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George Curry

England Struggles to Understand Causes of Riots

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(NNPA) England’s attempt to fully understand rioting touched off by a policeman’s fatal shooting of Mark Duggan, a 29-year old Black man, in many ways mirror the debate that followed the urban unrest that the United States underwent in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. The BBC and other news organizations have cited the competing arguments on the underlying causes of the outbursts.

Here are some of the most commonly cited causes:

RACISM
Christina Patterson, writing in the Independent newspaper, said: “Race didn’t cause these riots, but it played a part… Too many black men have been killed by police. Too many black men and women have been treated like criminals when they’re not. This is not the cause of these riots, but it’s there in the mix, a mix where the key ingredient is feeling powerless. Cuts won’t help. Growing unemployment won’t help. Some investment in youth services, and better schools, and mentoring schemes might, but money alone isn’t the answer.”

GANGSTA RAP AND CULTURE
On Aug. 8, the Daily Mirror carried the headline, “London riots: Is rap music to blame for encouraging this culture of violence?” To Paul Routledge, the author of the story, the answer is definitely yes. He wrote, “The mayhem erupted overnight, but it has been building for years. And putting more police on the streets – while vital to end the threat to life and property – will not solve the crisis.

“I blame the pernicious culture of hatred around rap music which glorifies violence and loathing of authority (especially the police but including parents), exalts trashy materialism and raves about drugs. The important things in life are the latest smart phones, fashionable trainers and jeans and idiot computer games. No wonder stores selling them were priority looting targets. Stir into this lethal mixture the fostering of irrational anger against the world and disrespect for others and the end result is self-absorbed young people living at boiling point.”

ABSENT FATHERS
Christina Odone of the Daily Telegraph wrote: “Here are three numbers to bear in mind when talking about the riots: 8 billion (pounds spent by social services each year on children and young people); 3.5 million (children from a broken home); and one fifth (school leavers who are illiterate.” The writer suggests looking at some other numbers as well. She said, “A large number of youngsters are brought up without dads. The majority of rioters are gang members whose only loyalty is to the gang and whose only authority figure is the toughest of the bunch. Like the overwhelming majority of offenders behind bars, these gang members have one thing in common: no father at home.”

SOCIAL EXCLUSION
Camila Batmanghelidj, founder of The Place To Be and Kids Company charity, wrote in the Independent: “It’s not one occasional attack on dignity, it’s a repeated humiliation, being continuously disposed in a society rich with possession. Young, intelligent citizens of the ghetto want an explanation for why they are at the receiving end of bleak Britain, condemned to a darkness where their humanity is not even valued enough to be helped. Savagery is a possibility within us all. Some of us have been lucky enough not to have to call upon it for survival; others, exhausted from failure, can justify resorting to it.”

WEAK POLICING
An editorial in the Sun stated, “[Prime Minister] David Cameron spoke for most of us when he said police were initially too thin on the ground and misjudged their early response.”

ANIMALISTIC BEHAVIOR
Conservative columnists Max Hastings, writing in the Mail Online, charged: “They are essentially wild beasts. I use that phrase advisedly, because it seems appropriate to young people bereft of the discipline that might make them employable; of the conscience that distinguishes between right and wrong. They respond only to instinctive animal impulses – to eat and drink, have sex or destroy the accessible property of others. Their behaviour on the streets resembled that of the polar bear which attacked a Norwegian tourist camp last week. They were doing what came naturally and, unlike the bear, no one even shot them for it.”

SPENDING CUTS
London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone told the BBC: “If you’re making massive cuts, there’s always the potential for this sort of revolt against that.” Marian FitzGerald, visiting professor of criminology at the University of Kent, noted, “The full implementation of the cuts to local authority services that will have the biggest impact on these areas will not be fully felt until next year. However, it may be that because there’s so much talk about police spending cuts, the rioters may have internalised the message that they’re less likely to be caught.”

CONSUMERISM
Zoe Williams, writing in the Guardian, offered what she called a pragmatic explanation. Williams said, “This is what happens when people don’t have anything, when they have their noses constantly rubbed in stuff they can’t afford, and they have no reason to believe that they will ever be able to afford it.”

