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George Curry

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.

Jesse Jackson Almost Missed Mandela's Funeral

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(NNPA) PRETORIA, South Africa – Jesse Jackson left the Southern Sun Hotel in downtown Pretoria shortly after 3 a.m. Sunday, expecting it would take less than two hours to fly 541 miles to Qunu, where funeral services were being held for former South African President Nelson Mandela.

The first indication that it would take longer came when Jackson and his delegation arrived at the Waterkloof Air Force Base.

“Are you sure we’re in the right place?” he asked his driver. “This doesn’t look right.” It didn’t look right because Jackson had attended a ceremony at the air base on Saturday, just before Mandela’s remains were flow to Qunu for burial. But the previous ceremonies were in another section of this base, which accounted for Jackson’s unfamiliarity.

The group was greeted by Brig. Gen. Marthie Visser, a courtly White South African with a thick accent; she was eager to make sure Jackson got on the right plane.

The next plane out, she told him, would carry Deputy President Kgakma Petrus Motlanthe, Constitutional Court [Supreme Court] Justice Mogoeng Kourakis and former President Thabo Mbeki. She walked Jackson over to a desk where the two quickly examined a printout of the manifest and Jackson’s name was nowhere in sight.

That set off a flurry of calls by Jackson; his youngest son Yusef; Monica Morgan, a Detroit photographer, and James Gomez, his Director of International Affairs, who was still in the hotel. Frantic calls were placed to the trip’s local organizer by the younger Jackson and Gomez. And the organizer made a round of calls to high-ranking African National Congress (ANC) officials.

After Visser escorted Jackson and his companions to Lounge #3, an area used by VIPs, it was learned that an ANC official had not confirmed with the military the landing of a private plane that was supposed to carry Jackson and his party to Qunu. Unable to land, the plane was parked at another airport.

Visser called her superiors to get permission for Jackson and his delegation to tag along with Deputy President Motlanthe’s party. By this time, Chief Justice Kourakis walked into the lounge. He greeted Jackson warmly and the two exchanged laughter for about 15 minutes. However, when it was time for Kourakis to leave, he waved good-bye to Jackson and boarded the aircraft.

After seeing the two interact, I was convinced that we would be boarding the plane shortly. It turned out that I was both right and wrong. Gen. Visser escorted us to steps at the back of the plane, where we waited on the ground for her to board and get permission for us to enter.

“I have some terrible news,” she told Jackson. “The security people say you were not cleared for this flight and you can’t board.” Jackson asked her to speak directly to Deputy President Motlanthe and when she returned, the answer was the same – we couldn’t go.

“May I speak directly with the deputy president?” Jackson asked. Jackson did and when Visser returned, she flashed a thumbs up signal, meaning we, too, could board. When we entered, Jackson was sitting near Justice Koudrakis. His son, Yusef; Mogan and I quickly found seats. I had taken two sips of orange juice when the general reappeared.

“I am afraid I have more bad news,” she said, apologetically. “My general said no one can travel on this plane who has not been cleared. I am so sorry.”

Tired and embarrassed, we all departed, feeling this might be our only chance to reach Qunu by 9 a.m. At 6:15 a.m., Yusef walked over to me and said, “It looks like the window of opportunity is closing.” I replied, “It’s not closing, it’s closed – and locked tight.” Or, so I thought.

Amid all the frantic calls, Zweli Mkhize, the ANC Treasurer-General, whom we had met earlier in the week, called Minister of Defense Nosiviwe Mapisa-Ngakula and told her to fix the problem. “He said, ‘We don’t want all the bad press we would get if Rev. Jackson isn’t able to get to the funeral,’” a person familiar with the conversation relayed to me.

About 6:30 a.m. – two and a half hours before the main segment of the funeral was scheduled to begin – we finally got some good news: The Air Force was dispatching an 8-seater Falcon 50 jet to take us to Qunu. Gen. Visser was ordered to accompany us and there would be a military escort waiting for us on the other end of the flight.

At 7:08 a.m., it was wheels up. We landed, were greeted by our military escort and had our own private police motorcade to the funeral. We entered the dome-like structure at 9:05 a.m., just as funeral proceedings were getting underway.

All I could do was shake my head in disbelief. That’s yet another reason to keep hope alive. 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.

