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George Curry

Obama Must Demonstrate Bold Leadership on Jobs

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(NNPA) Any compromise President Obama reaches with Congress will fail to significantly reduce Black unemployment unless the plan is crafted to address joblessness in the three industries where African-American workers are concentrated – government jobs, education and health services.

According to a University of California-Berkeley Labor Center research brief titled, “Black Workers and the Public Sector,” 20.9 percent of African-Americans are employed in what is called the public administration sector and 18.5 percent work in education and health services.

The report, written by Steven Pitts, shows some variations within the Black community. For example, most Black males (18 percent) are employed in the public administration sector. However, most African-American females (27 percent) are employed in education and health services. Public administration is the second-leading employer for Black women at 23.3 percent.

But the gender differences don’t stop there. After public administration, the next highest employers for Black men are manufacturing (14.7 percent), wholesale and retail trade (14.3 percent), professional and business services (9 percent) and educational and health services (8.4 percent).

By contrast, after education and health services (27 percent) and public administration (23.3 percent), Black women were employed in wholesale and retail trade (11.3 percent), professional and business services (7.2 percent) and manufacturing (7.1 percent).

Thus, when looking at the top five employment industries, the sector most likely to hire Black women – education and health services – was the one least likely to hire African-American men. Any successful job plan must take into account these gender differences.

UC-Berkeley Labor Center research challenges President Obama’s contention that a rising tide lifts all boats.

In a 2009 interview, Obama said: “The most important thing I can do for the African American community is the same thing I can do for the American community, period, and that is to get the economy going again and get people hiring again.”

But as the Labor Center brief observes, “…Often policy prescriptions that, on the surface, are race-neutral can have decidedly racial impacts.”

That’s crucial when considering Black unemployment is at the highest level in 27 years. As the U.S. Department of Labor report titled, “The Black Labor Force in the Recovery” notes, the unemployment rate of Blacks in 2007, the year the recession began, was 8.3 percent, compared to 4.1 percent for Whites and 5.6 percent for Latinos.

Overall unemployment peaked at 10.1 percent in October but fell to 9.1 percent in July and August. Black unemployment had peaked at 16.5 percent in March and April of 2011. But that was eclipsed last month when Black unemployment rose to 16.7 percent – twice as high it was when Obama assumed office.

Although President Obama shouldn’t be blamed for the increase in Black unemployment, he does have a responsibility to effectively address the issue. And there are no simple solutions.

There is a tendency to discuss Black unemployment in the abstract, but a look at the numbers reveals gender and racial variations. The overall unemployment rate in August was 9.1 percent. The unemployment rate for Whites was 8 percent, 11.3 percent for Latinos and 16.7 percent for African-Americans.

Unemployment among Black females edged up slightly from July to August from 14.3 percent to 14.5 percent. Over this same period, Black men saw their unemployment rate jump from 17.7 percent to 19.1 percent.

African-American female teens, ages 16-19, had a higher unemployment level (47.9 percent) than their male counterparts (45.2 percent). The teen female unemployment rate has risen steadily, from 26.8 percent in December 2007 to 33.8 percent in June 2009, to 40.4 percent in July 2011 and to a top of 47.9 percent in August.

Black male teens experienced a more uneven ride, increasing from 39.8 percent in December 2007 to 45.1 percent in June 2009 before falling to 38 percent in July 2011 and rising again to 45.2 percent last month.

Commentators like to remind President Obama that his ability to keep his job in 2012 is contingent upon how well he handles the jobs issue. From time to time, President Obama places the unemployment issue at the top of his agenda. Often – as part of an agenda driven by his political opponents – his attention is diverted by some superfluous issue as his birth certificate or the phony debt ceiling debate.

As evidenced by his speech Thursday night to a joint session of Congress, job creation is back at the top of the White House agenda. After a net loss of jobs in August, the president can’t afford to allow himself to be diverted from his main challenge again. That will necessitate taking bold action to restart the economy and not proposing only what he thinks can be passed in Tea Party-dominated House of Representatives.

Great presidents – including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson – are still respected decades after leaving the White House because they molded public opinion during a time of monumental crisis. If Barack Obama wants to be considered a great president or to even get re-elected, he must demonstrate strong leadership as his opponents try to deliver on their pledge to deny him a second term.

