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George Curry

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.

Michele Bachmann: The John Wayne of Political Lies

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(NNPA) Whether making the round of Sunday morning talk shows, giving the Tea Party response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, or announcing her own presidential candidacy, Michele Bachmann does one thing consistently – lie.

The Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, who has been described as Sarah Palin with a brain, has enjoyed a dramatic rise in public opinion polls following the latest debate among GOP candidates seeking the party’s presidential nomination. But Bachmann’s comments are a reminder of the adage: Figures can lie and liars can figure. Here are some of the most egregious examples:

BACHMANN [CBS “Face the Nation,” June 26]: The Congressional Budget Office estimated Obamacare will cost economy 800,000 jobs, probably the –

HOST BOB SCHIEFFER: Again, that is data that other people would question.

BACHMANN: That’s – well, that’s what the Congressional Budget Office, that’s not Michele Bachmann, that’s Congressional Budget Office figures saying that we’re – we have the potential of losing 800,000 jobs.

FACTS: As Factcheck.org noted, “The CBO didn’t say that. Instead the CBO said that the law would cause a reduction in the amount of labor workers choose to supply. Some Americans would decide to work fewer hours or retire earlier because their ability to get health insurance would be more secure. And low-income workers would receive subsidies to purchase insurance, putting more money into their pockets. Overall, the CBO said the impact on jobs would be ‘small.’”

BACHMANN [Jan. 25 Tea Party Response to the State of the Union address]: Unfortunately, the president’s strategy for recovery was to spend a trillion dollars on a failed stimulus program, fueled by borrowed money…Not only did that plan fail to deliver, but within three months the national jobless rate spiked to 9.4 percent. And sadly, it hasn’t been lower for 20 straight months. While the government grew, we lost more than 2 million jobs. Let me show you a chart. Here are unemployment rates over the past 10 years. In October 2001, our national unemployment rate was 5.3 percent. In 2008…it was just 6.6 percent. But, just eight months after President Obama promised lower unemployment, that rate spike to a staggering 10.1 percent.

FACTS: The watchdog group Media Matters, on its politicalcorrection.org site, stated: “From December 2007 to July 2009 – the last year of the Bush second term and the first six months of the Obama presidency, before his policies could affect the economy – private sector employment crashed from 115,574,000 jobs to 107,778,000 jobs. Employment continued to fall, however, for the next six months, reaching a low of 107,107,000 in December of 2009. So, out of 8,467,000 private sector jobs lost in this dismal cycle, 7,796,000 of those jobs or 92 percent were lost on the Republican watch or under their policies. Some 671,000 additional jobs were lost as the stimulus and other moves by the administration kicked in, but 630,000 jobs came back in the following six months. The tally, to date: Mr. Obama can be held accountable for the net loss of 41,000 jobs (671,000-630,000), while the Republicans should be held responsible for the net losses of 7,796,000 jobs.”

BACHMANN [Tea Party State of the Union response]: But instead of cutting, we saw an unprecedented explosion of government spending and debt, unlike anything we have seen in the history of our country. Deficits were unacceptably high under President Bush, but they exploded under President Obama’s direction, growing the national debt by an astounding $3.1 trillion dollars.

FACTS: The rising debt can be attributed to Bush-era policies and the recession that began before Obama took office. As the conservative Washington Times observed, “The Congressional Budget Office announced a projected fiscal 2009 deficit of $1.2 trillion even if Congress doesn’t enact any new programs…About the only person who was silent on the deficit projection was Mr. Bush, who took office facing a surplus but who saw spending balloon and the country notch the highest deficits on record.”

BACHMANN [Tea Party response]: We need to start making things again in this country. And we can do that by reducing the tax and regulatory burden on job creators. America will have the highest corporate tax rate in the world. Think about that.

FACTS: Researchers at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have thought about it and what they realize is that to grasp the corporate tax burden, one needs to look beyond statutory tax rates to the effective tax rate, which takes into account tax deductions. Judging by that standard, the Center notes, “The U.S. corporate tax burden is smaller than average for developed countries. Corporations in 19 of the member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development paid 16.1 percent of their profits in taxes between 2000 and 2005, on average, while corporations in the United States paid 13.4 percent.”

Appearing on Fox News after officially declaring her candidacy for president, Bachmann said on June 27: “What I want them to know is, just like John Wayne is from Waterloo, Iowa, that’s the kind of spirit that I have too.”