Mandela Opponents Trying to Re-write History

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(NNPA) Many conservatives who actively opposed Nelson Mandela’s protracted struggle to establish democracy in White minority-ruled South Africa are trying to rationalize their past criticism by either ignoring their earlier public statements or trying to place the struggle for a democratic society in South Africa in a Cold War context.

Leading the way, not surprisingly, is radio commentator Rush Limbaugh.

In a 1972 broadcast, Limbaugh said, “When Nelson Mandela or one of these terrorists sees America, they ask, ‘How did they do this in less than 230 years? We’ve been around here for centuries, and we still can barely muster working toilets.’ It is this that the terrorists see, folks ? and it makes them envious.”

That same year, he accused Mandela of having a “Black and White” world view and viewed Americans as “a bunch of White racists who hate people of color.”

In an article, titled, “Limbaugh Whitewashes His Past Attacks on Mandela To Claim He’s Conservative,” Media Matters observed that Limbaugh is trying to recast Mandela as a Black conservative.

The watchdog ground stated, “On the December 6 edition of his radio show, host Limbaugh argued that Mandela ‘had more in common with Clarence Thomas than he does with Barack Obama,’ claiming that he was more like American conservatives because he ‘insisted on compliance with his country’s constitution,’ whereas liberals, Limbaugh asserted, only care about ‘skin color and oppression’ and view the U.S. constitution as an obstacle.”

Conservatives can’t run away from their record.

Former Vice President Dick Chaney can’t run away from the fact that as a Congressman, he voted against a bill that would have imposed sanctions on South Africa until it met five conditions, including the release of Nelson Mandela.

Right-ringers who try to elevate Ronald Reagan to sainthood can’t run away from the fact that he vetoed a bill that would have imposed sanctions on the minority-ruled country. His veto, the only one of his administration, was overridden by Congress. Reagan had Mandela placed on the U.S. international terrorist list, where he remained until 2008. In addition, the U.S. vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have imposed sanctions on South Africa.

Columnist William F. Buckley, Jr. can’t run away from his words, either.

He wrote, in 1985: “Clearly some of the current campaigning against South Africa is a fad, a moral Hula Hoop, fun for a while.”

Conservatives enjoyed trying to taint Mandela with the C-word.

Conservative David Swindle wrote an article under the headline, “Communist icon Nelson Mandela Dead a 75.”

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela made it clear that he accepted help from wherever he could get it at the time. And while the United States steadfastly supported the White minority-controlled South Africa, others –including PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Cuban President Fidel Castro and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi – stood with Mandela.

When Ted Koppel tried to get Mandela to denounce those unpopular figures during an interview, he refused, saying he supported people who supported South Africa’s Black majority.

Instead of supporting majority rule in South Africa, President Ronald Regan said in 1981 that as long as White South African leaders were making a “sincere and honest” effort to bring about racial progress, the United States should not be critical.

He asked, rhetorically: “Can we abandon a country that has stood by us in every war we have ever fought, a country that is strategically essential to the free world in its production of minerals that we all must have?”

Describing Mandela as a communist – and using that as an excuse to support minority rule – was a red herring. The United States has supported communist and socialist leaders of other countries – as long as they were perceived as serving the interests of the U.S.

Mandela noted our country’s hypocrisy.

“American conservatives of the era recognized the brutal repression of black South Africans by the whites, but ultimately determined that ending that system was less important that preserving South Africa as an ally in the Cold War,” Media Matters stated. “They pointed to Mandela’s ties to South Africa’s Communist Party and his history of violent activism and warned of dire results if he were freed and the apartheid government overthrown. (In his statement at the opening of the 1964 trial that ended in his imprisonment, Mandela explained that his African National Congress worked with communists toward the common goal of ‘the removal of white supremacy.’ He compared this to the United States and Great Britain allying with the Soviet Union during World War II).”

Former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum even tried to equate Republicans’ opposition to the Affordable Care Act to Mandela’s struggle in South Africa.

Appearing Dec. 5 on The O’Reilly Factor, Santorum said, Mandela “was fighting against some great injustice, and I would make the argument that we have a great injustice going on right now in this country with an ever-increasing size of government that is taking over and controlling people’s lives, and Obamacare is front and center in that.”

Some politicians have no shame.

