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George Curry

Revisiting the State of Black America

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Although the National Urban League has been issuing the annual “State of Black America” report for 34 years, for some inexplicable reason, everywhere you look these days, some group is sponsoring a panel discussion titled the “State of Black America.” Tavis Smiley scheduled one in Los Angeles, canceled it, and then revived it in Chicago. Last Saturday, Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network hosted a televised panel discussion on the State of Black America at its national convention in New York.

In the interest of full disclosue, I will be moderating a panel May 1 as part of Detroit’s Freedom Weekend activities.

Marc Morial has also asked me to moderate a State of Black America discussion for the National Urban League on July 28 as part of the organization’s centennial convention in Washington, D.C. I am happy to oblige Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit NAACP chapter, and Marc Morial because I think such discussions can be useful. When it comes to any activity that keeps us focused on the important issues of the day, I count that as a plus.

But we must move beyond these separate discussions. During my semimonthly radio appearance on the Bev Smith Show last Friday night, I suggested that instead of having separate-but-unequal panels, we need to have a major one jointly sponsored by all of the major civil rights organizations. Instead of certain leaders loading their respective panel with their buddies, as they usually do, the head of major professional organizations should serve as co-panelists with the civil rights leaders.

Bev Smith, who has attended more civil rights conventions than she’d like to admit, said that such an arrangement would mean less talk time for the traditional civil rights leaders. That would be a good thing. They need to move beyond competing for face time on TV and take the time to face persistent problems afflicting Black America. Leaders who profess to want unity among African- Americans can set an example by demonstrating some among themselves.

A joint panel should include the presidents of the National Bar Association, the National Medical Association, National Association of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), the Congressional Black Caucus, National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (NBC-LEO), National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), National Association of Black Political Scientists, Urban Financial Services Coalition and Blacks in Government, among others.

If questions arise about health disparities, political empowerment, the prison industrial complex, or education, specialists in those areas would be on hand to provide informed and thoughtful answers and recommendations. Better yet, the professional groups could each provide a “Black Paper” on their respective issues prior to the gathering. They could be questioned by a panel of seasoned journalists and civil rights leaders could sit for a second round and be questioned on how they plan to implement the recommendations.

Questioning both groups would be a pool of journalists that would include the likes of Joe Davidson, DeWayne Wickham, Roland Martin, Joe Madison, Bev Smith, and Michael Cottman, and Hazel Edney. The moderator could be either Ed Gordon or Gwen Ifill.

Having such a well-rounded mix of experts and journalists would provide a high-quality discussion that could lead to a far-reaching action agenda.

My second suggestion, which could work in concert with my aforementioned panel, would be for all of the major civil rights organizations to hold a joint convention, perhaps five years from now. In fact, it could become a 5-year ritual. The advantage of such a gathering would be a more concentrated focus on problems and less concentration on individual egos.

Other groups are already holding joint conventions. African-American, Latino, Asian and Native American journalists hold a joint convention, called Unity, every four years. Recently, Black Methodists convened the Great Gathering in Columbia, S.C. and agreed to work together on problems facing Black males. The civil rights community would do well to emulate those efforts. In the meantime, civil rights leaders – as well as the Black community – would be better served by strengthening ties with Black professional groups. For example, I have heard a couple of civil rights leaders say they are considering assembling a list of potential candidates for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens at the end of this court term. It makes more sense for the National Bar Association to take the lead on this issue.

Mavis T. Thompson, president of the National Bar Association, has written a letter to President Obama recommending the appointment of Appeals Court Judge Ann Claire Williams of the Seventh Circuit.

Thompson wrote, “a moderate and faithful adherent to constitutional principles of government, Judge Williams is extremely well qualified to serve on the Supreme Court and has all the necessary experiences and the professional expertise to succeed Justice Stevens.” If appointed, Williams would become the first African-American female to serve on the Supreme Court."

If the civil rights community rallies behind the recommendations of the National Bar Association on judicialrelated issues, behind the National Medical Association on health disparities and the National Association of Black Political Scientists on political empowerment, the State of Black America would be better than it is now.

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.

Obama Should Reject Top Supreme Court Candidate

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Solicitor General Elena Kagan, said to be President Obama’s leading choice to replace Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, would be a poor appointment and would be unlikely to mirror Stevens’ progressive voting record.