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.

Republicans Contradict Themselves on Taxes

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(NNPA) If there was ever any lingering doubt that Republicans favor the rich over poor and middle-class Americans, it should be removed by the GOP’s opposition to President Obama’s proposal to extend the payroll tax cut for another year.

Let’s face it: Republicans oppose almost everything advocated by the nation’s first Black president. And Republican leaders have made it clear that their top priority is defeating Obama in 2012, even if that means wrecking the country in the process.

Whether it was coming up with a budget compromise last December or the most recent round of deficit haggling, Republicans have adamantly refused to roll back the tax rate for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans to the pre-George W. Bush level. That move alone would cut the federal deficit by half. GOP leaders also refuse to close tax loopholes that allow some U.S. companies to pay little or no federal taxes.

Last year, Congress approved President Obama’s 1-year plan to reduce the share of payroll taxes designated for Social Security from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent. Now, Obama is proposing adding another year, a move that would affect 46 percent of all taxpayers, saving the average family $1,000.

But Republicans, who, until now, had never met a tax cut they didn’t like, are balking.

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said: “We don’t need short-term gestures. We need long-term fundamental changes in our tax structure and our regulatory structure that people who create jobs can rely on.”

A spokesman for another Republican, Eric Cantor, told the Associated Press, that the House majority leader “has never believed that this temporary tax relief is the best way to grow the economy.”

Republicans are conveniently ignoring the fact that the Bush tax cuts, enacted in 2001 and 2003, were supposed to be temporary. When they were set to expire, both Republicans and President Obama extended them.

When he was a candidate, Obama pledged to end the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent of taxpayers – individuals earning at least $200,000 a year and couples making $250,000 or more. Under pressure from Republicans, however, Obama agreed last December to extend the cuts.

According to Citizens for Tax Justice, 52.5 percent of the Bush tax cuts benefit the richest 5 percent of taxpayers.

David Stockman, the budget director in the Reagan administration, called for letting the Bush tax cuts expire and said the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. In an interview with 60 Minutes, he said: “In 1985, the top 5 percent of the households, the wealthiest 5 percent, had a net worth of 8 trillion dollars, which is a lot. Today, after serial bubble after serial bubble, the top 5 percent have a net worth of 40 trillion.”

Republican National Chairman Ed Gillespie defends the GOP’s defense of the wealthy by contending that 80 percent of the tax relief to the rich goes to job-creating small businesses. FactCheck.org debunks that myth.

“It may be true that 79% of upper-income taxpayers have some income from business, but Gillespie’s definition of ‘small’ business actually includes big accounting firms, law firms and real-estate partnerships, and ‘businesses’ that are really only sidelines – such as occasional rental income from a corporate chief’s condo,” it said. “In fact, tax statistics show that upper-income taxpayers get more of their income from salaries, capital gains, stock dividends and interest than they do from small business.”

The Tax Policy Center found that slightly more than 22 percent of income reported by the wealthy will be derived from business income.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, providing tax cuts to the wealthy is the least effective way to stimulate the economy because rich people are more likely to save the money. A more effective way to encourage spending is by placing money in the hands of poor and middle-class citizens, people more likely to spend the funds.

And that’s exactly what President Obama seeks to do by extending the payroll tax cut, which would benefit almost half of all Americans. If it is not extended, it will expire Jan. 1.

Social Security payroll taxes apply only to the first $106,800 of wages. Many people are unaware that the rate was reduced by 2 percent last year because they pay little attention to their pay stubs. The employer’s share was not reduced from its rate of 12.4 percent for each worker.

Many Republicans have put themselves in a box by pledging to never raise taxes. Over the past 25 years, Grover Norquist, president of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform, has encouraged Republicans to sign a pledge that they won’t raise taxes. More than 200 members of Congress have signed that pledge.

Republicans have voted against letting the Bush tax cuts expire because, according to their reasoning, that would amount to a tax increase. Many of those same Republicans, however, object to extending the payroll tax cut proposed by Obama. It shows how far Republicans are willing to go to protect the wealthy, to oppose Obama, and to be insensitive to the poor and middle-class.

