For the "shining" state of California, it means that the higher fuel efficiency standards many want to mandate at around 42 mpg is considered unenforceable. California is indeed a special case due to its sheer size and its car-dependent (read: public transportation deficient) landscape and economy.

Here's the "official" logic: No state can set emissions standards, as that is the domain of the federal government. This would seem logical were CA opting to set lower standards, but the federal proposal bars setting higher standards as well. This would create havoc (meaning less profit) for auto makers who would need to reach the higher standards in order to be on the good side of the law (and thus penalty free) in all states.

Here's Onyx Cranium's logic: What exactly is going on here? Clearly California needs higher standards to lessen green house gases, but we agree that isn't the nation's fault. Or is it? We're feelin' the first effects of global warming and pollution due to our worship of the car and the SUV. Still, Cali's higher standards wouldn't presumptively hurt anyone, but states comprising 40% of the rest of the country have attempted to follow the Golden State's example - and that's where it gets costly for car manufacturers and the government officials that they buy (oops - we mean "lobby").

But something just isn't right about any of this. We bring up rolling blackouts because that's what happened the last time the federal government insisted that California shouldn't get any help or special consideration due to its energy needs and subsequent crisis. The situation was markedly different in several ways, but it all boiled down to whether or not the federal government was going to err on the side of business or the state's long-term best interest. While claiming to be "neutral" and "fair for all states" through not enforcing regulations, the Bush administration erred on the side of business. How so? Well, the energy crisis was caused by a little company in Texas that was profiting from California's unenforced legislation and resultant scramble to deal with a man-made energy crisis. The company's not around anymore, but you may have heard of them. They traded on the New York Stock Exchange under ENE, but employees, President Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger (who met with top level company management before officially running against Gray Davis) just called it Enron.

Friday, April 18, 2008

When the Bread is Breakin' You

We're sure you've noticed the price of milk, meat, bread, and other staples shooting up over the last several months. For those who think that it begins and ends there, we urge you to think again. Don't take our word for it. Check out one New York Times article on the effects of skyrocketing food prices across the globe (complete with the traditional images of poor, darker skinned people). For a more in-depth assessment, check out Democracy Now! coverage. The bottom line is that while working and middle class people are strugglin' at the grocery store (and the gas pump), as usual, the issue has much dire consequences for the poorer people and countries of the world. Why bring this up? Riots are breaking out over rice, corn, and water. Hunger is driving new levels of violence and crime stemming from desperation and NGO's lessening ability to help those who they could normally feed (which already wasn't enough). Onyx Cranium believes that despite being front page news, the issue is receiving a somewhat muted reaction because the U.S. is so acclimated to seeing images of destitute and starving people, particularly those of color. We are so used to changing the channel when a Feed the Children ad or one of a similar nature flashes close-ups of big eyed babies with swollen bellies. Here's the difference. This ain't no commercial folks and it's bigger than making a single donation. Those who control the price of food (like those who control fuel prices and international trade regulations) are all in this. Global warming and related natural disasters, such as drought in one area and hurricanes in others, is also playing its part. Which means that ultimately, for those of us driving to work, shopping at Wal-Mart, Albertson's or even Trader Joe's, and watching as the price of gasoline shoot past $4.00 a gallon, have put in on this crisis as well. Our names, anonymous though they be, are all over this one.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Issues/Smishues: ABC's "Democratic Debate"

Last night's monitored exchange (we like that term better than debate) between Junior Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was billed as a debate.  Interestingly enough Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous were also billed as "moderators" with the whole televised argument being chronicled as a "tense debate."  For those of us who were waiting to actually have the two candidates thoroughly address vital policy issues, we had to wait until after Obama's much publicized comments and associations were brought up so that the so called moderators could look "tough" and Clinton could take advantage of him getting the kind of rough treatment she complained of receiving a couple of months ago.  That was nearly an hour of our lives that we'll never get back.

Long sigh.  Prayer for commercial break.  Long sigh again.

Eventually, the conversation (if you want to call it that) sauntered over to the topics of taxes, the economy, Iraq, Iran and Israel.  But this was really just a series of cursory comments that treated these issues as highlights rather than fundamental to America's future.  Clearly the candidates took the questions seriously, but the "debate" was ultimately about politics - not the policy issues that drive them.  We wanted someone to talk about why raising taxes on ANYONE is absolutely necessary to America's financial future - unless we want the entire budget going to Social Security, Medicare and interest on the National Debt by 2050.  We woke ourselves up to hear about what a troop withdrawal would mean in terms of initial damage and the candidates' initial thoughts on how an admitted defeat in Iraq would really affect the U.S.  Yeah, no luck on that either.  We also roused ourselves to see if there would be insertion about the federal government's renewed corporate welfare within and beyond the housing market and what role this will play in the recessed economy.  But apparently that wasn't as important as flagged lapel pins, truthful comments about bitter Americans, and the most blatantly naked appeals to superdelegates we've seen in a while.

The campaigns of both candidates, along with other sources that get away with labeling themselves "journalistic news outlets", admit that the focus has turned to white, blue-collar voters and who they are most likely to cast their ballots for once it's time to go the polls.  Onyx Cranium finds it interesting that after all this hoopla over racial diversity, gender empowerment and low key revolution, we're back to worrying about the same group of people. It may sound cynical, but we've become exhausted from NOT being surprised.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Really Though: A Case of Smoke Without Fire

Photo: Charles Dharapak
Unlike many other black operated blogs and websites, Onyx Cranium has no confusion about why Hillary Clinton has remained in the race for the Democratic primary election. No person would spend her entire career building toward being the first female leader of the world's (current) preeminent superpower, only to drop out when given a somewhat unexpected challenge from a brother most people didn't know existed until 2004. So despite her missteps and believing Obama "has her" on certain key issues, we haven't been advocating that Hillary narrow the choices for president by leaving until she has to.

