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George Curry

President Obama is an Apprentice Negotiator

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(NNPA) President Barack Obama’s negotiations with Republicans over extending both the Bush tax cuts and unemployment benefits reminded me of an episode of The Apprentice. In week 11, the Octane team of Clint and Steuart was matched against the Fortitude team of Brandy and Liza. The task was to meet with QVC officials and pick a product to sell on television. The team with the highest sales would be declared the winner and the losers would have to face Donald Trump in the board room.

On the helicopter ride from New York City to QVC headquarters in Westchester, Pa., Clint concocted a strategy to trick the women. Although Clint and Steuart wanted to sell purses on TV, they pretended to want the watches as their first choice. In the negotiations with team Fortitude, they allowed the women to select the watches as their product; in a concession to the men, Octane was allowed to have a more favorable second time slot. In the end, the men got exactly what they had wanted all along.

In the negotiations between President Obama and Republican leaders, President Obama was similarly duped. Republicans played him by saying federal unemployment benefits would be extended only if Obama agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts for all people, including families earning more than $250,000 a year.

Instead of standing up to Republicans who have already declared their top priority is to deny him re-election in 2012, Obama wimped out. And, he wimped out when he had the overwhelming majority of the public on his side.

On the campaign trail, Obama promised to extend the Bush tax cuts only for individuals earning less than $200,000 and couples making less than $250,000. That would cover 98 percent of all taxpayers. Even John Boehner, the incoming Speaker of the House, said he would support a measure that did not include the tax breaks for the top 2 percent, if that were his only choice. Under pressure from his Republican colleagues, Boehner retracted his comment.

Extending the tax cuts for the rich makes no sense. At a time when both Democrats and Republicans claim to be concerned about the $1.4 trillion deficit, it will cost at least $80 billion over the next two years to extend cuts for the wealthy. If they stay in place for 10 years, the figure would rise to almost $700 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

More than half of the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2006 will go solely to the richest five percent of Americans. According to the Census Bureau, the gap between the richest and poorest Americans is at its largest level since the government began tracking household income in 1967.

Obama said he did not want to risk damaging an already frail economy by standing up to the GOP on the tax extension for the rich. He said in order to get an extension of unemployment benefits, he had to compromise with Republicans and extend the cuts to everyone.

That was an enormous mistake. Obama should have borrowed a page from Ronald Reagan and dared Republicans to make his day. Let Senator Mitch McConnell and Rep. John Boehner explain to 98 of percent of Americans why they opposed legislation that would extend the tax breaks to them but not the top two percent of earners. the GOP leaders justify why those making $1 million or more should continue to get a tax break averaging $100,000 a year.

See how far “the Party of No” would get by denying additional unemployment benefits to the jobless in their home districts. Republicans don’t mind playing a game of chicken with Obama because they know they can count on him running off the road, usually before they even start the engine.

Extending tax breaks to the wealthy, which the Congressional Budget Office said is the least effective way to stimulate the economy, was bad enough. But, to cave in to “hostage-takers” -- Obama’s words, not mine – on the estate tax is even more indefensible.

Under current law, the first $3.5 million of an estate ($7 million for couples) is exempt from taxes, with the maximum rate of 45 percent on the remainder. The deal with Republicans increases the estate exemption to $5 million ($10 million for couples) and sets a maximum tax rate of 35 percent for the remainder. According to the Tax Policy Center, this will provide $25 billion in tax reductions during the next two years to the top one percent of estates.

The compromise with Republicans wasn’t totally one-sided. In addition to a 13-week extension of federal unemployment benefits, the package continues for two years the American Opportunity Act that helps low- and middle-income families pay for college and improvements in the Earned Income Tax Credit. It also contains a one-year reduction of the Social Security payroll tax from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent on the first $106,800 in wages.

Many believe Obama could have gotten those concessions without giving away the store.

Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., one of Obama’s presidential co-chairs in 2008, said of his fellow Democrats: “…We capitulated too much in the majority, and now we’re capitulating as if we’re already in the minority. We’re acting like inexperienced poker players who fold with a winning hand.”

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.

Limbaugh and Huckabee Propose Airport Groping of Obama Girls

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All our lives we’ve heard stories about The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Now we can add to that two grinches – Rush Limbaugh and Mike Huckabee – who stole the Obama family’s Thanksgiving. Or, at least tried. While the rest of us were preparing last week to express gratitude for our blessings, those two spent the days leading up to Thanksgiving urging President Barack Obama to expose his wife, two daughters, and mother-in-law to airport security groping.