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.

3 Stories You Won't Read this MLK Weekend

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(NNPA) In the hoopla surrounding Sunday’s dedication of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. statue on the National Mall in Washington, Harry E. Johnson, Sr., the visionary and fundraising engine behind the project, will finally get his due. Placing Dr. King on the Mall was a project of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, but it was Johnson, a Houston attorney and former president of the fraternity, who made it all happen, raising more than $100 million.

In the excitement of placing a statue of the first African-American on the Mall, there are three stories that readers should be aware of, though few journalists, if any, will cover.

The first story is surprising. Among the million dollar-donors to the MLK memorial project, only two African-Americans had joined that select club as of July, according to the list of donors compiled by the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation. The Website list of all donors of a million dollars or more has been removed from the site. But records examined in July showed that Sheila Johnson-Newman, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), and Victor B. MacFarlane, a San Francisco real estate developer, were the only Blacks who had made personal or corporate contributions of $1 million or more.

Many Black stars hosted fundraisers or provided other support, but only MacFarlane and Johnson-Newman put up the super bucks. Missing in action were the big-name athletes and entertainers. I don’t have to list them – you know who they are.

It is also interesting to look at corporate donations. The General Motors Foundation, under the leadership of Rod Gillum, was in a class by itself, giving $10 million. It was followed by Tommy Hilfiger Corporate Foundation with a $5 million contribution. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the National Basketball Association each donated $3 million. The Walt Disney Company donated $2.7 million. Contributing $2 million each were the Coca-Cola Foundation, the Ford Motor Fund, MetLife Foundation, Toyota Foundation and the Verizon Foundation.

The federal government provided approximately $10 million and Alpha Phi Alpha, the driving force behind the King memorial, donated $3.4 million. An additional 39 companies or individuals gave at least $1 million, including Delta Airlines, General Electric, Star Wars creator George Lucas, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

The second story unlikely to be covered this week is the lack of donations from certain Fortune 100 companies. More than a dozen companies contributed less than $100,000 or nothing at all to the King memorial. They include: Citigroup, Philip Morris, Home Depot, J.P. Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, AOL Time Warner, Goldman Sachs Group, United Parcel Service (UPS), Allstate, Sprint and American Express, according to records available as of July. Many of those companies actively court Black consumers.  Some even quote Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech from time to time. Yet, when it is time to honor the dreamer, they are asleep at the switch.

The third story you won’t be reading about this weekend is in equal parts sad and familiar. It is yet another example of the King children’s greediness. Harry Johnson, head of the Mall project, should be given the Nobel Peace Prize for being able to deal with the family dysfunction. According to documents examined by the Associated Press, the mall foundation has paid Intellectual Properties Management, a company owned by the King children, approximately $800,000 for the use of Dr. King’s words and image.

Records show that the foundation paid the King entity $761,160 in 2007 to use Dr. King image and words in fundraising materials. It also charged the memorial a management fee $71,000 in 2003. The firm representing the Kings issued a statement saying the fees would go to the Martin Luther King Jr. King Center for Social Change in Atlanta. It said the fees will help offset donations that would go toward erecting the memorial instead of the King center, where both parents are buried.

The King family has had its own version of the television show “Family Feud” for years.  Dexter, the youngest brother, was named head of the King center but was released within months by his mother, Coretta Scott King. In 2008, Martin III and Bernice sued Dexter, claiming he had misused MLK center assets and failed to properly involve them in family business matters.

Dexter counter sued, charging that his two siblings had misused King Center funds and kept money that should have gone to the center. Under pressure from the judge, the Kings settled out of court. But they have never been able to shed the image of profiting from the name of their father.

David Garrow, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Dr. King, said the civil rights leader would have been “absolutely scandalized by the profiteering behavior of his children.” He told the AP, “I don’t think the Jefferson family, the Lincoln family…I don’t think any other group of family ancestors has been paid a licensing fee for a memorial in Washington. One would think any family would be so thrilled to have their forefather celebrated and memorialized in D.C. that it would never dawn on them to ask for a penny.”

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.

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:

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.

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