Then we read about her sudden insistence that the United States boycott the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. And finally, we have to say, "What the hell?" Here's a short list of why her stance (if you want to call it that) is suspect, wasteful and distracting.

1) China's human rights abuses, the reported reasoning behind the suggested boycott, is well-known. Just because mainstream news has decided to focus on Tibet, labor issues and other instances of China's heavy handed rule doesn't mean it's anything "new." Sure the stakes have been raised by China through increased arrests, intimidation and violence against protesters and...uh-oh, this is starting to remind us of someone else. All that to say, if this protest was genuine, it shoulda come earlier.

2) Boycotting the opening ceremonies would be a more powerful statement if we were to say, also boycott the games. Though honorable, this is never a popular option no matter what the political climate. Why? Well, duh - the athletes. It's one thing not to walk into the Olympic Stadium, it's something altogether different to forgo competing in a sport you've trained in for life and not getting another shot to do so for another four years (assuming you make it through the next set of Olympic trials). We won't even get into endorsements. So, Senator Clinton opts to "split the difference." We don't doubt that she feels the pain of athletes anxious to compete, however this is a political tactic. It's a surefire way to alienate voters especially those who are like the majority of the American public, meaning rather ignorant (by choice or chance) of the United States' complex relationship with and dependence on China. We won't fault a politician for being political - that would be stupid. But supporting participation in the games and not the opening ceremony feels...shallow.

3) She knows it won't happen, so she won't have to deal with any fallout should the U.S. opt out of the opening ceremonies. Bush simply ain't havin' it. He likes to wrangle with China behind closed doors and so does President Cheney. Such a public and in-your-face demonstration would make China lose face. Though it's often touted, such a display could have economic consequences that our current economy (what with the "recession" and all) couldn't handle. Senator Clinton, no matter what others may say, is undeniably smart. And she knows this.

Bloggers and columnists suspect she's taking the spotlight off another high level campaign staff change and comparatively lower fund raising against her opponent. Sure she is, but so what. That's how the game of politics works. Our stance is that there are several more worthy ways for her to do so. Staff changes and raising several million dollars instead of several million more dollars are snoozers to us anyway. We'd rather Senator Clinton use the scrutinizing focus on her to steer us toward more important issues and problems that affect the entire U.S. population rather than just her campaign. We'll even take this time as an opportunity to focus on whatever her plan is to reduce our dependence on China and other countries for servicing our $9 trillion debt. Why? Because it directly impacts Medicare, Social Security, Defense and other "budget busters" our generation must grapple with. But opting out of the opening ceremonies as a gesture or symbolic statement? Nuh-uh.

News That Isn't News at All

And coming in with today's top honors for the category of No Shit/Not Really News, England showed off its ability to waste the money and man hours of its own judicial system on another investigation into the circumstances of Princess Diana's death, which occurred over a decade ago. Various "reputable" (read: corporate owned) news outlets are reporting that a jury ruled her death as [unfortunate] but accidental and NOT the result of a conspiracy for murder. We won't trivialize the trifling manner of her death which was the result of overzealous (and we suspect overpaid) paparazzi and an inebriated (and we suspect panicked) driver. Chalk this one up to needless obsession about a tragedy that's only been made more tragic by the spectacle driven spotlight shined on it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Supreme Court FINALLY Rules Against Dubbya - Good News Right?

Ahhhh. American politics. Proving that once again, nothing can just be as it seems, the Supreme Court issued a major ruling against G.W. Bush yesterday while also managing to piss off those who can't stand him. According to the Los Angeles Times in a 6-3 decision, the court said President Bush's urging to re-open the case of Mexican foreign nationals serving time on death row was oversteppin' his bounds. The judicial arm of U.S. government noted that the President, including our current one, doesn't have "unilateral authority" when it comes to forcing states (in this case Texas) to comply with international treaties. But before you throw up your hands in celebration of these people FINALLY not giving Bush what he wants, note that it's ticking off those who say that the court is allowing the U.S. to be excused from honoring international treaties and laws (sort of like how approved torture ignores and belittles the Geneva Convention). But wait...there's more. If the court did give the "liberals" what they wanted in this ruling, then the cases of several Mexican citizens would be reopened. Here's the catcher, these nationals were charged and convicted of murder - hence their current location on death row. So who do you route for in this one? The neo conservative court, George W. Bush (gasp), Mexican murderers or....Man, these are the crappiest options we've seen in one story in a long time.

Yet Another "Smoking Gun" in Academic Corruption

We're tired of this shit. The "quick and dirty" on a New York Times article published today details how once again, critical research in the field of health is compromised by corporate funding. We're not saying that corporations shouldn't spend their big, tax-deductible dollars underwriting research meant to benefit the masses of society that they often utilize for profit. Still, isn't there something amiss with a cigarette conglomerate funding an organization or panel that is researching lung cancer?! While the article delves deeper than we will here, the bottom line is that a headlining researcher's conclusion that lung cancer can be more readily prevented through certain types of X-ray screening has been called into question.