I knew the rioting in England had taken on an American flavor when I looked at a quote from a reader replying to a BBC story about the unrest. The reader said, “I agree there are many reasons for this situation. However, I put poor, uninformed, and unexperienced parenting at the top of the list. You have babies trying to raise babies.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Democrats Need a Hot Chocolate Party

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(NNPA) It is becoming increasingly clear that President Obama and Democrats need pressure from within the party to force them to stand their ground against the Tea Party insurrection in Congress. As was evident in the recent debt ceiling fiasco, conservative House Republicans have gravitated even farther to the right because of pressure from the Tea Party movement. Democrats are being towed along kicking and screaming. Well, screaming. That’s why there is an urgent need to form a Hot Chocolate Party to force Democrats to start acting like Democrats. Democrats control the White House and the Senate but they don’t act like the party in control. And that’s because they rarely control anything, including their own party members. The public agenda is being driven by the Tea Party, a small sect that has become so powerful that its members forced an embarrassed House Speaker John Boehner to withdraw his debt ceiling bill from the floor.

To his credit, Boehner was smart enough to regroup and give the Tea Party what it wanted. To their discredit, President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to give the Tea Party zealots nearly everything they asked for. In the end, that still wasn’t enough to satisfy them.

How did Democrats lose their way?

President Obama, the titular head of the party, has usually adopted sensible public policy stances on such issues as the public option in health care and letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire. In the face of withering Republican opposition, however, Obama has usually capitulated.

For example, candidate Obama campaigned for universal health care. At the time, the U.S. was the only industrialized country in the world that did not provide universal health care. Many progressives wanted a single-payer plan similar to the one in Canada. With such a powerful health care lobby in Washington, there was little chance of achieving that goal. So they agreed to go along with the public option, a government health insurance agency that competes with private insurance companies.

Thanks to a president eager to strike a deal with the Party of No, the public option was removed as an option before the legislation was passed and signed into law. This was the beginning of the end.

Last December, Republicans pretended to oppose extending long-term unemployment benefits, a major goal of Democrats. But the quid pro quo was that Republicans would go along with the extension if Obama would agree to a 2-year extension of all Bush tax cuts. That was another time I wanted President Obama to call the GOP bluff, but apparently fighting is not in his DNA.

With high unemployment in his native Ohio, Boehner could not afford to look into the eyes of jobless voters back home and tell them unemployment benefits should not be extended. But a deal was struck giving Obama the unemployment extension and allowing Boehner and his GOP comrades to protect the super rich. If the Hot Chocolate Party were in place, it could have insisted that the Bush tax cuts expire, something that would have cut the federal deficit by half. It also could have curtailed the practice U.S. companies hiding most of their assets overseas to keep from paying corporate taxes and ending the public subsidizing vacation homes, private jets and boats for the upper class.

As bad as past deals were, this deficit showdown was perhaps the worst example of Democrats being impotent.

An angry Barack Obama acknowledged how bad the deal was after Boehner walked out of their deficit reduction talks and refused to return his telephone calls.

Listen again to why Obama was angry: “Essentially, what we had offered Speaker Boehner was over a trillion dollars in cuts to discretionary spending, both domestic and defense,” Obama said in a July 22 news conference. “We then offered an additional $650 billion in cuts to entitlement programs – Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security.”

Here’s the part that proved that the president was willing to give up too much: “We were offering a deal that called for as much discretionary savings as the Gang of Six [a panel Democratic and Republican lawmakers]. We were calling for taxes that were less than what the Gang of Six had proposed.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was equally pathetic in trying to advance his deficit proposal. He said his bill did not require any new taxes, something he hoped would satisfy Republicans. It didn’t.

Enough of these wimpy Democrats. When challenged by Republicans, they roll over early and often. Democrats roll over so easily that they should be renamed the Roth IRA Party.

To let Democrats tell it, they roll over because they want what’s best for the country and avoiding default, for example, was achieved only because they were willing to give Tea Party fanatics what they wanted. Compromise is now a one-way street. It’s time to take another road.

Let’s put the Hot Chocolate Party in the driver’s seat to say no to the Party of No. If they again threaten to drive the country in a ditch, to borrow a quote from President Obama, provide them with the directions. I suspect that once they realize Democrats won’t keep giving in to their empty threats, we will find out that they are not as crazy as they appear.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Democrats Capitulate to Tea Party's 'Raw Extortion'

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Democrats blew it. They control the White House and the Senate. Yet, it was the Republican-controlled House – which is itself increasingly controlled by Tea Party zealots – that defined the terms of deficit debate and provided us with another example of Democratic ineptness.