Huckabee, told his television friends on Fox and Friends: “If he thinks this is an appropriate way for us to deal with security as he has defended, then I’ve said, ‘OK, Mr. Obama, take your wife, your two daughters, and your mother-in-law to Washington Reagan National Airport and have them publicly go through both the body scanner and the full enhanced pat-down in front of others. And, if it’s OK for your wife, your daughters, and your mother-in-law, then maybe the rest of us won’t feel so bad when our wives, our daughters, and our mothers are being put through this humiliating and degrading, totally unconstitutional, intrusion of their privacy.’”

Limbaugh said just like Obama went swimming with his daughter Sasha off the coast of Florida after the BP oil spill to show that the beaches were safe, he should “take his daughter to the airport and have a TSA grope her” to prove it is safe.

These are yet more examples of critics who have an issue with the president attacking his family instead of criticizing whatever public policy issue they find objectionable. It’s fine to attack the idiotic way the Transportation Security Administration has rolled out tougher screening measures. But it’s not okay to use the Obama daughters in particular for target practice. They’ve done nothing to deserve such crass treatment by men who should know better.

This is not the first and nor will it be the last time those two beautiful girls have been used to make a political point.

In June, Glenn Beck was enraged by an author moving next door to Sarah Palin in Alaska in preparation for writing a book. He said at the time, “You don’t go after Chelsea Clinton. You don’t talk about the Bush kids…You leave families alone.”

Two days later, however, he mocked 11-year-old Malia Obama, whose father had told the public that she had asked him when the BP oil spill would be plugged. Beck did a poor imitation of Malia on his radio program and questioned her intelligence.

Of course he later apologized, but attack dogs such as Beck usually issue perfunctory apologies after they’ve done the damage.

The attacks on the Obama women were crude and sexist. Why did the Limbaugh and Huckabee axis of evil only suggest that Obama take women relatives to the airport for intrusive screenings and pat-downs? Do they think President Obama own his wife, daughters, and mother-in-law and is therefore able to order them to go to the airport? Has it ever crossed their warped minds that Michelle Obama is a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law, an equal partner in her marriage and does not have to walk two steps behind her man?

There were other ways Huckabee and Limbaugh could have made their point. For example, they could have suggested that the president and the vice president make the trek to the airport. They also could have suggested that members of his cabinet, both males and females, take off their shoes and subject themselves to a full body scan.

No, the suggestion was that the president take only women – the women closest to him – on a field trip for public humiliation. Perhaps it’s no accident that two White men were bold enough to tell this Black man what to do with “his” women.

In the bygone era that both Limbaugh and Huckabee often long for, White men told Black men what to do and when to do it. Though many in that era were avowed segregationists, they believed in integration during the time they forced themselves on defenseless African-American women. Former Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina is Exhibit A.

White women were also exploited. They were relegated to the home, weren’t allowed to own property, forbidden from filing suit in court, banned from entering into contracts, and weren’t allowed to have custody of their own children. They weren’t allowed to vote until 1920.

For women, the bygone era is not totally bygone.

Discrimination based on sex was outlawed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was not until 1968 that the EEOC ruled that sex-segregated newspaper ads were illegal. In 1974, women were allowed to obtain credit in their own name. Sexual harassment was outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986. And, just last year, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act was signed into law by President Obama, giving women a better opportunity to earn the same pay as their male counterparts. Recent advancements notwithstanding, women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.

This is the world the Obama women and every other female live in.

I often think about what the late historian John Hope Franklin said on the eve of President Obama’s election. He said that it may be more important to see a Black family in the White House than simply an African-American man. Now that we have a smart, loving intact family residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it’s disturbing that Limbaugh’s and Huckabee’s primary desire today is to have the president order the females in his family to go to the airport for body scans and pat-downs.

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. He can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Obama Should Reject Bush Tax Breaks for the Wealthy

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(NNPA) President Obama should set the tone for his next two years by insisting that the Bush tax cuts remain in place temporarily for 98 percent of Americans, but not the top 2 percent who already enjoy a disproportionate share of the benefits. All signs are pointing to the President caving in to obstinate Republicans in Congress who want to extend the cuts, set to expire at the end of the year, for everyone including the top 2 percent.