Kagan, former dean of the Harvard Law School, was a finalist when Sonia Sotomayor was appointed by Obama to the court last year. Because she has already been vetted -- and has won praise from some conservative quarters – White House sources have stated that she heads Obama’s short list of candidates to replace Stevens, the leader of the 4-member progressive block of Supreme Court justices.

“When President Obama chose Sonia Sotomayor to replace David Souter, that had very little effect on the ideological balance of the Court, because Sotomayor was highly likely to vote the way Souter did in most cases,” Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer and former civil rights litigator, wrote in Salon.

“By stark contrast, replacing Stevens with Kagan (or, far less likely, with [Cass] Sunstein) would shift the Court to the Right on a litany of key issues (at least as much as the shift accomplished by George Bush’s selection of right-wing ideologue Sam Alito to replace the more moderate Sandra Day O’Connor).”

No one claims that Kagan, who supports abortion rights and gay rights, is a conservative. However, she is more likely to vote with the court’s conservative wing on such issues as executive power and civil liberties.

Candidates favored by progressives include Appellate Court Judge Diane Wood, former Yale Law School dean and current State Department legal adviser Harold Koh and Stanford Law professor Pamela Karlan. The only African- American mentioned has been former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah W. Sears, who is considered a longshot.

Attorney General Eric Holder should be added to the list of serious candidates.

Writing in the Nation, Ari Melber said, “With Justice Stevens retiring, it will take a nominee like Harold Koh just to maintain the Court’s status quo.” Greenwald predicts that Obama’s next appointee will be more conservative than Stevens.

“The danger that we don’t have such a status-quo-maintaining selection is three-fold,” he wrote. “(1) Kagan, from her time at Harvard, is renowned for accommodating and incorporating conservative views, the kind of ‘post-ideological’ attribute Obama finds so attractive; (2) for both political and substantive reasons, the Obama White House tends to avoid (with few exceptions) any appointees to vital posts who are viewed as ‘liberal’ or friendly to the Left; the temptation to avoid that kind of nominee heading into the 2010 midterm elections will be substantial… and (3) Kagan has already proven herself to be a steadfast Obama loyalist with her work as his Solicitor General, and the desire to have on the Court someone who has demonstrated fealty to Obama’s broad claims of executive authority is likely to be great.”

The most disturbing aspect of a possible Kagan appointment is her admiration of the Federalist Society, a network of conservative and libertarian students, law professors, attorneys and judges whose goal is to advance the conservative agenda by pushing America’s legal system to the right.

Five of the nine members of the Supreme Court --- Chief Justice John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy – have been members or close affiliates of the Federalist Society. Federalist board members have included Orin Hatch (R-Utah), one of the most conservative members of the Senate; Ed Meese, attorney general under Ronald Reagan; and C. Boyden Gray, President George H.W. Bush’s chief White House counsel.

The group is so influential that in 2001 George W. Bush discontinued the practice, dating back to Dwight Eisenhower, of presidents relying on the National Bar Association to vet judicial appointments. Under Bush, the Federalist Society served that function for judgeships and some cabinet positions.

In an article Trevor Coleman and I wrote on the Federalist Society for Emerge magazine in October 1999, titled “Hijacking Justice,” Francis A. Boyle, a law professor at the University of Illinois, said: “…They want to go beyond getting rid of affirmative action. They want to go back to Brown v. Board of Education.”

Boyle noted that in a lecture at Columbia University, Scalia said if the landmark school desegregation case came before him today, he would vote against the plaintiffs, which would have the effect of maintaining segregated schools.

At a reception for the Federalist Society at Harvard, members gave Kagan a standing ovation.

One Federalist Society site carries this quote from her: “I love the Federalist Society…They are highly committed, intelligent, hard-working active students who make the Harvard community better.”

Other conservatives seem to love Kagan as much as she loves the Federalist Society.

Eric Lichtblau began a May 17, 2009 story in the New York Times: “When Elana Kagan went before the Senate Judiciary Committee in February as President Obama’s nominee for solicitor general, Republicans were almost as effusive as Democrats in their praise for her.”