John Wayne wasn’t from Waterloo. He was born in Winterset, Iowa and grew up in California. Bachmann apparently got John Wayne mixed up with another John Wayne – John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer who was from Waterloo.

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.

Ostracizing Black Leaders Who Criticize Obama

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(NNPA) The Bible is filled with characters who started out on shaky ground – Paul, David and Solomon, among them – before being transformed into epic figures. But it seems that Black leaders who dare to criticize President Obama don’t get second chances. Instead, they are the object of widespread ridicule and condemnation.

I spent some time last week with two such leaders – Cornel West and Jesse Jackson – at the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) national convention in Chicago. Although their standing among African-Americans has slipped, their analysis of where Blacks have been and need to go is as incisive as ever.

Neither Jackson nor West should be viewed in isolation. The Black community does not want to hear anything bad about Barack Obama, even if it’s true. If a White president had been as dismissive of African-Americans’ interests as Obama has been, Blacks would have been ready to march on the White House. As Michael Eric Dyson says, “This president runs from race like a Black man runs from a cop.”

Even so, Blacks treat him like royalty.

My friend Roland Martin is quick to insist that guests on his television program refer to the man who occupies the White House as President Obama. I refuse to play this game. Obama – yes, I said it – is a president, not head of some monarchy. I have called Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush by their last names. I am not going to say President Obama every time I refer to him. Sometimes he is President Obama, sometimes he is Obama. I refuse to treat him like King Obama.

The problem with West and Jackson is their critiques, however valid, were wrapped in language that was offensive to many African-Americans. To call Obama the Black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs – a term most people hadn’t heard since their last high school civics class – is over the edge in this instance. Don’t get me wrong: there are some Black Anglo-Saxons who deserve to be called mascots and worse – and I’ve called them that. But Obama is not in that category.

When I gave Cornel West a chance to soften his description of the president during a discussion I moderated at the NNPA convention between him and Al Sharpton, he declined. He could have said, “I stand by everything I said about the president but not how I said it.” That would have gone a long way toward refocusing the discussion on real issues, not the Al Sharpton-Cornel West sideshow.

In Jesse Jackson’s case, he has been largely excommunicated from the race for a comment that reeked of envy. After an interview on Fox News in 2008, he told a fellow guest that he wanted to cut Obama’s private parts off. He also used the N-word in a conversation that he did not know was being picked up by the microphones.

Jackson later apologized, saying his comments were “hurtful and wrong.” By then, however, the damage had been done. At the time, Obama was making a credible bid to become president of the United States. And Blacks did not want to hear anything disparaging about the man who went on to win the nation’s highest elected office. Many, if not most, Blacks haven’t forgiven Jackson for his crude remarks.

Notwithstanding Jackson’s expressed desire to dismember Obama or West’s deeply personal attack on the president, each made valid critiques of President Obama. Jackson was correct to point out that sometimes Obama speaks down to African-Americans. That is particularly true when he lectures Blacks on moral responsibility but does not make similar speeches to White audiences. Cornel West is correct in stating that the administration does not pay enough attention to the needs of the poor and African-Americans.

Despite overwhelming evidence of disproportionate Black suffering during this recession, Obama refuses to target the specific needs of African-Americans. His response is: “It’s a mistake to start thinking in terms of particular ethnic segments of the United States rather than to think that we are all in this together and we are all going to get out of this together.”

Yet, it was not a mistake to address the specific needs of Wall Street. He can speak to the specific agenda of gays and Lesbians without it being considered a mistake. It was not a mistake in Obama’s mind to speak to the specific needs of the automobile industry. It was not a mistake to speak to the special interests of banks. But when it comes to the needs of African-Americans, we are supposed to wait for progress to trickle down to and upon us.

Yes, he is president of all of America. But all of America includes Black America.

The sad reality is that most civil rights leaders have given Obama a pass. If the unemployment rates and economic gap had widened under a White president, Al Sharpton would have been in the streets chanting, “No Justice, No Peace.” Instead, the ultimate outsider has become the ultimate insider, defending the administration with the vigor of a cabinet member.

As a group, today’s collection of civil rights leaders are ineffectual and out of touch. For example, with all of the problems facing us, the NAACP chose to spend part of its limited national, state and local resources to make sure Black motorcycle riders were not discriminated against on the Memorial Day weekend in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

We have far more serious issues facing Black America. And we need the voices and analysis of all of our national leaders, even after they have put their foot in their mouth.