President Obama campaigned on a pledge to end the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent of taxpayers, defined as an individual earning at least $200,000 a year and couples earning a minimum of $250,000. But it appears he is on the brink of breaking that promise. If neither President Obama nor Republicans are willing to take such a modest step of extending the tax breaks only to those who need them the most, they are not serious about wanting to reduce the deficit.

President Obama repeatedly reminds us that he inherited a mess from George W. Bush. And he is correct. “If not for the tax cuts enacted during the presidency of George W. Bush that Congress did not pay for, the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were initiated during that period, and the effects of the worst economic slump since the Great Depression (including the cost of steps necessary to combat it), we would not be facing these huge deficits in the near term,” observed the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.

In case no one has noticed, Bush has not lived in the White House for the past two years. And the person who does live there moved in after volunteering to clean up after the Bush circus left town. This should begin with President Obama stating that unlike Republicans, he will not serve as a mouthpiece for big business and people with big bucks.

“In 2010, when all of the Bush tax cuts are finally phased in, a staggering 52.5 percent of the benefits will go to the richest 5 percent of taxpayers,” noted Citizens for Tax Justice. According to the Treasury Department, extending the Bush tax cuts to the top 2 percent of taxpayers would cost $678 billion over the next decade.

“In the long term, many economists believe that investments in education, infrastructure, alternative energy and other public goods are far more beneficial to our economic growth than the parts of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy,” Citizens for Tax Justice stated. “This should not be surprising. Federal taxes were higher for most Americans at the end of the Clinton years, and the economy was performing far better than it is now. At very least, one can conclude that the Bush tax cuts did not result in the economic prosperity that their supporters promised would result.”

The federal deficit for fiscal 2009 was $1.4 trillion. It represents nearly 10 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the largest proportion of the economy since World War II. If nothing is done to curb the deficit, it is expected to remain near $1 trillion a year for the next 10 years. Mounting deficits requires borrowing more money from abroad and continuing to pay interests on those and other loans, leaving less money available to invest in future programs. Some call it mortgaging the future.

Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, and David Stockman, who was President Reagan’s budget director, advocate letting all of the Bush tax cuts expire on December 31. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the total federal, state and local taxes in the U.S. are among the lowest in the industrialized world, with only Turkey and Mexico lower.

The Republican solution to attacking the deficit, if it can be called that, is to cut non-security discretionary programs. A plan outlined by incoming House Speaker John Boehner would reduce such spending by $101 billion or 21 percent. Exempt from the cuts would be spending for defense, homeland security, military and veterans appropriations. There is no way to come close to making a serious dent in the deficit without touching many programs considered untouchable. According to the Congressional Budget Office, Social Security is projected to account for 21 percent of the federal budget, Defense 16 percent, Medicare 14 percent, Medicaid 10 percent, net interest 14 percent and other spending 22 percent.

Slashing budgets could have a devastating impact on many programs, including education. A 21 percent decrease in K-12 education funding, for example, would mean a loss of more than $8.7 billion. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said such a cut could mean reducing housing programs by $6.9 billion, children and family services by nearly $2.2 billion and the nutritional program for at-risk pregnant women, infants and children (WIC) by $1.6 billion.

Federal aid to cities and states would compound deep cuts already made at that level. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 46 states have balanced their budgets during this fiscal crisis by cutting funds to education, health and other programs for the needy.

Another GOP priority is to scuttle health care legislation. Estimates from the Citizens for Tax Justice demonstrate that the Bush tax cuts cost almost $2.5 trillion over the decade they wer enacted (2001-2010). The Congressional Budget Office says health care reform will cost approximately $1 trillion over the next decade which means the Bush tax cuts cost two and a half times as much as health care.

“Many of the lawmakers who argue that the health care reform legislation is ‘too costly’ are the same lawmakers who supported the Bush tax cuts,” Citizens for Tax Justice observed. And now they favor extending those tax cuts to the wealthiest 2 percent of the population.

President Obama should just say no to the Party of No.

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

What President Obama Should Do Next

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For Republicans, the November 2 midterm elections were about 2012, not 2010. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made that clear in a speech to the Heritage Foundation. He said, “…The fact is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill, to end the bailouts, cut spending and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things is to put someone else in the White House.”