The story continued, “…Indeed, there was so much adulation in the air from Republicans that one Democrat, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, joked at the hearing that she understood how Ms. Kagan ‘managed to get a standing ovation’ from the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.”

But appointing Kagan because she might be easier to confirm would be a major mistake. President Obama should appoint someone in the mold of Thurgood Marshall, William O. Douglas and William J. Brennan.

Many people voted for Obama with the expectation that he would appoint progressive judges to the bench. To do anything less, especially to placate conservatives, would be a betrayal of trust.

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.

Tiger Woods and the Masters: The Ultimate Odd Couple

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(NNPA) The Second Coming of Tiger Woods, just four days after Easter, will dominate the airways this weekend. Woods chose the tradition-laden golf course for his return, in part, because it provides him the best buffer to separate him from fans and journalists who want to know about his extramarital dalliances with the likes of former porn stars and his one-car accident with a tree and fire hydrant last November near his Orlando-area home.

The curiosity factor has been heightened by Woods’ carefully-scripted reaction to his very public fall from grace: his refusal to meet with police after the accident, his staged press conference in which he read a statement but declined to take questions and the 5-minute “interviews” with two news outlets leading up to the Augusta National. In a poor tactical move, he did not hold a formal news conference until Monday, more than four months after the incident.

To orchestrate his PR, Woods hired Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary under George W. Bush. Of the many competent public relations firms around, both Black and White, Team Tiger selected one whose owner had to explain why Bush lied to American citizens about Iraq purportedly possessing weapons of mass destruction. I guess when you’ve been as self-destructive as Tiger Woods, with the skank-of-the-day disclosures, it’s best to turn to a master of mass distortion.

Even more surprising than turning to a former Bush mouthpiece to repair his tarnished public image was the selection of Augusta for his return to golf. The first Masters tournament took place in Augusta in 1934. African-American golfers were not allowed to play there until 40 years later when Lee Elder broke the color barrier.

The country club did not have its first Black member until 1990. That happened just months after the all-White Shoal Creek Golf and Country Club in Birmingham, Ala. was warned by the Professional Golf Association (PGA) that it would not be allowed to continue hosting major tournaments if it continued its Whites-only policy. Hall Thompson, the Augusta founder, declared at the time, “This is our home, and we pick and choose who we want.”

Civil rights groups threatened to picket the tournament and major corporations withdrew as sponsors. To end the controversy, the country club decided to “pick and choose” Louis Willie, a local Black insurance executive, to become an honorary member before graduating to full membership. It now admits African-Americans, Jews and women as members. Last September, Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a native of Birmingham, became a full member of Shoal Creek.

The Augusta National hasn’t made as much progress. In fact, women are still prohibited from joining the country club.

Augusta’s history of racial exclusion was broken by Lee Elder but shattered by Tiger Woods. En route to earning the fabled green jacket in 1997, Woods shot a record 18 under par, earning a 12-shot victory. In 2001, Woods won another green jacket with a two stroke, 16 under par victory.

In a not-so-subtle effort to “Tiger-proof” the golf course, the Augusta National Country Club lengthened nine holes, adding a total of 285 yards. The result? Tiger Woods won the Masters again in 2002, becoming the second-youngest player to win the tournament three times. He won a fourth Masters in 2005.

Professional golf for years was known as one of the most segregated professional sports. It was not until 1961 – long after most major sports were desegregated – that it removed the Whites-only clause from its membership requirements. That does not mean, however, that African-Americans have not been involved in the sport.

John Shippen, the son of a Black father and Native American mother, competed in the U.S. Open in 1896. George Grant, a Boston dentist, is credited with inventing the modern wooden tee in 1899. Calvin Pete won the 1979 Greater Milwaukee Open, the first of his 12 career PGA victories.

When Tiger Woods exploded on the professional golf scene in 1996, it was supposed to usher in a new era of African-Americans who wanted to be like Tiger. Inner city youth were encouraged to take up golf and the PGA pledged to initiate more activities to encourage Blacks to take up golf, a sport long associated with privileged White males.

In the 1960s and 1970s, there were at least 10 Black golfers on the PGA tour, including Calvin Pete, Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder and Pete Brown. Today, even after Tiger Woods’ success on the golf course, he is the only African-American on the tour. The only other dark-skin PGA golfer is Vijay Singh, a Fijian.