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.

WWRDH: What Would Republicans Do on Healthcare?

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(NNPA) Many ardent conservatives are critical of the Affordable Care Act or what they derisively call “Obamacare.” But what are they proposing that proves that they care about uninsured Americans?

The Tampa Bay Times’ “Pundit Fact” team discovered some interesting findings when they approached that question indirectly. Specifically, the newspaper looked at the main Republican alternatives to the Affordable Care Act and the patient diagnosis under the GOP proposals was not encouraging.

“Not all but most of the nine bills on our list use the tax code to put more money in citizens’ pockets on the condition that the money will be spent on health care,” the newspaper stated. “We found three basic approaches that potentially address insurance affordability.”

• Overhauling health care tax deductions;
• Refundable tax credits and
• Health Savings Accounts

On overhauling health care tax deductions, the newspaper said, “The most generous proposal comes from the conservative Republican Study Committee, which put forward a bill with 100 cosponsors. H.R. 3121 would give a $7,500 deduction to individuals and a $20,000 deduction to families.

“We saw two big catches here. You would need to have insurance in the first place. Plus, the bill would eliminate the biggest tax break households enjoy today, the portion of their premiums paid by their employer. Getting rid of that $170 billion tax benefit would be a tough sell and a dramatic change to employer-provided insurance.”

As for the refundable tax credits, it was noted that they “are like tax deductions, with the big difference that you can claim the credit even if you don’t have taxable income. H.R. 2300 from Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., offers a maximum tax credit of $5,000 for families making up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $47,000 a year.”

The paper said, “The proposal from Price would make credits payable in advance. In other words, you could use the federal credit even if you didn’t have the money up front to pay for insurance.

“While the details are different, this resembles the program put forward by President George W. Bush. A 2005 study of the Bush plan by the Tax Policy Center, a joint project by the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, found that ‘lower-income individuals experience the largest declines in uninsurance rates’ under the Bush proposal.

“However, of the 45 million people uninsured then, Bush’s $3,000 tax credit plan would have helped only about 2 million people who made less than 200 percent of federal poverty and just a bit over 3 million overall.”

The third option – Health Savings Accounts – fared no better.

The Tampa paper said, “Thomas Buchmueller, a health economist at the University of Michigan, said it is a major undertaking to provide insurance to those who lack the money to pay for it.

“’Tinkering with tax deductions and making health savings accounts more attractive is not going to change that basic fact,’ Buchmueller said. ‘Roughly half of the Affordable Care Act coverage gains come from expanding Medicaid. I don’t see anything in these proposals that would do much for the people who will gain Medicaid under the ACA.’”

Like so many issues, Democrats and Republicans differ in fundamental approaches.

“One of the widest gaps between Democrats and Republicans is the basic understanding of what it means to offer a plan to people of limited means,” the Florida newspaper observed. “For Democrats, a plan is an identified insurance policy, whether public, as in expanded Medicaid, or private, as in buying subsidized private insurance through a web-based, highly regulated marketplace. For Republicans, a plan is anything that makes buying insurance more affordable, however the person finds the policy.”

After a terrible 2-month rollout, the Obama administration finally may be in a position to silence some of its legitimate critics.

A report issued Sunday by the Health and Human Services Administration disclosed that the primary website, HealthCare.gov, has been successfully overhauled and is now able to support more than 800,000 consumer visits a day.

Among the improvement cited:

• The deployment of 12 large, dedicated servers;
• Significantly upgrading memory to improve response time;
• Reducing response time from around 8 seconds in October to well under 1 second;
• Reducing the error rate from approximately 6 percent in November to .75 or three quarters of one percent; and
• Expanding the amount of time the system is up from 42.9 percent in October to above 90 percent.

“The new management system and instrumentation have helped improve site stability, lower the error rating below 1%, increase capacity to allow 50,000 concurrent users to simultaneously use the site and will help drive continuous improvement on the site,” the report stated. “While we strive to innovate and improve our outreach and systems for reaching consumers, we believe we have met the goal of having a system that will work smoothly for the vast majority of users.”

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.

'Nuclear Option' Launched Against Intransigent Republicans

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(NNPA) After repeated Republican obstruction, Senate Democrats boldly stood up to Republicans by pulling the trigger on the nuclear option, a parliamentary maneuver that means most executive branch nominees now can be approved by a simple majority rather than the 60-vote supermajority in effect throughout President Obama’s term.