Welcome to the 2012 slugfest. And with more than twice as many Democrats than Republicans up for re-electioon in two years, emboldened Republicans have their sights set on controlling the House, the Senate and the White House.

In order to stay in the White House, the President should adopt my 12-step recovery program:

1) Stop making concessions before entering into negotiations with GOP leaders – The recent Slurpee Summit has not been held at the White House and President Obama is already saying he’s willing the extend the Bush tax cuts to the top 2 percent of Americans, the group least likely to place those dollars back into an ailing economy. The time to make concessions is during the actual horse-trading, not in advance. President Obama and Republican leaders can’t even agree on what beverage to serve at the upcoming meeting. During the recent campaign, the President called Republicans “Slurpee drinkers” whose brains freeze when it comes to economics. When asked at a news conference about the possibility of a post-election Slurpee Summit at the White House, Obama replied, “I might serve -- they’re delicious.” But House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner responded, “I don’t know about a Slurpee. How about a glass of merlot?”

2) Assemble a new communications team – It’s embarassing to see one of the most gifted speakers of this generation groping for words when trying to explain why the White House did a poor job of selling its accomplishments. Mr. President, read my lips: Your team has failed you – get a new one before it’s too late.

3) Ignore calls to move to the right – Whenever Democrats lose an election, there are inevitable suggestions that the party should move to the right. The last thing this country needs is two Republican parties. The underreported story of this election is that conservative Democrats, so-called Blue Dog Democrats, suffered the bulk of the losses, especially in House districts previously held by conservative Republicans.

4) Make conservatives put up or shut up – It’s one thing to campaign. It’s quite another to govern. Many Tea Party candidates, including those cross-dressing as Republicans, have pledged to balance the budget while exempting defense funding and entitlements that make up 85 percent of the federal budget. Insist that they give specifics on how they can possibly balance the budget by attacking only 15 percent of the budget.

5) Use Vice President Joe Biden as your attack dog – Many presidents have used their vice presidents as their chief defenders. Richard Nixon had Spiro Agnew and George W. Bush used Dick Chaney in that capacity. Unchain Biden as your Defender-in-Chief while you continue to be presidential, which suits your non-confrontational personality.

6) Realize the public still trust Democrats over Republicans on the big issues – A recent USA Today/Gallup poll showed that Americans trust Democrats over Republicans on most of the important issues facing America, including racial and ethnic discrimination, unemployment, the size and power of large corporations, health care, the environment and disengaging the U.S. from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The GOP was favored to deal with illegal immigration, the federal debt, terrorism and the size and power of the federl government. Even in the recent elections.

7) Strengthen the coalition between Black, Latinos and Asians – That coaltion was the key to Obama’s 2008 victory when the majority of Whites voted for John McCain. Latinos returned Democratic Senators to power in Nevada and Californaia. Democrats can’t be successful in 2012 without paying special attention to all people of color, who are expanding their share of the electorate.

8) Re-engage young voters – Like people of color and women, this is a critical part of your base. Looking forward to 2012, its necessary to mobilize young voters to counter the edge older voters provide Republicans.

9) Be a fighter (to be used in conjunction with Point #4) – Americans admire fighters, even if they disagree with them. President Harry S Truman was often depicted as giving his opponents hell. He explained, “I never give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.” President “No Drama Obama” needs to exude some fire. Ignore the fear that many Whites don’t want to view their president as “an angry Black man.” The bully pulpit is the last place you need to sound professorial.

10) Deploy First Lady Michelle Obama to more events – In many ways, Michelle Obama connects better with audiences than the President. Like her husband, she has two Ivy League degrees. Unlike the President, she comes across passionate and unscripted. It’s time to take her out of the garden and stop limiting her to speaking before groups concerned about obesity and military families.

11) Don’t be discouraged – Remember that Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, whose approval ratings were almost identical to yours at this point in office, suffered midterm shellackings but bounced back to get easily re-elected to a second term. You, too, can get your groove back.

12) Remain engaged with the Black Media – Part of the problem this year was President Obama’s effort to arouse the Black community came on “CP” Time. It was what former Nixon aide John Halderman called TL-square – too little, too late. Given the President’s lateness, perhaps this will end questions about whether he’s Black enough.

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.

GOP's 'Pledge to America' is Replete with Lies

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(NNPA) Republicans have earned a reputation for being "the party of no." In an effort to assert there are programs and policies that they will say “yes”, the GOP issued its “Pledge to America.” The document should be renamed “The Plague on America.”