When asked about the lack of Blacks on the tour, Woods told reporters: “Am I disappointed? Yeah. I thought there would be more of us out here.”

If there were, there might be less of a burden on Tiger this week in Augusta.

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.

Right-Wing Republicans Masquerade as Teabaggers

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Despite efforts to depict the so-called tea bag protesters as part of an independent political movement, new polling data reveals that approximately threequarters of them are Republicans or lean toward the GOP and 77 percent of them voted for John McCain in 2008.

Those are the findings of a poll conducted by Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.

“The Tea Party movement is mostly made up of people who consider themselves Republicans,” Pete A. Brown, assistant director of the university’s Polling Institute, said in a statement.

“They are less educated but more interested in politics than the average Joe and Jane Six-Pack and are not in a traditional sense swing voters.”

While only 33 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Sarah Palin, 72 percent of tea party members are impressed by McCain’s former running mate.

Eighty-eight percent of those polled said if their congressional election were held today, they’d vote for the Republican candidate. According to the poll, 88 percent of the tea baggers are White.

Because GOP leaders and tea bag protesters are joined at the hip, Republicans can’t credibly distance themselves from what New York Times columnist Frank Rich called a “tsunami of anger” and venom spewed by the right-wingers. It was during a recent tea party-led protest on Capitol Hill that African-American congressmen were called the n-word and one, Emanuel Cleaver II of Kansas City, Mo., was spat on by a protester.

GOP leaders issued perfunctory disclaimers intended to give the impression that they frown on such behavior.

However, Republican National Chairman Michael Steele couldn’t bring himself to call the actions what they were – racist and homophobic.

The Washington Times quoted Dale Robertson, founder of teaparty.org, as saying Democrats were “trying to label the tea party, but I’ve never seen any racial slurs.”

Evidently, Robertson can’t read his own signs.

He was reportedly kicked out of a tea party event last year when he appeared carrying a sign that read, “Congress = Slaveowner, Taxpayer + Niggar.” Clearly, he is proficient in neither reading nor spelling.

But characters such as Robertson have been emboldened by the rhetoric and actions of GOP leaders whether inside or outside of Congress. As protesters gathered at the foot of the Capitol, some Republican members of Congress greeted them, holding a “Don’t tread on me” banner. One, Rep. Steve King, simulated slapping a photograph of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Inside, when disruptive protesters were ejected from Congress by Capitol police, some Republican members of Congress applauded the unruly visitors.

As Frank Rich pointed out, this is about more than health care reform.

“If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory,” Rich explained.

“The conjunction of a Black president and a female speaker of the House -- topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman – would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that [Barney] Frank, [John] Lewis and [Emanuel] Cleaver – none of them major Democratic players in the health care push -- received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan ‘Take our country back!,’ these are the people they want to take the country back from.”

This anger has been stoked by the usual conservative radio talk show hosts.

After Republican efforts to derail health care reform failed, Rush Limbaugh said: "They [Democrats] won because they held Congress and the presidency, and therein lies the lesson: We need to defeat these bastards. We need to wipe them out. We need to chase them out of town…”

Repeated lies by Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have caused a majority of Republicans to accept unfounded lies about Obama as facts.

According to a recent Harris poll, most Republicans (67 percent) believe the president is a socialist, wants to take away the right to own guns (61 percent), is a Muslim (57 percent), wants to turn over the sovereignty of the U.S. to a one-world government (51 percent) and has done many things unconstitutional (51 percent).

Sizable minorities also believe Obama was not born in the United States and therefore ineligible to be president (45 percent), is a racist (42 percent) and is doing many of the things Hitler did (38 percent).

Even when Obama is doing what other presidents have done, he gets criticized by Republicans.

For example, after Obama made 15 recess appointments – placing officials in federal positions while the Senate, which normally approves such nominations, was in recess – Republicans such as Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the move would further chill relations between Obama and the GOP.

Neither the senior senator from South Carolina nor his fellow Republicans acknowledge that George W. Bush made the same number of recess appointments at this stage of his presidency. By the time Bush left office, he had made 171 recess appointments, according to the Congressional Research Service.

But this isn’t about telling the truth.