1) Several other prominent people in the research field always questioned her findings since the same screening can lead to unnecessary surgery or procedures. 2) Turns out her research was funded by a foundation that was almost entirely funded itself by Ligget, a major cigarette maker. 3) The researcher in question stands to make a hefty profit as she already began gathering patents on certain types of machinery that would be used in these "preventative screenings." At the root of it all is the obvious point that when an industry funds research about itself or anything related to its product, (objective) research shows that the end result is compromised. Because this happens again and again in academia where most people don't venture, understand or have in any interest in, few recognize how it has anything to do with them. Everyone's too tired, distracted and entertained to connect the dots. All we know is that if certain "screenings" become part of the packaged deal with our healthcare and we have to cover it with a copay, we'd feel it then. Are we talking your language now mainstream America?

Friday, March 21, 2008

We KNEW IT! Here's a tip - keep ya money in ya pocket!

According to the Los Angeles Times, coffee giant, Starbucks has been ordered to pay back its baristas (coffee makers/cashiers) a truckload of tip money that was forcefully split with shift supervisors. In other words, when you dropped money in the tip jar, a good deal of it was going to managers and people who didn't serve customers rather than the baristas themselves. Time will tell if this ruling actually results in action, as (of course) Starbucks is appealing the San Diego court's decision. Unlike waiters in traditional restaurants who make less than minimum wage without tips, Starbucks baristas are paid above minimum wage in addition to their tips. Onyx Cranium isn't saying you shouldn't drop your change in the tip jar. But we don't. Sorry, you don't get our 35 cents simply because you handed out the amount that cash register told you to. This realization that the tips often don't end up in the pockets of the lowest paid employees that they were intended for just confirms our decision to save the tips for service that is above and beyond the basics.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama's "Big" Speech - A Black Cynic's Perspective

Here's what most people we talked to thought of Obama's speech:

It was great, insightful, genius from top to bottom, and open-hearted. It was proof that he should be president in large part because it was so honest and real.

Fair enough.

Let us state here, that we are in many ways the cynics Obama mentioned in his "State of Union Over Race" speech delivered yesterday morning. One of the reasons our teeny staff has been cautiously supportive of Obama is because we apparently fall in that shrinking minority of people who aren't moved by his usual speeches. We read enough and study enough to know that how government truly works is a morass of purposeful inefficiency and favoritism that is the result of an unwritten pact between Democrats, Republicans and the occasional Independent or Green Party official. We won't launch into a literature review, but suffice to say it's disheartening that Americans need to read books in order to find out what's going on rather than tuning into the news (we will NOT get started on the media). So for us, Obama's campaign message of CHANGE was welcomed, but we wanted details. We had to go to his website because we weren't gettin' it from the speeches. And as for a "new day," let's just say Onyx Cranium is more on the Strategy Train than the Hope Train. Please keep in mind that trains are statistically the most dangerous route of transportation in this country.

So it was with this "jaded" viewpoint that we lended our ears to his speech on race and later our eyes to the transcript. Here's what we saw/heard/felt:

First off we appreciated the delivery. It was sobering and had a candid undertone that was, well...somewhat tired. There is a certain amount of exhaustion that accompanies black people who choose to tactfully explain why so many African and African American people are tired of willingly oblivious white people. There is a certain frustration for those of us who watch mainstream America re-enact the Civil War, celebrate July 4th and talk expertly about the Jewish Holocaust while knowing nothing of Juneteenth or insisting that slavery is the one American institution that should be left completely in the past. We felt some of that weariness from Obama, even if it was reserved just for this speech. Quite frankly, it's annoying to tell people what they should already freakin' know.

What we could have passed on...
Now let's get our criticisms and critiques out of the way. Yes, we're black and we have them. That is allowed. We aren't "cynics" for no reason. We suffered through his textbook opening that laid the groundwork for what was to come. We let out a long breath when forced to hear once again of his "unique" multi-race background - another opportunity to draw everyone in. One of us briefly tuned out when he took the opportunity to read from his own book. We understand the strategy of using your own recorded words to make your point, but we could have done without it. Another "of course" eye roll occurred as he once again brought in Jews and gave props to Israel while also making sure that he gave enough mentions of other races so they wouldn't feel ignored or left out. We gave a sinister chuckle when he said he could have taken the "politically safe" route and let the issue fade - as IF that would really happen. We were put off by the imbalance between his stressing of black self-determination and white acknowledgment of privilege since he leaned markedly toward the former rather than the latter. His naked appeal to his base of young voters was blatant pandering to a group of people who already treat him as a political Messiah. When he said he's never heard Wright say disparaging race-specific comments before, we didn't believe him. And color us "whatever" on how he managed to bring in Dr. King, if only in passing reference. The bridging of a white woman's experience with a black man was ineffective for us, but we can see why it would have played well to others.

Usually, that's all we'd have to say about an Obama speech. But, we readily admit, "not this time." You like that? First off, we are ambiguous about his decision to split the difference between giving credit to the root of Reverend Wright's speeches/sermons/rants while condemning their current validity. Anyone with half a brain knows why Wright said what he said and that racism is anything but part of a bygone area. Hate crimes, by the way, are on the rise and have been for years and that's just the blatant stuff. But to his credit Obama didn't leave Wright hanging or disown him (not that he credibly could have since he's been his pastor for so long).

