The Congressional Black Caucus says that it has been "the conscience of the Congress since 1969."
If that is in fact the case, why then is the caucus not taking a leadership role on major progressive issues of the day?
Because like the vast majority of members of Congress, the caucus has been bought off by the corporate commercial interests?
Why isn't the caucus taking a leadership role on moving the country toward a solar economy?
Could it be because oil and auto companies like BP Amoco, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Shell Oil, Texaco, General Motors, Ford, Nissan, and Daimler Chrysler give big bucks to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation?
Why isn't the black caucus speaking out against the tobacco, junk food and alcohol companies that prey on the nation's young and old alike?
Could it be because Anheuser Busch, Heineken USA, Miller Brewing Company, PepsiCo, Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, and Coca-Cola give big dollars to the foundation -- and Ms. Tina Walls of the Miller Brewing Company sits on the board of the foundation?
We wondered why the caucus has been silent on these issues, but never really looked into it, until earlier this week, when the following note came to our attention:
"The Congressional Black Caucus and Heineken USA hold a news conference to announce the creation of the Louis Stokes Health Policy Fellows Program to address issues contributing to the consistent gap in health status between people of color and the majority population. Call Ruthie Jones (212) 686 5300."
So, we called Ruthie Jones, who is a spokesperson for Heineken USA. She is friendly and talkative.
It's a $250,000 grant over five years, she says.
We wanted to know how it could be that Heineken, a major alcohol company, was sponsoring a health fellowship.
Isn't alcoholism a major cause of disease in the African American community?
She becomes less friendly and less talkative.
I'll have someone get back to you, she says.
Soon thereafter, we got a call from Aranthan Jones, who works for Congresswoman Donna Christian-Christensen, D-VI, who spearheaded the Heineken health fellowship.
"The CBC, with Heineken's help, is sounding the alarm and aggressively pursuing proactive solutions to address the healthcare crisis that exists in America today," the Congresswoman said in the press release.
So we asked Jones, will the Heineken fellows look at the possibility pursuing federal policies to curb alcohol use in the black community?
Don't know, he says.
But listen -- Heineken is a good corporate citizen, he says.
They have built health clinics throughout Africa next to their beer plants, to take care of the people there.
But why was nothing said in the Heineken/CBC press release about the ravages of alcoholism?
No answer to that. But listen, he says -- Heineken has great market penetration in our communities. We can't bring back prohibition, he says.
Mr. Jones sees nothing wrong the caucus taking big money from Heineken USA.
That's the way of the world these days, he says.
We then ring up Reverend Jesse Brown.
Reverend Brown runs the National Association of African Americans for Positive Imagery in Philadelphia (www.naaapi.org).
He has been battling tobacco and alcohol industry in the black community for 12 years.
"It appears that the alcohol industry has taken a page from the playbook of the tobacco industry and is attempting to buy the silence of black legislators," Reverend Brown says. "Black legislators were deathly quiet on the impact of tobacco on the black community. Now, it appears that the alcohol industry wants these black legislators to remain deaf, dumb and blind about the toll that alcohol takes on the black community. It also appears that the industry's agenda on health is to deliberately downplay the health effects caused by alcoholism that is having an extreme effect in the black community -- cirrhosis of the liver and the need for liver transplants in the black community, pancreatic and esophageal cancers created by the use of alcohol."
"We are disproportionately burdened with the effects of alcohol," he says. "It shows up in other ways too. Relationships between men and women, spousal abuse issues. Many of the crime issues are exacerbated by alcohol."
Over the years, Reverend Brown has attended the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation events in Washington, D.C.
Over the years, to no avail, he has implored the caucus not to have tobacco and alcohol ads at their events.
"We have asked them to take a much more active stand on the issue of targeting of black youth by the alcohol and tobacco companies," he says.
To no avail.
Because of a strong public health movement, tobacco ads are coming down off of billboards.
But Reverend Brown says that in his community, they are being replaced by ads for alcohol.
Reverend Brown has been fighting for years against the alcohol industry, especially against the high octane content of malt liquors.
He's gotten only the silent treatment from the Corporate Black Caucus.
Time for a revolt.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, http://www.multinationalmonitor.org. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press; http://www.corporatepredators.org).
(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman