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George Curry

Obama Seeks to Do Something with Do-Nothing Congress

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(NNPA) President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night, parts of which were shared over the weekend, was designed to be upbeat and to again sketch his vision for an economically “United” States of America. But this year’s speech, like the one a year ago and like his second inaugural address, was a gallant effort to remain relevant during an era of a do-nothing Congress that will do even less in 2014.

Heading into his sixth year of office, President Obama has finally accepted the reality that he can’t change Washington. At least, not for the better. Having already passed the Affordable Health Care Act, the signature accomplishment of his administration, Obama’s goal in his last two years will be less ambitious: to continue to improve the economy, lower the unemployment rate, expand access to early childhood education, enact immigration reform, make progress on climate control and curb the nation’s propensity to get entangled in wars that have little, if anything, to do with our national security.

With many of his proposals lost in the logjam of Congress, President Obama now plans to do more by executive order, according to his aides. Speaking Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” Press Secretary Jay Carney said, “What we saw in 2013 was a Washington that did not deliver for the American people. The president sees this as a year of action, work with Congress where he can and to bypass Congress where necessary…”

According to the Washington Post, White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer has submitted a three-page memo that outlines a different strategy for 2014.

“Among its conclusions is that Obama, a former state legislator and U.S. senator, too often governed more like a prime minister than a president. In a parliamentary system, a prime minister is elected by lawmakers and thus beholden to them in ways a president is not. As a result, Washington veterans have been brought into the West Wing to emphasize an executive style of governing that aims to sidestep Congress more often.”

That means more executive orders and leaving the legislative haggling primarily to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada).

Obama understands that the Republican-controlled House in particular will continue to obstruct whatever legislative plans he might offer.

According to the Pew Research Center, the 113th Congress is on track to be one of the least productive.” Unlike most measurements that only take into account the amount of legislation passed, Pew tallied only substantive legislation and found this Congress lacking.

Consequently, according to another Pew survey, “Views of Congress remain historically negative: just 21% have a favorable opinion of Congress while 70% view it unfavorably. Opinions of Congress fell to a 20-year low in August 2011, following the contentious debate over raising the nation’s debt ceiling, and have never recovered.

“Large majorities across nearly all demographic and partisan groups have an unfavorable impression of Congress. About seven-in-ten independents (73%) view Congress unfavorably, as do 69% of Democrats and 67% of Republicans.”

In a break from his normal over cautiousness, President Obama acknowledged that race may be a factor in the strong oppositions to his programs.

“There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black President,” Obama told the New Yorker magazine in an interview. “There is a historic connection between some of the arguments that we have politically and the history of race in our country, and sometimes it’s hard to disentangle those issues.”

Obama is not the only one who thinks race drives many of his opponents. A Rasmussen poll last November found: “One-in-four voters believes racism is the driving factor behind opposition to his [Obama’s] policies.”

While Obama is unlikely to make any progress on race, he hopes that anger over huge corporate profits and record Wall Street gains will be a rallying point for both Democrats and Republicans.

According to the Tax Policy Center, the top fifth of the population receives 66 percent of tax-expenditure benefits, the middle 60 percent of the population receives a little more than 31 percent of tax-expenditure benefits, the bottom fifth receives just 2.8 percent of tax-expenditure benefits and the top 1 percent of the population receives 23.9 percent of tax-expenditure benefits. And the report pointed out, “That’s more than eight times as much as the bottom fifth of the population, and nearly as much as the middle 60 percent of the population.”

Republicans, traditional protectors of the rich, aren’t likely to join President Obama in trying to narrow the gap between rich and poor. And they’re even less likely to do so in a mid-term election year, a time the party in power usually looses seats in Congress.

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

'If I Dated Black Girls…'

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“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

(NNPA) Last Friday, I gave the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day speech at the University of North Alabama in Florence. I was glowingly introduced by my niece, Rachel Gandy, who is a senior at UNA.

I told the audience that having grown up in segregated Tuscaloosa, Ala., how satisfying it was to see “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners” sit in the same classrooms, if not at the table of brotherhood. I didn’t use those exact words, but they got the point: revolutionary changes have taken place in my home state since the 1960s and the South in general. So many changes, in fact, that public schools in the Deep South are more desegregated than any other region in the nation.

During my visit, I met a young White male – who shall remain nameless – who works in the same campus office as my niece, spoke fondly of Rachel, and recounted with glee their study together last summer in Costa Rico.

After my speech, when I was doing my usual Friday afternoon radio segment with Rev. Al Sharpton, I was told that this young man said, “If I dated Black girls – I tell Rachel this all of the time – she would be at the top of the list.”