What Was Music to Our Ears...
Here's what made us nod, smile and occasionally issue our own form of "Amen." We love that he (eventually) said that black people are not paranoid when it comes to race. Though we've heard the history lesson of black oppression in this country before, we give him props for providing it again and linking it to the current state of black America (not just the college educated). Obama's choice to use the word "reality" in referencing the African American predicament was grounding. We also respect his frankness in admitting that when out of polite company, the frustrations and resentments let lose for whites and blacks (he could have given a whole other speech about Latinos, Asians and Native Americans). And can we say that his expert pinpointing of how the Limbaughs and O'Reillys and Coulters have profited from purposeful ignorance based on occasional truth was a LONG OVERDUE statement?! Finally, we were apprehensively pleased to have him list all the other serious issues this country is facing and in the messy midst of right now. If someone were giving equal focus to the racist and classist religious supporters behind McCain, then this whole "thing" would be a campaign issue, but since it's focused on Obama alone, it is indeed a distraction. No one seems to be YouTubing how lobbyists run Washington or trying to break open the controversy over who is truly profiting from the Iraq war while health care is run as a business rather than a service.

What it all comes down to...
Overall, we were impressed. Obama stopped short of directly stating that being white is still a permanent state of privilege in this country and that losing your job or being poor is further impacted by your race. Not always, but often enough. We cringed when he said, "...most working and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race." That's true. We were waiting for him to say, "But they are." Of course he never did. We felt a swift kick of knowledge would have been more impacting than an encouraging pat of "dig deeper," but admit it wouldn't have been very "presidential."

In the end, the real question is what is he doing (as a sitting Senator) and what will he do to address all the genuine issues of rampant corporate maleficence, deteriorating schools, the two (or three or four) tiered justice system and a host of other social ills that cynics pour over while some (but not all) optimists get roused up by grand rhetoric and slogans? Obama made two essential points in his speech concerning race. His first point was intentional. He insisted that America has and can change. Yet although Jim Crow is no longer official, the last time smartly dressed (college aged) whites intimidated black voters occurred in Florida in the year 2000, not in Mississippi in 1900. We (blacks) are not in physical chains, but the fact that many of our ancestors once were means that many of us will never have an immigrant mentality. Why? Because we WEREN'T immigrants! Our experience in and relationship with this country is one of a kind and the reason American chattel slavery has always been referred to as a "peculiar institution". Obama's second point was not made in words, but in the fact that he was speaking in the first place. By having to make the "race" speech in order to move his campaign forward, by having to address Reverend Wright's words and defend their impetus, he proved that, at the heart of it - beyond the laws and the arguments to the contrary - not enough has changed at all.

We won't dash the hopes of optimists or say change is a shifting illusion. But we will say that no matter what Obama or Clinton or McCain or anyone else tells you, Unity and Honesty have a rocky marriage when it comes to race, class, religion, sexuality or gender. Obama didn't make the rules but he is to a certain extent playing by some while tearing at others. That, after all, is what a good politician, or rather an effective politician, does. And the last time we checked, unless your Daddy has major pull, that is who and what you must be to become president.

NY Gov. Patterson - Puttin' It All Out There

Photo: Nathaniel Brooks

How much time should we spend on this one? Shortly after his swearing in as Governor of New York, David Patterson was commenting on a different oath - the one he took and repeatedly broke as a married man. In what he hopes is a "pay now to avoid suffering later" maneuver, the legally blind and well educated Harlem born man admitted that he cheated on his wife, that he sometimes used his government credit card for booty call expenses when his own didn't work and that he did his thing with "several women." He also allowed that his lovely wife had her own blemished track record when it came to their marriage.

What he was aiming for, according to the New York Times, was preventing his past being leaked to the press to discredit him or worse, being blackmailed. He's only governor because Elliot Spitzer was caught using hookers. So it would seem that he's just adding fuel to an already raging moral fire. Then again, he did become Lt. Governor because of persistence, determination, probably some luck, and his own will to build a political career. So there is more to him than where he chose or even chooses to lie at night (or during the day or the afternoon). The question was if this was a smart move. Was it smarter than being caught? Was it better to tell people to lower their expectations of his private moral compass while judging him strictly on his public work? Did it make him seem more "human"? Truth be told, many people have had all the humanizing of politicians they can take through their Johnny and Jane-Come Lately confessions, campaign crying and grand speeches. We're based in Los Angeles, but know quite a few New Yorkers. Most are more concerned with how he'll address the budget and if he'll need to be replaced come re-election time. Though some in the "moral majority" may disagree, an increasing amount of Americans are weary of knowing more about what their elected officials are doing in the bedroom than in their office. Our hope is that Gov. Paterson is as open, concise and clear on how NY's tax system is handled as he's been on how he handled his bidness.

State of New Orleans Unmasks Federal Government's Priorities

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Over two and a half years ago a predicted hurricane hit New Orleans and Mississippi. More catastrophically, the levees guarding large parts of New Orleans from related flooding burst open. For those who care, what's the current state of things? You can find some good news and good times in New Orleans, despite the handicapped school system and increasing wealth disparities. There are stories of neighborhoods that are nearly 80% rebuilt. But they are in areas where residents had determination and, let's be honest here, private wealth and resources. Vast areas have been cleared of garbage and debris, including the Upper and Lower Ninth Wards. Thing is, the latter neighborhood still has more porches and open fields than houses. It's here and in other poorer areas that rebuilding is slow and no going. Why? Because the same government that allowed the levees to corrode and rupture is unsurprisingly sluggish in dispensing funds to local officials, citizens and organizations that need it. There are numerous reasons, but an article in USA Today highlights the federal government's rule that emergency disaster funding be granted on the condition that the state requesting and/or city requesting it be able to give 10% of the request up front. Now this was waived for governments of previous natural disasters, including Florida's Hurricane Andrew. But not New Orleans. The city currently has a homeless rate around 400% of most major U.S. cities (1 in 25 compared to 1 in 100). And YES, many are waiting for homes to be rebuilt or at least the money for raw materials needed to get the process going themselves.