Although Democrats hold a 55-45 majority in the Senate, Republicans had been able to block many of President Obama’s court nominees and appointments by requiring a supermajority for confirmation. Now, however, senators can no longer filibuster nominees to executive branch posts or the courts, with the exception of the Supreme Court. Legislation can still be filibustered as well as other Senate actions.

More than 10 percent of federal judgeships are vacant. The number considered “judicial emergencies” has increased by 85 percent since President Obama assumed office in 2009, according to a report issued in October by Alliance for Justice, (AFJ), a federation of more than 100 organizations devoted to making sure the federal judiciary advances core constitutional values, preserves human rights and unfettered access to the courts, and adheres to the even-handed administration of justice for all Americans.

“Our data show that the overwhelming majority of the blame for this crisis rests squarely with Senate Republicans,” said AFJ President Nan Aron. “Where there still aren’t nominees, it’s usually because Republican Senators are refusing to recommend qualified candidates to fill vacancies in their home states. And where there already are nominees, Republicans continue their unprecedented ‘obstruction of justice’ by continuing to stall those nominees.”

According to the report, 90 percent of all current vacancies without a nominee are in states with at least one Republican Senator. Fifty-one percent are in states with two Republican Senators.

“That’s no coincidence,” Aron explained. “Republicans have cynically abused Senate tradition and refused to approve proposed nominees in their home states. Without that approval – which requires returning a ‘blue slip’ – the Senate Judiciary Committee won’t hold a hearing on a nominee. Then these same Republicans turn around and blame the president for not nominating anyone to fill the vacancy.”

The opposition to President Obama is unprecedented.

“Before Obama, 20 executive branch nominees were filibustered. Under Obama, 16 have been filibustered,” the Washington Post noted. “… If current trends continue, they note, it’s entirely possible Obama could end up seeing more of his executive-branch nominees filibustered than every other president in history combined.”

The Alliance for Justice report found, “President Obama’s nominations have brought near parity between Democratic-appointed judges and Republican-appointed judges. Since the end of the Bush Administration, the percentage of Republican-appointed circuit court judges dropped from 61.3% to 49.1%, and the percentage of Republican-appointed district court judges dropped from 58.6% to 50.3%.” It explained, “The president has appointed the highest percentage of women (42%) and minorities (38%) in history.”

Republicans are needlessly stalling the nominations. As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell conceded, Obama’s nominee to become Secretary of Energy was eventually approved, 97-0; Secretary of Interior, 87-11, Secretary of Treasury, 71-26, Secretary of Commerce, 97-1, and Secretary of Transportation, 100-0.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a speech, “That’s the whole point. They don’t have anything. There’s nothing wrong with these people. There’s nothing wrong with their qualifications. They [Republicans] simply want to stall what goes on.”

If Republicans could have their way, they would stall until the next president is elected, hoping that person will be a Republican.

The breaking point came when Senate Republicans blocked three nominees – Patricia Millett, Cornelia “Nina” Pillard and Robert L. Wilkins – to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which reviews many actions taken by the executive branch and is considered the second most powerful court in the nation. All three are imminently qualified and emerged from committee hearings unblemished.

Finally, Democrats went nuclear. Now, confirmation should be easier for Obama’s appointments to head the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Housing Finance Agency and other agencies.

In addition, the change gives Obama a better chance of making progress on issues he listed in his inaugural speech, including immigration reform, climate change, income inequity and gun violence.

However, this will not mark the end of Congressional gridlock. House Republicans appear to be still captive of the ultra-conservative Tea Party and their counterparts in the Senate are still intent on opposing Obama’s initiatives.

Even with the nuclear option, GOP Senators plan to actively oppose President Obama. That’s fine, but at least the minority will no longer be able to thwart the will of the majority.

Some Republicans say the latest move will make them less inclined to cooperate with Democrats. It’s hard to imagine bipartisanship being much lower than it is. This “do nothing” Congress has enacted only 49 laws, the fewest since such records were first kept in 1947.

And some Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, say they will change even more rules once they regain the majority. Majority rule is all Senate Democrats were seeking. They had been bullied long enough by the radical minority.

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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