I am sure he meant that as a compliment – it wasn’t.

First, it’s presumptuous to think that Rachel, who is smart and beautiful inside and out, would want to date him. Second, for all the talk about racial progress, there are large segments of our society who make decisions based on race and nothing else. Whites do it. Blacks do it. Latinos do it. And so do Asians.

After I got over the shock of the young man’s comment – well, I still haven’t gotten over it, as you can see – I thought back to a 2010 Pew Research Center study that found that a record 14.6 percent of all new marriages in the United States in 2008 were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity from one another. That’s more than double the percentage for 1980.

Interestingly, rates more than doubled among Whites and nearly tripled among Blacks. But for both Hispanics and Asians, rates were nearly identical in 2008 and 1980.

For me, there was another story within the story: “When Whites, Hispanics and Asians decide to marry outside their group, African-Americans rank last in their choice of mates.”

It’s easy to dismiss the kooks such as former Louisiana Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell who resigned under pressure in 2009 after he refused to perform a marriage between a White woman and a Black man.

But things are supposed to be different with this so-called “post-racial” generation. My niece is an honor student, was in the university’s homecoming court, is charming and beautiful. Yet, the young man at UNA couldn’t see beyond her color: “If I dated Black girls….”

Fortunately, Rachel’s love life is not dependent on whether this young man dates “Black girls.” There are plenty of African American and every other kind of men vying for her attention. It’s the idea that this fellow got to know my niece as a person yet found her unqualified to date solely because of her race is what galls me.

While growing up in Alabama, I was told that part of the problem was that Blacks and Whites had not been allowed to interact under Jim Crow, not even in sports. However, when those barriers came down, or so the thinking went, racial prejudice would vanish and people would be judged as individuals, not as part of a supposedly superior or inferior race.

In three decades, there will be no majority race in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau. And that means that all racial and ethnic groups will need to learn to step outside their comfort zone to interact as equals with those who don’t look like them.

In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Obviously that day has not arrived. Until it does, it’s incumbent upon all of us to make sure that it doesn’t just remain a distant dream.

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

The War on Poverty – and MLK

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(NNPA) We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty at roughly the same time we’re observing the 85th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That’s fitting because despite the concentrated effort to neuter King by overemphasizing his 1964 “I Have a Dream Speech,” his last days on earth were spent trying to uplift garbage workers in Memphis, Tenn. and planning a Poor Peoples Campaign that would culminate in a march to the nation’s capital.

Unlike today, when our politicians seek to get elected and re-elected by groveling and catering to the middle class, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty in his Jan. 8, 1964 State of the Union message.

“This administration here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America,” he said. “We shall not rest until that war is won. The richest nation on Earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.”

Unfortunately, another war – Vietnam – caused Johnson to retreat before he could declare, in the words associated with President George W. Bush, “Mission Accomplished.” Instead of rallying the troops around this noble cause, some subsequent presidents retreated. President Reagan saw fit to joke about this serious national undertaking.

Providing a throwaway line that conservatives still use today, the former actor said: “In 1964 the famous War on Poverty was declared and a funny thing happened…I guess you could say, poverty won the war.”

Liberals were also misleading, saying instead of having a War on Poverty, it was more like a skirmish on poverty.

The truth lies somewhere between those polar opposites.

Since we began collecting such statistics, the lowest U.S. poverty rate was 11.1 percent in 1973. It rose to 15.2 percent in 1983 before falling back to 11.3 percent. In 2012, 13 million people lived below half of the poverty line, most of them children.

According to scholars at Columbia University, when recalculated to include expenses not counted in official statistics, the poverty rate fell from more than 25 percent in 1967 to about 16 percent today. Over that period, the child poverty rate declined form 30 percent to less than 20 percent and the elderly poverty rate decline dramatically, from 45 percent to 15 percent.

“The truth is that the nation’s investment in the War on Poverty has yielded huge and lasting gains,” Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik wrote. “LBJ’s program was not just a plan for financial handouts. It also encompassed a broad approach encompassing ‘better schools, and better health, and better homes, and better training, and better job opportunities,’ as he put it in his address on Jan. 8, 1964. LBJ’s campaign brought us Head Start (in 1965) as well as Medicare and Medicaid. He understood that political and social empowerment were indispensable factors in economic betterment, so he pushed for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

Still, many expected the poverty rate to be lower than it is today.

According to the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities (CPP), “The poverty story over the last half-century in the United States is mixed for several reasons. A much stronger safety net along with factors such as rising education levels, higher employment among women, and smaller families helped push poverty down. At the same time, rising numbers of single-parent families, growing income inequality, and worsening labor market prospects for less-skilled workers have pushed in the other direction.