Here's our beef. How can the same government that's raining money on major corporations through "give-away" loans, paying astronomical rates for contract services in Iraq and quietly spending inordinate amounts of dinero on space exploration deny money to American citizens whose only crime was being poor or middle class or "just making it" when Hurricane Katrina blew into their neck of the woods? What makes it even worse is that our government's negligence of the structure designed to protect against flooding collapsed. That's not natural. That's what you call a man made disaster. (Funds have gone toward fixing the levees, but it's largely a case of too much, too late.) Seems the federal government through their maneuvering and determination find money for when officials decide to find money. There is little campaign funding or back end profit to be had in simply helping people get economically and socially back on their feet or on at least their knees. The decision for many in New Orleans is "find it yourself." Or rather, go find somewhere else to be ignored.

9021...Oh, Do We Need More of This?

As you hopefully haven't heard, there's a 90210 spin off in the works by Rob Thomas, the creator of Veronica Mars and other less "colorful" shows. The family at the center of what promises to be a melodramatic explosion of whiteness (with a minority character or two thrown in) will have a little more going on than the original Walshes. Okay, that's as journalistic a treatment as we can give another show of this nature centered in Beverly Hills or the OC or any other rich area of greater Los Angeles.

Two Onyx Cranium observations for you:

1) Is THIS really necessary or even a good idea for the already saturated mainstream perspective of network television?

2) It's going to have a shitload of viewers.

Sometimes you just know.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Welfare for Wall Street

photo from Associated Press/Henry Ray Abrams

When your children one day ask what the hell this country was thinking, don't say we didn't warn you. In regards to The Fed's collusion in assisting J.P. Morgan with purchasing Bear Sterns Co., here's how the federal government would like to paint this shameless example of corporate welfare disguised as fiscal responsibility:

They're avoiding or at least curbing the beginning of a fiscal meltdown in the banking and finance industries.

Here's how Bear Sterns' shareholders (30% of its stock is owned by the firm's own white collar employees) are painting the bailout, uh we mean buy out:

The poor shareholders aren't being fairly compensated with the company being sold at such a low price ($2 per share) and many may lose their jobs.

Here's how Onyx Cranium sees it:

We are not happy to see people lose their jobs, but we do believe that in a RECESSION that often happens, so it is to be expected. The federal government is working OVERTIME through this deal (and much less publicized others) to save corporate America's ass while throwing middle and low-income tax-paying individuals a bone. Bear Sterns, numerous hedge funds and others in the securities and mortgages business were gambling just as much as people who took the risk that they'd be able to pay their adjustable rate mortgages. And please understand that it goes beyond the subprime market. These companies assume UNFATHOMABLE debt and bet on manipulating opportunities in the stock market to turn enough temporary profit to pay that debt back and then get more. And so how does the federal government behave under a Republican administration that touts letting "the market operate without interference"? Well, as usual, they completely excuse the rule when the money of rich people is at stake. And one can make it seem that it's about saving the entire economy and not panicking the global market (too late), but it's nothing more than old fashioned corporate welfare that will make J.P. Morgan Chase a shitload of dough. As if they needed more. Let's see what kind of RIDICULOUSLY low-interest loans the Fed is willing to give individuals who are struggling due to poor financial choices right now. Our guess: $0. But we could be wrong. (We're not though.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Surprise Patrol! Penis Trumps Brain!!!!

Okay, this is an easy one. We don't understand why everyone's in a tizzy over New York Governor Elliot Spitzer's admission to being a client of expensive prostitutes. Here's our question: Would people be less outraged if he'd spent our tax dollars on women charging $15 for a B.J. and $30 for a full ride? No, we believe the American public would be even more upset and more disgusted. Onyx Cranium can just hear it now, "And to top it off, they weren't even classy hookers!"

When it comes to this rather common scandal, we'll allow that it receives some front page treatment because this is presidential primary season and politicians doing stupid shit fits in more with the narrowed coverage that passes for "news" these days. We'll even concede that his rather dumb decision to hire professionals without expecting to get caught in this day and age makes him deserving of photos such as the one we're using here. What Onyx Cranium can't deal with is the morality inspired shock of the American public. A man cheating on his wife should not supplant news about domestic and world events that quite frankly impact more people in a more substantial and devastating way. That sentiment aside, we think if they're going to continue to run this as front-page news (even though people care much more about what's going on with the Mayor of NYC than the Governor of New York state), here are some more time-tested headlines:

Man Cheats on Wife with Women Who are Good at Sex!

Politician's Wife Not Shocked by Cheating Husband Since She ALREADY KNEW!!!!!

Unattractive and Balding Middle Aged Man Uses Meaningless Sex to Feel Good!

Man in Power Uses Said Power to His Personal Advantage!

American Public Distracted by Politician's Bedroom Behavior while War, Famine, Unemployment and Corporate Welfare Continue to Escalate!

Modern Cynics Surprised that Man-on-Woman Adultery Gets Same Coverage as Man-on-Man Adultery! Hetero Cheaters Less Likely to Get Book Deal.

We're not saying Spitzer isn't "wrong" on a multitude of levels, but we'll save our shock for something truly surprising.

Being Broke By Any Other Name....