It’s about trying to regain political power, even if that means being hypocritical, trading in blatant lies and pretending this is a modern-day tea party revolt.

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.

March Madness on Capitol Hill

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March Madness, the frantic round of tournament showdowns to determine which team will emerge as the top college basketball unit in the nation, has nothing on the Capitol Hill Madness that occurred over the weekend.

Outside the domed deliberations over health care Saturday, so-called Tea Party protesters shouted the n-word at several African-American congressmen, including John Lewis who was brutally beaten in Selma, Ala. as part of the Selma to Montgomery March that led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Another Black representative, Emanuel Cleaver II of Kansas City, Mo., was spat on by one protester, who was arrested by Capitol Hill police.

According to the McClatchey News Service, one colleague walking with Lewis to the Capitol heard the chants of, “Kill the bill, kill the bill.” When Lewis told some protesters that he supported the health care measure being voted on in the House, marchers taunted him, saying: “Kill the bill, nigger.” One Black lawmaker said he heard the n-word 15 times.

“They were shouting, sort of harassing,” Lewis told the wire service. “But it’s OK. I’ve faced this before. It reminded me of the ‘60s. It was a lot of downright hate and anger and people being downright mean.”

Cleaver experienced that meanness when a protester spat on him.

“This is not the first time the congressman has been called the n-word and certainly not the worst assault he has endured in his years fighting for equal rights for all Americans,” a statement from Cleaver’s office said. “That being said, he is disappointed that in the 21st century our national discourse has devolved to the point of name calling and spitting.”

Cleaver, an ordained minister, former mayor of Kansas City and ex-organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), refused to press charges against his abuser.

Some of these lunatics are out of control. Can you imagine the national reaction if an African-American protester spat on a White member of Congress in public and called him or her a racial epithet? Michael Steele, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and several GOP leaders in the House have denounced the abhorrent actions on Saturday, but were quick to characterize them as “isolated incidents.”

The venom was not isolated to African-American lawmakers.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), an openly gay member of Congress, was called a “homo” and a “faggot.”

He told the Boston Globe, “I was, I guess, surprised by the rancor. What it means is obviously the health care bill is proxy for a lot of other sentiments, some of which are perfectly reasonable, but some of which are not.”

Frank added, “People out there today, on the whole, were really hateful. The leaders of this movement have a responsibility to speak out more.”

But the rancor was not limited to a few “isolated incidents” outside the Capitol.

Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan threatened to vote against the health care bill until President Obama agreed to issue an executive order maintaining the current federal ban on the use of federal funds for abortions except in the case of rape, incest or when a mother’s life is threatened.

When Stupak urged Democrats to reject a Republican anti-abortion amendment, someone from the Republican aisle yelled, “Baby killer.”

John Campbell, a Republican from California, acknowledged that the person yelling the comment sat in the row behind him, where Texas Republicans usually sit.

“The people who know won’t give it up,” Campbell told reporters.

The March Madness over the newly-signed health care law will probably carry over into the November elections as Democrats and Republicans seek to prove that they reflect the position of most Americans.

The 178 House Republicans unanimously voted against the health care measure, which passed 219-212. On the Democratic side, 34 voted no, including five who supported health care reform when the House first passed it on Nov.7.

Obama has launched a series of high-profile events around the country to increase support for the legislation. Meanwhile, Republicans plan to continue using the newly-passed health care law as a political issue, depicting the measure as unaffordable and unpopular.

The venom expressed over the weekend shows no sign of abating.

The Web site gawker.com carried the headline, “Right-Wing Bloggers Demand Apology From Lawmakers Called ‘Nigger’ By Tea Partyers.”

It noted that conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds posted the following comment: “Does [Rep. James] Clyburn Owe Tea Party Protesters an Apology? The bogus racism card has been played so often that I no longer find such charges very credible. I’m sure, however, that, true or not, they’ll be played much more loudly than the indisputably true statements about the antiwar movement.”

Referring to Black lawmakers who were called the n-word, conservative blogger Ann Althouse wrote, “It’s outrageous for them to pose as victims without very good cause. So what if some idiot said a bad word?”

First, it was more than one idiot. Second, more than just a bad word was uttered. But none of that matters in March Madness. Let the games begin.

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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