“Today’s safety net – which includes important programs and improvements both from the Johnson era and thereafter – cuts poverty nearly in half. In 2012, it kept 41 million people, including 9 million children, out of poverty, according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). If government benefits are excluded, today’s poverty rate would be 29 percent under the SPM; with those benefits, the rate is 16 percent.”

Other factors also contribute to today’s poverty rate, including rising income inequality, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. It stated that between 1964 and 2012, the share of national income going to the top 1 percent of U.S. households nearly doubled, from 11 percent to 22 percent in 2012. Meanwhile, the share of national income going to the poorest fifth of households fell between 1979 (the earliest year available) and 2012.

There is also the issue of shrinking jobs that pay decent wages, especially those at the low end of the pay scale.

“Moreover, large racial disparities remain, with child poverty much higher and the share of African Americans with a college degree much lower than among whites. Meanwhile, poverty in America is high compared to other wealthy nations largely because our safety net does less to lift people out of poverty than those of other Western nations,” the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted.

The War on Poverty if far from over. Although slow to join the battle, President Obama is now fully engaged, underscoring our country’s economic inequality. This is no time for the president or Congress to surrender.

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

'Race War' at Fox News

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(NNPA) In 2013, race still mattered – especially at Fox News. According to MediaMatters, the watchdog group, last year was a banner period for race-baiting at Fox.

“Viewers who spent 2013 absorbed in Fox News might be under the impression that an all-out race war has erupted across the nation this year, thanks to the network’s coverage of everything from voter fraud to Santa Claus echoing one common theme: white folks are being victimized in Obama’s America,” an analysis of coverage on the network concluded.

The review showed that Fox, the nation’s top-rated cable network with 1.76 million daily viewers, routinely exploited racial fears to boost its ratings.

“Fox became obsessed with black crime rates in the summer of 2013, when Floridian George Zimmerman went on trial for the 2012 murder of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin, whom Zimmerman shot and killed while he was walking home from a convenience store. Zimmerman, identified as white Hispanic, alleged that he shot Martin in self-defense, and was not subsequently arrested or charged with any crime until a significant public outcry made the story national news,” MediaMatters noted.

“Fox immediately began running defense for Zimmerman in what became a red meat story for the network – an opportunity to justify right-wing gun culture and stand your ground laws, stoke fears about the dangers of black youth, and paint white-on-black crime as exceedingly rare and usually justified while black crime is exploding.”

When Fox wasn’t fear mongering about Black crime, the report stated, it was supporting voter ID laws that suppress the African-American vote.

“2013 marked a unique year with regard to free and fair elections in the United States. In June, the conservative bloc of the U.S. Supreme Court disregarded history, legal precedent, and congressional intent in a 5-4 Shelby County decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). Weeks later, thousands of Americans gathered with civil rights leaders in the nation’s capital to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington – a 1963 march that featured Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I have a dream” speech and helped lead to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and aforementioned VRA,” the analysis recounted.

“The summer’s Shelby County decision paved the way for Republican-controlled state legislatures to continue pushing through voter ID laws, a movement purporting to fight voter fraud that in fact disenfranchises Democratic voting blocs, particularly minorities, by imposing stringent prerequisites to vote that many older and minority voters cannot easily meet. Previously, such measures – in states with a history of disenfranchising minorities – required approval from the Justice Department before being implemented.”

The report noted that the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance provision had been invoked more than 700 times between 1982 and 2006 to prevent racially discriminatory voting proposals to go into effect.

“Perhaps the one story that best encapsulates the way Fox News goes out of its way to paint a distorted image of the crossroads of race and crime in America, it’s the network’s coverage of the so-called ‘knockout game,’” the report explained. “Fox described the knockout game as a violent and spreading trend primarily involving black youths assaulting unsuspecting and primarily white victims on the street for recreation. The network has run numerous segments on the alleged craze, and Fox’s Greta Van Susteren has dedicated a recurring segment to the phenomenon.

“The primary take-away for viewers: Be afraid of young, black men and women, and don’t let yourself be an unsuspecting victim – black people could assault you at any time for no reason other than the fact that you’re white.”

In fact, as the report states, “A New York Times piece on the knockout game cited police officials in several cities where attacks have been reported who concluded that the game ‘amounted to little more than an urban myth, and that the attacks in question might be nothing more than the sort of random assaults that have always occurred.’”

Fox even played the race card with Santa Claus.

“Fox capped a year decorated with race-baiting overtones and racial dog whistles with a comparably absurd ornament for the top of their tree: New Fox megastar Megyn Kelly’s unabashed declaration (“for the kids at home”) that Santa Claus is white,” MediaMatters recounted.