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that UCLA calls the current and immediate future state of the American economy not great, but NOT a recession. Warren Buffett, a billionaire who is currently marketed more for his charity than his dependency on government subsidies, said weeks ago that the United States was already in a recession. Meanwhile the Bush administration (if you want to call it that), along with Congress, is allowing much more relief for mortgage companies than their endangered clients. They are unwilling to call the shrinking value of the American dollar (in America) among other economic and social indicators an official recession. Sort of like the hesitancy to call the Arab massacre of blacks in Dafur, Sudan a genocide. But not calling it that didn't change what it was and what it continues to be today. Such is the case with the American economy. More jobs at Jack N The Box taking the place of higher paying blue and white collar jobs is part of a country's receding status in real economic power. Though a recession involves more, people should be smart enough to ignore this political game of semantics. We owe too much. Spend too much. Save to little. And aren't making sure that enough of our children are smart enough to manage the future any differently. For those interested in long-term consequences of current actions, we're screwed. Unless you are well connected and/or well monied, it's going to get rough and it's going to get worse. If the majority of people are in a recession, then so is the rest of the country - charts and graphs be damned. Studying the economic power of the top 10% or 1% of Americans tells us very little. Even studying the economic situation of the 30+% of working age Americans that have a college degree tells a more limited story. The state of the non-college educated, working age individual is the true story of the majority of the country. THAT is where you look to find out what's really going on. Why? Because except for the 2004 presidential election, the story of the majority should rule.

Monday, March 10, 2008

California Has a Redemptive Moment in Ousting Murderers for Hire

I was born and raised in Los Angeles and have always loved Cali-foreign-IA, shrinking black population and all! But sometimes, I worry. It's somewhat comforting that we're always a blue state among so many red ones. Yet we allow Enron's shady government hook-ups to confuse us into recalling Governor Greg Davis and replacing him with one of the dumbest sounding actors of all time (George W. Bush excluded - at least as an actor). We are at once progressive and regressive in a big way. Inglewood doesn't allow a Wal Mart into their hood, but then the Crenshaw District does so with relish. Basically, despite the cool weather and the beaches, it's hit or miss these days. Well, as Editor-in-Chief of Onyx Cranium, I salute a city known for enclaves of racial integration among a blatantly racist city landscape. That's right! I'm talkin' bout YOU San Diego! Democracy Now! reports that Blackwater USA, the company which colludes with Republicans and portrays itself as a supporter of the American military as it diverts funding from governmental armed forces, planned to build their West Coast headquarters in San Diego. But the citizens of the city said, "F**k That!" (not a direct quote) and this power hungry company that pays private citizens exorbitant fees for security detail in Iraq, while paying much less to mercenaries from developing countries, has to find somewhere else to build their Training Den of Dollars and Death. Now they may convince some nearby local California government to give them ridiculous subsidies to build just miles from San Diego, but for now, they ain't comin' here. Even if this has to be a short-lived celebration, Onyx Cranium will gladly take it. Oh and if you're wondering why we would call them murderers for hire instead of just security detail, it's because the company works tirelessly (and so far very successfully) to keep their contractors from facing any kind of prosecution or accountability by the U.S. government (meaning us taxpayers). You know - the government that pays a huge proportion their damn bills.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

While You Were Voting...

A few tidbits of news that had the nerve to occur while we were focused on Hillary and Barack.

Two Sudanese nationals are dead and a French soldier is missing after the European Union Force exchanged gunfire with Sudan’s military. According to the EU Force, they crossed the shakey border from Chad into Dafur to recover a vehicle. In addition to the missing solider, another EU solider was injured. The border was unmarked and vehicle was only 1.86 miles into Dafur.
Condi Rice was shipped back to the Middle East to exhibit the Bush Administration’s (that means us) inability to secure sustained or even sporadic “peace in the Middle East”. According to our Secretary of State, Hamas is the true culprit in stalling peace talks because they fired rockets on Israel.
By the way, Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip on Monday, March 3rd. While doing what some would consider more groundbreaking than deciding a Democratic nominee, Israel was ending a multi-day assault on Hamas fighters, which destroyed not only “peace”, but several Palestinian homes in the process. Nearly 120 Palestinian residents of Gaza have been killed by Israeli troops, prompting protestors to stage mock funerals. One interesting note, the protestors are children.
The price of oil topped $103 per barrel. That’s setting a new record! Let’s celebrate! Just wait for your local gas station to give you the new higher prices. What? They did already. Somebody is ON TOP of their game!
Russia already had their presidential elections. Now they’re on to protesting the results! Tell us if this sounds familiar. The former President, Vladimir Putin is being accused of manipulating the elections to secure a victory for his puppet of choice, Dmitry Medvedev. (But they aren’t related or anything.) Like a Washington politician who leaves office only to become a more influential lobbyist, Putin is going to become the Prime Minister and as Russians on the street assert, continue to rule the country with a different title.
California’s Supreme Court heard arguments defending and dismissing the constitutionality of the state’s current ban on same-sex marriage. For voters who thought they had put this to rest (and those hoping that they had not), the court has 90 days to make a final decision on whether or not gay couples can compete with heterosexual couples for tax breaks and enhanced health benefits. Ooops, we mean “marriage.”
Remember how well enforced sanctions worked to make the Iraqi people and government fans of the United States and other Western powers? Yeah, us neither. On Monday, the UN looked to Iran and issued another round of economic and trade sanctions on President Ahmadinejad’s country. The idea is that the sanctions will be lifted when Iran ceases its nuclear activities. The U.S. and the U.N. also enforced sanctions on North Korea for the same reason (SYYYYYKE!!!!!!!!!!) I think we all know how improbable that is. Sanctions, oddly enough, are reserved for the moderately sane.
On Monday, the U.S. attacked the town of Dhoble. Where’s that you ask? Somalia. According to Democracy Now, at least three tomahawk cruise missiles were fired into southern Somalia near Kenya’s border. Four civilians died, but this isn’t anything new. The U.S. has attacked the region multiple times since Ethiopian troops (that we’re backing) invaded the country in December (OF 2006). Without claiming sides (which the U.S. already has), we just felt you should know a little somethin’ about one of the many situations in which we maintain military action without calling it a “war”.
On the South American front, Ecuador is pissed since the Columbian military killed some Farc resistance members on their soil (Ecuador’s, not Columbia’s). Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is pissing off various authorities involved. What we should know? Our current president (the one who will hold office through January 2009), is backing the Columbian military government. Shouldn’t be surprised, as he (and by default, we) have up to this point.
Finally, the Vatican, the one run by the German Pope, says it will talk with Muslim leaders in a historic meeting aimed at progress, mutual respect and love. You have plenty of time to get tickets (though we think this will be closed-door). Talks are scheduled for November. Assuming the talks aren’t cancelled, let’s try to remember them as we make it rain “red” and “blue” on the U.S. map.
Just a little somethin’ that will eventually play into the political, social and economic landscape to be inherited by the first black president, first female president or 44th white male president.
DEMOCRACY RULES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