The last-minute deal between President Obama and congressional leaders amounted to, in the words of economist Paul Kaufman, “raw extortion on the part of a party that, after all, controls one house of Congress.”

Writing in Monday’s New York Times, Krugman said the deficit deal amounts to “an abject surrender on the part of the president. First, there will be big spending cuts, with no increase in revenue. Then a panel will make recommendations for further deficit reduction – and if these recommendations aren’t accepted, there will be more spending cuts.”

Krugman argued, “Republicans will surely be emboldened by the way Mr. Obama keeps folding in the face of their threats. He surrendered last December, extending the Bush tax cuts; he surrendered in the spring when they threatened to shut down the government; and he has now surrendered on a grand scale to the raw extortion over the debt ceiling. Maybe it’s just me, but I see a pattern here.”

Me, too.

From the beginning, Republicans took control of the debate. The Government Accountability Office explains: “The debt limit does not control or limit the ability of the federal government to run deficits or incur obligations. Rather, it is a limit on the ability to pay obligations already incurred.”

According to the Congressional Research Service, the debt ceiling has been raised 74 times since 1962, including 18 times under Ronald Reagan. Until now, neither House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell objected to lifting the debt ceiling.

Now that Barack Obama is president, they have made it a major issue. House Speaker John Boehner, for example, asserted that President Obama was seeking a blank check.

“This is a straight-up lie. Not the everyday, casual fudging that politicians do, but a straight up lie,” Adam Serwer wrote in the Washington Post. “This isn’t a perfect metaphor, but not raising the debt ceiling is more like refusing to pay your credit card bill than it is akin to asking for a blank check. Congress appropriates funds; if they don’t want Obama to spend more, it’s within Congress’s power to withhold that money.”

That wasn’t the only straight-up Republican lie.

The Republican mantra became, “We have a spending problem, not an income problem.” Actually, we have both. It’s true that federal spending this current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, is expected to equal 24.1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the second-highest percentage of GDP since 1945.

It is also true federal revenues are expected to be 14.8 percent of GDP this year, the second- lowest level since War II.

But the most conservative of conservatives prefer to ignore that reality. Letting the Bush taxes expire would slash the deficit in half, but that’s an item that Republicans insisted was off the negotiating table.

In his July 22 press conference, Obama acknowledged he had been exceedingly generous in his overtures to Republicans.

“Essentially, what we had offered Speaker Boehner was over a trillion dollars in cuts to discretionary spending, both domestic and defense,” Obama said. “We then offered an additional $650 billion in cuts to entitlement programs – Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security.”

Here’s the kicker: “We were offering a deal that called for as much discretionary savings as the Gang of Six [a panel Democratic and Republican lawmakers]. We were calling for taxes that were less than what the Gang of Six had proposed.”

Boehner responded to Obama’s gesture by ending the negotiations and refusing to return Obama’s phone calls. Therein lies the difference between Obama and Boehner. The latter listens to his base and then moves quickly in its direction. Obama, on the other hand, repeatedly boasts that he is willing to ignore the wishes of his base when attempting to strike a deal with House conservatives.

“The president got the only thing that was nonnegotiable from his perspective: a big enough increase in the debt limit to ensure he doesn’t have a repeat of this fiasco during the 2012 campaign, which would make him look fatally weak,” wrote Matt Miller, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

In the wake of the deficit deal, Obama has tried to put a happy face on the ugly deal. The administration has put out a “fact sheet” that claims the agreement, “ Stays true to the President’s commitment to shared sacrifice by preventing the middle class, seniors and those who are most vulnerable from shouldering the burden of deficit reduction. The President did not agree to any entitlement reforms outside of the context of a bipartisan committee process where tax reform will be on the table and the President will insist on shared sacrifice from the most well-off and those with the most indefensible tax breaks.”

We’ve heard similar talk for the past two years. And the end result has been the president giving in to political extortion.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him atwww.twitter.com/currygeorge

Republicans Have a Memory Deficit

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(NNPA) How did we get into this budget mess?

Republican lawmakers want you to believe it was because of the two years President Barack Obama has been in office? But it was Republicans – the professed party of fiscal responsibility – who have presided over the largest splash of red ink.

According to Investment Watch blog:

· The deficit was raised 18 times under Ronald Reagan – three times in 1981, twice in 1982, twice in 1983, three times in 1984, twice in 1985, twice in 1986 and four times in 1987 – or once every five months;

· Under Clinton, the debt was raised only four times – twice in 1993 and once each in 1996 and 1997 – an average of once every 24 months;

· George W. Bush presided over seven increases in the deficit – once each in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006 and twice in 2008 – or once every 13 months;

· Under Obama, the deficit was raised twice – in 2009 and 2010 – or once every 15 months.

The New York Times observed in an editorial: “In 2001, President George W. Bush inherited a surplus, with projections by the Congressional Budget Office for ever-increasing surpluses, assuming continuation of the good economy and President Bill Clinton’s policies. But every year starting in 2002, the budget fell into deficit. In January 2009, just before President Obama took office, the budget office projected a $1.2 trillion deficit for 2009 and deficits in subsequent years, based on continuing Mr. Bush’s policies and the effects of recession. Mr. Obama’s policies in 2009 and 2010, including the stimulus package, added to the deficits in those years but are largely temporary.”

The editorial noted that Republican policies, two wars and economic downturns are responsible for our economic quagmire.

“Under Mr. Bush, tax cuts and war spending were the biggest policy drivers of the swing from projected surpluses to deficits from 2002 to 2009. Budget estimates that didn’t foresee the recessions in 2001 and in 2008 and 2009 also contributed to deficits. Mr. Obama’s policies, taken out to 2017, add to deficits, but not by nearly as much,” the Times article stated. “…The Bush tax cuts have had a huge damaging effect. If all of them expired as scheduled at the end of 2012, future deficits would be cut by about half, to sustainable levels.”

Republicans are featuring deficit reduction as their central political campaign yet refuse to let the Bush tax cuts expire. And though Democrats don’t agree, they can’t muster the backbone to stand up to the GOP.

Republican leaders have adopted the mantra: We have a spending problem, not an income problem.

According to FactCheck.org, we have both.

“Federal spending is expected to equal 24.1 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30,” the Web site notes. “The figure was 25 percent in fiscal year 2009, highest since 1945.

“On the other hand, federal revenues are expected to drop to 14.8 percent of GDP this year, lower than the 14.9 percent attained in both 2009 and 2010. There has been only one year since World War II when revenues have been as low as any of these years: 1950, when the figure was 14.4 percent.”

In fiscal 2000, the year before the first of two Bush tax cuts took effect, receipts from federal income tax on individuals represented 10.2 percent of GDP. Last year, that figure had dropped to 6.2 percent of GDP. Corporate taxes have also been steadily lowered, now making up only 8.9 percent of the federal budget.

David Stockman told talkingpointsmemo.com: "I think the biggest problem is revenues. It is simply unrealistic to say that raising revenue isn't part of the solution. It's a measure of how far off the deep end Republicans have gone with this religious catechism about taxes."

Rather than dealing with a combination of tax increases and spending cuts, GOP leaders are proposing drastic spending cuts in what is called domestic discretionary or non-security discretionary spending. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) says that portion of the budget “provides vital services to people in need, protects Americans from corporate abuses and environmental degradation, and keeps the government itself operating.”

EPI stated, “Despite its important functions, the domestic discretionary budget represents only 15 percent of the total budget, and accounts for only 14 percent of the inflation-adjusted increase in federal outlays over the last decade.”

A chart created by EPI shows that the non-security discretionary share of the federal budget averaged 3.3 percent from 1962 to 2008. Under Reagan, it averaged 3.4 percent, 3 percent under Clinton, and 3.5 percent in fiscal 2011. The proposed Obama budget proposed a drop to 2.2 percent. A GOP plan would slice domestic spending to 1.5 percent.

Clearly, domestic spending isn’t out of control, as Republicans argue. And the aging of Americans will only add to the problem.

“Frankly, if you want to blame our looming deficits on policy changes, you would look not to spending but, rather, taxes – specifically, to President Bush's huge tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 that Congress recently extended until 2012 and will likely extend either wholly or in large measure again after that,” Lawrence Haas wrote in Fiscal Times. “Simply letting the Bush tax cuts expire would reduce annual deficits to about 3 percent of GDP (which is considered economically sustainable) over the next decade, though they would start rising again later on due to soaring health care costs.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him atwww.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Obama Budget Concessions to the Right of Republican Voters

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(NNPA) A recent Gallup poll shows that most Americans support President Obama’s plan to raise the nation debt ceiling, set to expire Aug. 2, with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases, especially on corporations and the wealthy. Republican leaders, on the other hand, are resisting any tax increases, a position not favored even by Republican voters.

In the poll, taken July 7-10, only 20 percent of Americans say deficit reduction should be achieved solely through spending cuts. Another 30 percent say it should be done mostly with spending cuts and 32 percent believe the goal should be reached equally with spending cuts and tax increases.

Among Republicans, 24 percent favor an equal split between spending reductions and tax cuts, 26 percent favor only spending cuts and 41 percent favor reaching the target with mostly spending cuts. Among independents, 30 percent favor mostly tax increases, 28 percent support an equal share of spending cuts and tax increases and 23 percent prefer mostly spending cuts.

The largest share of Democrats – 42 percent – favor an equal split between spending cuts and additional taxes, followed by 23 percent who mostly want spending cuts and 12 percent who favor mostly tax increases.

Writing in the New York Times, Nate Silver noted: “Much to the chagrin of many Democrats, the mix of spending cuts and tax increases that Mr. Obama is offering is quite close, or perhaps to the right of, what the average Republican voter wants, let alone the average American.”

Make no mistake about it, this posturing over the deficit is directly related to the 2012 presidential election. Republicans have concluded that making a deal with a Democratic president, even one who is willing to give them most of what they want, will not help them in the next election cycle. For his part, Obama has concluded that a deal on raising the debt ceiling, even a bad deal, bodes well for his re-election campaign.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, an economist, said, “President Obama has made it clear that he’s willing to sign on to a deficit-reduction plan that consists overwhelmingly of spending cuts, and includes draconian cuts in key social programs, up to and including a rise in the age of Medicare eligibility.

“…If a Republican president had managed to extract the kind of concessions on Medicare and Social Security that Mr. Obama is offering, it would have been considered a conservative triumph. But when those concessions come attached to minor increases in revenue, and more important, when they come from a Democratic president, the proposals become unacceptable plans to tax the life out of the U.S. economy.”

Obama has public opinion on his side yet he is caving in to conservative Republican leaders who are being forced to move even more out of the mainstream by right-wing Tea Party fanatics.

A June 9 poll by Quinnipiac University found that voters will blame Republicans over Obama by a margin of 48 percent to 34 percent if the debt limit is not raised. Additionally, by a margin of 67-25, voters believe that the agreement to raise the debt ceiling should include tax hikes for the wealthy and corporations, not just spending cuts.

The public debate is being framed in the context of lowering the deficit, but that’s a smokescreen. The real GOP goal is to shrink the size of the federal government, especially agencies with regulatory power.

Even with public opinion on his side, Obama is unlikely to force Republicans to take a stand. It is part of an increasingly disturbing pattern: President Obama makes major concessions to Republicans in hopes of reaching a bipartisan agreement, but in the end GOP leaders walk away from the table, with the administration gaining nothing in the process.

Mark my word: Republicans are not going to agree to even minor increases in taxes to accompany the draconian cuts in social spending that Obama has put on the table. They know by now that they can always play a game of chicken with Obama and he invariably blinks.

More than likely, Obama will accept the scheme of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – the man who said his top priority is denying President Obama a second term – to empower the president to raise the debt ceiling without Republican support.

Under the so-called Plan B, which has been endorsed by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid [D-NV], Congress would empower the president to raise the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion in three increments over the next year. Republicans in the House and Senate would seek to pass a resolution of disapproval, allowing them to blame Obama for raising the debt limit. Obama would veto resolution of disapproval, if it passes both chambers. Congress is unlikely to have the two-third votes needed to override the president’s veto.

No-drama-Obama is likely to go along with the scheme and defend it by saying America’s economic health was at risk. But Republicans share that responsibility. Obama should reject the McConnell proposal and have a showdown with Republicans more interested in their political fortunes than the future of the country. They should not be given an easy way out.

If Obama walks into the political trap set by McConnell, he will give Republicans the cuts in domestic programs they wanted, no tax revenue will be added to the pot, and the GOP will be able to blame Obama in 2012 for raising the debt. That’s not the change we’ve been waiting for.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him atwww.twitter.com/currygeorge.

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