“’Santa just is white,’” Kelly told viewers in response to a Slate column by Aisha Harris, an African-American who noted that depictions of a Caucasian Santa Claus can have an alienating effect on minority children. Conservative media rushed to agree with Kelly’s assertion, most notably Fox race-baiter-in-chief Bill O’Reilly, who concurred that ‘Miss Kelly is correct. Santa was a white person.’”

The report stated, “Sadly, the Santa story illustrated how harmful race-baiting media coverage can be. Amidst the back and forth over the race of Old St. Nick, a teacher at Cleveland High School in New Mexico reportedly told a black student that he should not be dressed up as Santa because he was the wrong skin color…”

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

Walking in Mandela's Footsteps

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(NNPA) PRETORIA, South Africa – It’s not easy walking in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela, the nation’s first democratically elected president. No one knows that better than the two men who succeeded him as president of South Africa.

A larger-than-life figure, Mandela was elected president of the formerly White minority-ruled country in 1994, an accomplishment made even more remarkable by his having served 27 years in prison for his struggle to win equal rights for the violently oppressed Black majority. After serving one term and still at the apex of his popularity, the former lawyer decided to forgo a second 5-year term, clearing the way for his chief deputy and African National Congress (ANC) colleague Thabo Mbeki to assume the top office in 1999.

But after serving eight years in office, Mbeki was recalled by the ANC in 2007 after losing an elective conference to Jacob Zuma at a party gathering in Polokwane, Limpopo, just north of Johannesburg. He resigned in September 2008. Zuma succeeded Mbeki and there appears to be growing disenchantment with the country’s third Black president’s performance.

Zuma’s presidency has been tarnished by repeated reports of scandals, including charges that he used state funds on his private residence in Nkandla, a rural town in KwaZulu-Natal province. Improvements include the addition of a swimming pool, visitors’ center and amphitheater. The Zuma administration said the expenses, estimated at approximately $2 million (U.S.), are for security reasons.

Photographs of the sprawling home have reminded South Africans of the contrast between the lavish lifestyles enjoyed by the elites and the millions of residents mired in poverty. The allegations of corruption are taking a political toll on Zuma, who is in his second term.

According to the Sunday Times, Mbeki told a UK television network that Zuma should resign if recalled by the ANC.

“So when they look at some of the things that are happening…when they see this corruption in the country, which seems to be increasing at all levels of government, the people are aggrieved. They are saying that this is not what freedom was for.”

With nearly 100 international leaders in South Africa to memorialize the beloved Nelson Mandela, Zuma was loudly booed by some participants at the main memorial service. At a send-off from Pretoria the day before Mandela’s funeral, Zuma seemed to be answering his critics when he said, “I’ll be very happy if, as we mourn and celebrate Madiba, we do not abuse his name. Mandela never abused his membership and his leadership in the ANC. We should not think that Madiba’s passing on is a time for us to indirectly settle scores.”

Mbeki is not the only Mandela loyalist to believe that Zuma is not the leader the nation needs at this time.

In an interview earlier this year with the Mail & Guardian, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said: “I have over the years voted for the ANC, but I would very sadly not be able to vote for them after the way things have gone.” Tutu explained, “We really need a change. The ANC was very good at leading us in the struggle to be free from oppression. They were a good freedom-fighting unit. But it doesn’t seem to me now that a freedom-fighting unit can easily make the transition to becoming a political party.”

Last week, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, the country’s largest trade union and a traditional ally of the ANC, called for Zuma to resign and announced that it will not support the ruling ANC in next year’s election.

The pressure for Zuma’s resignation continues to build.

According to a poll released Dec. 15 by the Sunday Times, slightly more than half (51 percent) of registered ANC members believe Zuma should resign from office as a result of a scandal involving his home in Nkandla.

Zuma’s critics acknowledge that the dissatisfaction with the president has as much to do with disappointment at the slow rate of progress over nearly 20 years of freedom, including the Mandela years, than Zuma individually.

A report last year by Statistics South Africa showed that over the past decade, annual earnings of Black households increased by 169 percent to 60,613 rand (approximately U.S. $6,644) while White household earnings over that same period rose by 88 percent to 365,134 rand (about U.S. $40,927).

Official unemployment is nearly 25 percent. If you add discouraged workers no longer actively seeking work, the figure is 33 percent.

The Economist noted, “… the gap between rich and poor is now wider than under apartheid.”

South Africa is learning the lesson that other countries around the world, including the U.S., are being forced to accept. It’s one thing to criticize government as an outsider, It’s quite another to assume power and make fundamental changes.

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

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