No Thank You White Lady!

(For those confused by the title, we hope you one day see the Saturday Night Live skit, because it's hilarious.)

We're posting this story from the NY Times because we are TIRED. Tired of the lies and the bullshit. Ever heard of the gang memoir Love and Consequences? Us neither, and we were born and raised in South Central Los Angeles. However the author of this book was not and that explains so much. Captain Save-A-Thug, otherwise known as Margaret Seltzer, wrote a book about being a bi-racial (white and Native American) woman who grew up in foster care and went on to become a teenage drug courier for the Bloods. Here's the catch. She's white and grew up in Sherman Oaks. We also find it trifling that she was never in foster care nor did she run drugs. And shocker of shockers, she was never a member of the Bloods. So why did she pull a James Frey and write a book of fact-based fiction as her own memoir? According to this liar, she felt this was the only way to give voice to those who were strugglin' in the streets and not being heard. That's bullshit. Sorry, but it is. If Ms. Seltzer really wanted to give voice to the gang members and foster care children she met through her self-aggrandizing volunteer work, she could have helped them author their own stories and gotten it published. Instead she lied and painted herself as an unsung hero rather than some privileged white chick interested in the hard realities of gang life as entertainment. To top it all off, guess who dropped dime on her? Her own sister. While her sibling obviously isn't wise to the Stop Snitchin' campaign, she did help us out by exposing someone who was lying for profit and basking in an unearned spotlight. Now that's gangsta!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Why Wait Until November '08 to Begin Voter Purging?

As Cedric the Entertainer so eloquently put it, black folks live by the "wish factor". And so we here at Onyx Cranium do today, but in a more somber way. We WISH we could be surprised that electronic voting in hasn't already clearly gone awry. As other blogs (but not enough) have given props to Associated Press for covering the calamity of New Mexico's fiasco, we too provide a link to the article as well as a "heads up" that it's already starting and this time seemingly just within the Democratic camp. Jesus! How can we go about "spreading" democracy when we can't even allow people to legally vote? Here's the article that should open your eyes, especially as we head into Ohio and Texas.

Somethin' New for New Mexico's Democratic Voters

Friday, February 29, 2008

Piss Poor Chemistry

From the Los Angeles Times

When we talk about chemistry, many consider it a snoozer. Most peeps would prefer to think of it as something they did in high school or perhaps college if they couldn't use anthropology or a psych class to get out of their general requirements. So you know, the L.A. Times is reporting that Deborah Rice was kicked off a federal evaluation panel. Why should you give a shit? The panel is for assessing the dangers of a chemical compound whose environmental and biological toxicity is being determined for use in everyday products. Deborah Rice is an expert on this particular compound (deca) and her extensive research noted the long-term danger to consumers. She was kicked off the panel because of these views. Do you see the problem? One more thing - it was the CHEMICAL INDUSTRY (people who would strictly profit from use of this chemical compound) who told the people over the panel that she was "biased." Wait for it. Well who's over the panel? The ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY. However the EPA has NO problem letting employees and paid associates of the chemical industry sit on panels. Just research it (we know you won't). This shows how the EPA often lives up to the "A", but not the "EP" in its title. More importantly, this is an example of how lobbyists blatantly control decisions government (or rather not-for-profit players) should be making. You want Exxon Mobile employees and associates to decide the public safety level of certain types of chemicals in their gasoline? Too late. They already did. We're just giving you a word of warning. Wouldn't you want to go back in time and tell people that aerosol products containing lead were, well, NOT good for them?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hmmmm....A New Take on Politics

Left to Right: Anon, Odinga, Kekwete, and Kibaki

Word on the street is that folks, specifically black folks, are tired of getting nothing but bad and scary news about the continent that birthed us all. Many tuned out when violence irrupted in Kenya over the presidential election, especially since those who have done no research of the country and consider it only good for safaris thought of it as having absolutely no ethnic or political tensions. News sources from all over have confirmed that in a remarkable move, rivals Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga hammered out an agreement urged by Former U.N. Secretary Kofi Anon, that results in changing the fundamental structure of federal government. WHAT? A President and a Prime Minister? A cabinet split 50/50 among rival loyalties! This CAN'T work people say. Many Kenyans (and their opinion matters most) are extremely skeptical of how things will proceed, but proceed they will. Our point is that someone, somewhere is willing to go through the trouble of amending a country's constitution in order to restore peace and cease bloodshed (along with bad press). We're not advocating violence and death as a means to protest an election, but we don't really advocate watching ballots being purposely miscounted/discredited and sitting back while the candidate with the least votes waltzes his lying self into office. We're sure there's some midpoint between the Kenyan and American extremes.