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.

Blacks and AIDS: 30 Years Later

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(NNPA) Sunday will mark the 30th anniversary of the first public identification of AIDS. On June 5, 1981, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) disclosed that five previously healthy gay men in Los Angeles were diagnosed with an infectious disease normally associated with a deteriorated immune system.

Writing about the initial discovery, last week in the Washington Post, Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at the National Institutes of Health, recalled: “One month later, the MMWR wrote about 26 cases in previously healthy gay men from Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, who had developed PCP [pneumocystis carinii pneumonia] as well as an unusual form of cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma.

“Their immune systems were severely compromised. This mysterious syndrome was acting like an infectious disease that was probably sexually transmitted. My colleagues and I never had seen anything like it. The idea that we could be dealing with a brand-new infectious microbe seemed like something for science fiction movies.

“Little did we know what lay ahead."

“Soon, cases appeared in many groups: injection- drug users, hemophiliacs and other recipients of blood and blood products, heterosexual men and women, children born to infected mothers. The era of AIDS had begun.”

Actually, AIDS began prior to 1981 – we just didn’t know it.

Since 1981, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1.7 million people in the United States have been infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Among the 1.7 million, 600,000 died. More than 1.1 million are living with the disease today. Every 9 ½ minutes, someone is infected with HIV in the United States.

AIDS, initially thought to be the exclusive purview of White gay men, has taken such a large toll on African-Americans that Phill Wilson, of the Black AIDS Institute, describes it as a Black disease. Although Blacks represent only 12 percent of the U.S. population, African-Americans account for 45 percent of all HIV infections and 46 percent of all people living with HIV in 2006, according to the CDC.

Over the course of the epidemic, African- Americans have become a larger proportion of those diagnosed with AIDS, jumping from 25 percent in 1985 to almost double – 48 percent – in 2009.

Among certain groups, the numbers are staggering: • Black women account for 61 percent of all new HIV infections among women, a rate nearly 15 times larger than that of White women. Most African-American women were infected through heterosexual activity.

• Black teenagers represent only 17 percent of all U.S. teenagers, but 68 percent of all new AIDS diagnoses among teens.

• According to one five-city sampling, 46 percent of Black gay and bisexual men were infected with HIV, compared to 31 percent of Whites and 17 percent of Latino males.

There are many reasons for such disparities, including limited access to quality health. One national study found that Blacks are more likely to skip medical care because they lacked transportation, were too sick to go to the doctor, or had competing needs, such as expenses for basic essentials.

Citing a national study, an HIV/AIDS fact sheet published by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation observed: “Blacks with HIV/AIDS were more likely to be publicly insured or uninsured than their white counterparts, with over half (59%) relying on Medicaid compared to 32% of whites. One fifth of blacks with HIV/AIDS (22%) were uninsured, compared to 17 percent of whites. Blacks were much less likely to be privately insured than whites (14% compared to 44 %).”

In addition to less access of health care, the death rate is higher among Blacks, in part, because African-Americans are often diagnosed long after they have been infected, reducing the likelihood of successful treatment.

Grassroots community groups have been laboring to heighten awareness. Wilson and his Black AIDS Institute have been particularly impressive mobilizing civil rights leaders, even getting them to undergo testing in public. Similarly, Pernessa C. Seele, of the Balm in Gilead, has mobilized the faith community, both here and in Africa, and C. Virginia Fields has placed a lot of focus on heterosexual women through her leadership of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS.

Still, too many people are walking around unaware of their HIV status, posing a threat to themselves and others. That’s why testing needs to be expanded at all levels. In addition, the Blacks AIDS Institute’s 2011 State of AIDS in Black America report outlines a number of steps that need to be taken by health officials to more effectively address the problem:

• Provide people with continuous and coordinated quality care once they learn they have been infected by HIV;

• Increase the number and diversity of clinical care and related services to people living with HIV;

• Support people living with HIV who have other needs, such as affordable housing;

• Narrow HIV-related disparities;

• Reduce the stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV; and

• Adopt community-level approaches to reduce HIV infections in high-risk communities.

The 30th anniversary of the discovery of AIDS is no time for celebration. It is a time to expand our efforts to bring an end to this preventable disease.