According to FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, the GOP document “contains some dubious factual claims.” Below are excerpts from the report titled, “FactChecking ‘The Pledge.”

The Economy
Pledge, page 5: Our economy has declined and our debt has mushroomed with the loss of millions of jobs.

Fact: It’s true that the economy lost nearly 8.4 million jobs from the peak of employment in December, 2007 to the bottom of the job slump in December of last year. More than half (4.4 million) were lost before Obama took office. The economy has regained 723,000 jobs since hitting bottom, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Pledge, page 14: Private sector unemployment remains at or near 10 percent, jobless claims continue to soar, and the only parts of the economy expanding are government and our national debt.

Fact: It’s true that the unemployment rate is 9.6 percent, but that’s actually down from the peak of 10.1 percent reached last October. It’s also true that new claims for unemployment compensation – “jobless claims” – continue at a high level. But they are actually running eight percent lower than they did at their worst levels, so they are slowly declining, not soaring.

And it’s not the case that only government is growing. The opposite is true – the private sector has gained a net total of 763,000 jobs this year, according to the BLS. But at the same time, the total number of government jobs has declined by approximately 40,000, despite a transitory spike in hiring by the Census Bureau to conduct its decennial head count. That spike is now over. The decline in overall government employment is mostly due to public schools shedding 62,000 positions as local property tax rolls decline due to plunging real estate values.

Health Care
Pledge, page 26: The Obama Administration has been forced to acknowledge that the new law will force some 87 million Americans to drop their current coverage.

Fact: This is a misrepresentation. It’s true that the president over-promised when he repeatedly told Americans that "if you like your health care plan, you keep your health care plan." As we noted shortly before the bill passed, he can’t make that promise to everyone. It’s also true that after the bill passed, the administration released estimates showing that only about 55 percent of large employers and 34 percent of small employers would be offering the same insurance coverage in 2013 as they do now, under "grandfathering" rules. That works out to about 87 million workers — more or less — whose policies are likely to change in some way.

But it’s deceptive of the GOP to claim that employers of these workers will "drop" their coverage. It would be accurate to say they are expected to change it. In many cases, policies will be replaced by more generous coverage, accompanied by government subsidies to help pay the premiums…

Stimulus Bill
Pledge, page 15: . . .the trillion-dollar ‘stimulus’ was signed into law

Fact: The stimulus bill is a big one, but CBO says it won’t cost $1 trillion, even spread over 10 years. CBO’s most recent estimate puts the price tag to $814 billion. That’s higher than originally estimated at the time of passage, but still well short of $1 trillion.

Pledge, page 15: Despite the ‘stimulus’ and Democrats’ promises the unemployment rate would remain below eight percent, the unemployment rate climbed from 7.7 percent in January 2009 to 9.5 percent in August 2010.

Republicans have a point here, as we noted some time ago. Back in July of last year we wrote, “the original projections from President Obama’s economic advisers on what would happen with and without the stimulus plan are still off -- and significantly so.” But, nobody “promised” that unemployment would remain below 8 percent.

As we also wrote in June of last year, the White House explanation was simple: “They say President George Bush left them a worse mess than they realized" when Obama’s advisers came up with their predictions. And that’s true. The original chart – produced Jan. 9, 2009 — was based on economic projections that were in line with what private economists were forecasting. Those forecasts were being revised for the worse even before any stimulus money was spent.

And for the record, CBO’s experts calculate that the stimulus has had a positive effect on employment. In its most recent report on the measure, the agency estimated that in the second quarter of 2010, stimulus spending lowered the unemployment rate between 0.7 and 1.8 percentage points and increased the number of people working between 1.4 million and 3.3 million.

Pledge, page 14: Unless action is taken, a $3.8 trillion tax hike will go into effect on January 1, 2011 that will unravel these policies. A family of four with a household income of $50,000 a year will have to pay $2,900 more in taxes in 2011.

Fact: True, but misleading. What the Pledge fails to note is that Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress have consistently promised to extend the Bush tax cuts for all families making less than $250,000 a year, and singles making less than $200,000. It’s true that hasn’t happened yet, but the reason is that several House and Senate Democrats are agitating to extend the cuts for everybody, even those with the highest incomes.

Perhaps the next time, Republicans will pledge to tell the truth.

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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