Apparently a LOT of folks are in jail...Who Knew

The New York Times is running what people in certain circles of society would call one of the most unsurprising headlines of the century. The focus is on about 1% of the entire United States population being incarcerated. We are talking about "behind bars", not probation and parole. The "newsflash" of course breaks out the stats on who is disproportionately represented in this survey of the caged. Guess who tops the list? To over-summarize the article (that is part of a blogger's job after all), we are in piss poor shape. With 1 in 15 black adults in prison, the percentages for black men and women under 40 provides an indicator of where the landscape of freedom is headed within the next generation. We won't say in the toilet, because that would be bleak and not take into consideration the progress of many African Americans. We'll say in the gutter. How did it get this way? Here's our shameless, yet relevant plug:

Dig Deeper:
Onyx has Common Sense Interview the Criminal Justice System:

Money, Drugs and...Death in China

From the Los Angeles Times
This story was worth sharing with all five of our devoted readers. What would you do if an ATM gave you money? We'll rephrase. What would you do if the fee-happy mega bank you belong to only charged your account 14 cents for every $1 you withdrew? Well, proving himself all too human, a man in China "took advantage" (read: used) the ATM repeatedly and ultimately withdrew $24,000. There are a lot of details we'll skim over, but he wasn't caught until he tried to rejoin society via a job and was arrested through an identification check. What do you think happened to the guy? Well, he was sentenced in federal court - TO LIFE IN PRISON. He was charged with "bank robbery." You're feelin' the absurdity, right? Just so you know, the bank was refunded the money by the ATM manufacturer. This brought up issues for the Chinese and world public since some ATMs over there give people counterfeit money or test paper and they can't get their money back. So that's the "Money" part. In terms of "Drugs", we figure that's what Chinese courts are on to give such a harsh sentence for a customer taking advantage of a bank (Lord knows it never happens the other way around). Here's the bigger shocker for anyone that knows ANYTHING about how the Chinese government runs its country. He's getting a retrial, largely due to public sentiment and outrage. Are we witnessing the "Death" of the ludicrous jail sentences for non-lethal crimes in China? Survey says...Hell no. But we will be watching for the ultimate verdict.

A Test of the Congressional Dems - NOT G.W.

To the surprise of no one who has been awake since our September 11th (other countries have experienced mass death on that day), old G.W. is once again "takin' it to the streets." By "it" we mean pressing to legally invade the American public's privacy through Hoover-style eavesdropping (as in J. Edgar - not the West Coast gang). And by "the streets" we mean Congress because that's as close to the "real guy" as he gets outside of staged town hall meetings. Bush's determination to collude with telecommunications corporations to dig through our bidness is nothing new. He's just living down to expectations. What WE want to know is what will this slim Democratic-majority Congress do about his request? If they go according to the public wave of pissivity and frustration that got them elected, they won't let him get away with it. If they do what cynics like us believe politicians ultimately do...Well we won't have to tell you because AT&T/Sprint/T-Mobile/Verizon will.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Complicating the Uncomplicated

Hostages being released is a good thing, right? Seems like a rhetorical question, but it isn't. Case in point, the release of four hostages from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (Farc) who have hundreds more. People who were held against their will are now free, thanks to negotiations by Venezuelan President, Hugh Chavez. "That's that," you say. Except that it isn't. What does their release really mean? Farc is labeled a terrorist organization by the United States and current right-wing Columbian government (which is so cool on Chavez). They have hostages, so they must be terrorists, right? Well, to others they are known as a left-wing insurgency forced to use violent tactics in railing against the repressive Columbian government that some would call a U.S. backed dictatorship. To-may-toe/To-mah-toe. Those who are fans of Chavez are more sympathetic to Farc, but a left-wing President who shuts down all viable media opposition raises his own set of questions. And according to the BBC News, Farc just wants more media attention, thus the trickling release of certain hostages. So what does the release of four hostages among many over the course of a 4o+ year civil war mean? We wish we could tell you what the answer is for the world or even Latin America, but we'll just go with a sense of relief for their family and friends. That'll have to be enough for now.

Hillary - What of it?

It's so "run of the mill" for a blog post to be about the presidential primary election.

That said...

We noticed several people enraged by Hillary Clinton's more aggressive and accusatory addressing of her opponent, Barack Obama. We have a question - how exactly is she supposed to behave? One of our staff members stated what many seem to be thinking. "She was just out of pocket and out of line. She seems pretty desperate, because now she's getting rude and making unnecessarily negative comments about Obama even when she's unprompted."

Hmmmm.....That kind of sounds as if she's a politician involved in a political race. Lately, Hillary has been losing primaries like Giuliani and we're wondering why she wouldn't be desperate at this point. I think some feel as though she should be a graceful "loser". Maybe she will, but for now, she's still in the race. What's wrong with running harder? If it means she trips and loses her momentum - that's her bad. But expecting her to hang back and just trot along is kind of...shit what's the word...unrealistic.

Want to dig deeper?:
Onyx's Take on Obama:
Onyx's Take on Clinton:

So We'll Try This

Here's the deal,

We decided to do a "blogger edition" of our website ( due to the demands (well, they were actually suggestions) by some of our regular readers who enjoy our (often lengthily) articles and wanted a daily version that was more spontaneous.


A quick and dirty version of our commentary on topics. We'd go into further detail, but you know what a blog is.

We'll Holla.