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

Demonizing the Poor for being Poor

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(NNPA) In the 1960s, we had the War on Poverty. In 2011, we’re now seeing a War on People Who Live in Poverty.

One of the most callous examples of this occurred on – you guessed it – Fox News. Charles Payne, in a business segment, acknowledged that anti-poverty programs, food stamps, and unemployment insurance were “good programs”, but then went on to attack recipients of those programs.

“I think the real narrative here, though, is that people aren’t embarrassed by it,” Payne said. “People aren’t ashamed by it. In other words, there was a time when people were embarrassed to be on food stamps; there was a time when people were embarrassed to be on unemployment for six months, let alone demanding to be on for more than two years… No longer is the man being told to look in the mirror and cast down a judgment on himself; it’s someone else’s fault. So, food stamps, unemployment, all this stuff is something that they probably earned in some indirect way.”

The host of the business show, Stuart Varney, called food stamps, Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit “a form of welfare, income redistribution” benefiting people with an “entitlement mentality.”

Varney and Payne, in effect, dismissed the findings by the National Bureau of Economic Research that showed that such programs keep 1 in 6 Americans out of poverty, mostly the elderly, the disabled, and the working poor. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, without those programs, the poverty rate would double.

As states continue to struggle to balance their budgets, as required by their constitutions, some state lawmakers are directing their anger at the poor.

In Kentucky, a Republican state representative has introduced a bill that, if passed, would require random drug testing for all adults receiving welfare, food stamps or Medicaid.

Rep. Lonnie Napier, of Lancaster, Ky., introduced Kentucky House Bill 208 that would immediately terminate benefits to recipients who fail a drug test. He told the Huffington Post, “This program is gonna save us a lot of money, because there’s gonna be a lot of people showing up on illegal drugs and they will lose their assistance.”

There is no evidence that people benefiting from anti-poverty programs are any more prone to becoming drug addicts than those who do not receive such aid. Professor Harold Pollack, of the University of Chicago, pointed out that Michigan implemented a mandatory drug testing program 10 years ago at three of its welfare offices. Of the 258 welfare applicants tested, only 21 tested positive for illegal drugs. Of the 21 failing, 18 tested positive for marijuana.

Newt Gingrich, who is testing the GOP presidential waters, has tried to indirectly inject race into his campaign. Speaking to a group of Republicans in his home state of Georgia, he said: “President Obama is the most successful food stamp president in American history. I would like to be the most successful paycheck president in American history.”

When asked about the comment on Meet the Press, Gingrich denied his comment contained racial overtones. He asserted, “…I have never said anything about President Obama which is racist.”

Perhaps not overtly, but certainly covertly. That point was not lost on Adam Serwer of the Washington Post. “I don’t think Gingrich lacks the sophistication to understand how it sounds when he calls for poll tests and refers to the first black president as ‘the food stamp president,’” Serwer wrote. “…He gets to play the victim of a politically correct world where liberals try to stifle all criticism of Obama by characterizing any such criticism as racism.

His dog whistle is thus amplified by enraged liberals, while conservatives get to play up their own form of racial grievance politics.”

Nearly 12 percent of Americans are beneficiaries of the Food Stamp program – 28 percent of Blacks, 15 percent of Latinos, and eight percent of Whites.

Recipients, who are at or below the poverty line, are given a plastic card to purchase food, seeds, and food plants. The card cannot be used to purchase alcohol, tobacco, paper goods or pet food. Despite those restrictions, the users of food stamps are still used as a political football.

“If people buy fresh vegetables or other relatively expensive though nutritious foods, they are considered to be living high on the hog at the taxpayers’ expense,” the New York Times observed in 2009. “But if they buy cheap foods like hot dogs they are criticized for poor health habits.”

Many people who were quick to criticize the Food Stamp program in the past are now embracing it after they have lost their job. More than 36 million people are food stamp recipients, with an additional 15 million eligible for enrollment.

“This is the most urgent time for our feeding program in our lifetime, with the exception of the Depression,” Under Secretary of Agriculture Kevin Concannon told the New York Times. “It’s time for us to face up to the fact that in this country of plenty, there are hungry people.”

And, those hungry people – many of them facing unemployment for the first time in their adult life – should not be stigmatized by candidates for public office seeking to score cheap political points.

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.cessfully take us into the future!

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