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George Curry

Remembering How Black South Africans Won their Freedom

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(NNPA) JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – A trip to South Africa provides painful reminders of the protracted struggle to establish democracy, how the United States propped up the White minority-rule government and the courage Black South Africans demonstrated to win their freedom.

A key aspect of the struggle is vividly captured in the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum in the heart of Soweto, not far from the homes of Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu. The name of the museum itself is steeped in unforgettable history. The most compelling image of the Soweto student protest of 1976 is a photo taken by Sam Nzima.

In the foreground of a crowd of Black student protesters is a tearful Mbuyisa Makhuba, a high school student, running with the small, limp body of 13-year-old Hector Pieterson and his screaming sister, Antoinette, running beside them.

The teenager’s story is told inside the museum under the heading, “An individual life can change society.” It begins: “Hector Pieterson lost his life under police fire on June 16, 1976 during a student march protesting Afrikaans as the language of instruction in African schools. He was thirteen years old. News of his death and the violence that subsequently erupted in most African townships in South Africa spread rapidly across the world. In his death Hector Pieterson became a symbol of the plight of the black South African youth under the yoke of Apartheid.”

It continued, “His public funeral commemorated, as does this museum, all those who died as a result of the tragic events of June 16, 1976 – a turning point in the struggle towards a true South African democracy.”

Hector Pieterson became one of many martyrs of the fight against apartheid, a rigid system of racial segregation designed to keep the White minority in control of the country’s political, economic and social system.

In fact, Pieterson’s last protest march was prompted by the ruling National Party’s decision to force Black schools to use Afrikaans – which Bishop Desmond Tutu called “the language of oppression” – and English in equal measure.

On April 20, 1976, students at Orlando West Junior High School went on strike, refusing to go to school. The protest quickly spread to other schools in Soweto. On the morning of June 16, an estimated 20,000 students started walking from the junior high school to Orlando Stadium, where they had planned to hold a mass rally before continuing to the regional office of the Department of Bantu Education.

Instead of allowing the students to walk peacefully, police barricaded the march route and unleashed dogs on the crowd. According to some news accounts, students stoned the dogs and police soon began opening fire on the students, killing 13-year-old Pieterson and 22 others that day, all but two of whom were Black. At the end of a series of protests, called the Soweto uprising, estimates of those killed ranged from 176 to more than 600.

The violent attack on the children thrust the African National Congress (ANC) to the forefront of Black political protest and ignited international protests. But that did not curb the all-White police force’s appetite for violence.

A quote from Steve Lebelo, a student at Madibane High School, describes the violence that was inflicted on the community in the immediate aftermath of Pieterson’s death. The quote, which also hangs in the museum, recalls:

“It was on the 17th and 18th, when police went out and systematically were killing people. I do know that suddenly there was the infamous green car. It was a 3800 Chev, it was a green car, and at the time they were used mostly by the police. We suspected that they had a sniper in there who picked up people at random and shot and killed them. I do know a friend of mine who was killed on the 19th of June, under the same circumstances. He had gone to the shop, and as he came back from the shop carrying a litre of milk, he was shot by a sniper and killed.”

Above the quote is a photo of a green Chevrolet, loaded with White men, with rifles sticking out of the windows.

There are other reminders throughout the museum. There is a picture of a small, naked child being drenched in a bottle of water to soothe her pain in tears. Another photograph contains student protesters, with one holding up a sign reading, “To hell with Afrikaans.”

Erected in 2002, the museum honors the memory of the students who died in the uprising. A brick bearing each name is built into the ground just steps from the entrance of the museum, which is only two blocks away from where Pieterson was killed.

The inscription about Hector Pieterson in the museum ends by noting, “When National Youth Day is celebrated each year on June 16 at the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum, it becomes a national site of commemoration, also reflecting current changes in the articulation of the South African democracy.”

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.

The Boston Marathon's Media Frenzy

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(NNPA) I am a certified news junkie, but even I had to step away from the oversaturated media coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings. Anyone who has covered crimes on a smaller scale than the twin explosions in Boston knows that investigators don’t have instant answers for everything and it’s ridiculous to think that in a frenzied atmosphere, accurate information will be available in abundance. But that did not prevent news outlets and social media from rushing to be first rather than calmly waiting to be accurate.

The result was a string of embarrassing mistakes that did little to comfort a nation on edge, a nation that still hadn’t gotten over the shock of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn.

Of course, this is not to suggest that everything reported by the media was wrong. The news media helped disseminate photos of the two bombing suspect that eventually led to their being identified. The media was able to pass along instructions for people to remain in their homes until the suspects were captured. And most of us learned what had happened in Boston by watching television, going to the Internet or social media.

Ironically, on the day the Pulitzer Prizes honoring excellence in journalism were announced – The Denver Post won the award for breaking news for its coverage of a mass shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. that left 12 dead and 58 injured – news outlets were making major blunders while covering the Boston bombings.

Among the most egregious:

  • The New York Post gave an inflated death count, saying there were “ at least 12 dead.” At the time, three people had been killed.
  • The Wall Street Journal reported that police had discovered five additional explosive devices in addition to the two that been discovered, a statement that was later retracted.
  • In what it called a “world-beating scoop,” the New York Post reported that a Saudi national was a suspect in the case when, in fact, he was a witness and a victim.
  • At 1:45 p.m. on Wednesday, April 17, John King reported on CNN that a suspect had been taken into custody. That was false.
  • King also erred when he reported last Wednesday: “I want to be very careful about this, because people get very sensitive when you say these things. I was told by one of these sources who is a law enforcement official that this is a dark-skinned male.”

PBS anchor Gwen Ifill tweeted, “disturbing that it’s OK for TV to ID a Boston bombing suspect as a ‘dark skinned individual.’”

King’s description of the so-called suspect sparked a lively discussion on the National Association of Black Journalists listserve.

Askia Muhammad, a columnist and radio host, wrote, “How did they know that sand n—er was a suspect? He must have been wearing a towel on his head.”

Roger Witherspoon, a veteran journalist and public relations executive, said: “Well, now that the FBI has released photos of the two men who apparently carried the bombs, I’m puzzled. Perhaps there’s a problem with the contrast on my TV, but they don’t look dark skinned to me.”

The Associated Press, Fox News, and the Boston Globe also mistakenly reported that a suspect had been arrested in the case. The reporting was so inaccurate that the FBI issued a statement that said:

“Contrary to widespread reporting, no arrest has been made in connection with the Boston Marathon attack. Over the past day and a half, there have been a number of press reports based on information from unofficial sources that has been inaccurate. Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media, particularly at this early stage of the investigation, to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting.”

The Boston Police Department scooped journalists when it announced Friday, via Twitter, that an arrest had been made in the case.

In view of the grievous errors made in covering high-profile crimes, news outlets should spend less time showing yellow police tape, flashing police lights and hyping their own reporters and more time explaining to the public that in an ongoing investigation, they will not get the facts before the next commercial break.

We should have learned this lesson from the experience of covering Newtown, Conn., when there were conflicting accounts on everything from whether Adam Lanza had forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School or had been buzzed in to whether he or his brother, Ryan, was the shooter.

As President Obama said, “In this age of instant reporting and tweets and blogs, there’s a temptation to latch on to any bit of information, sometimes jumping to conclusions. But when a tragedy like this happens, with public safety at risk and the stakes so high, it’s important that we do this right. That’s why we have investigations. That’s why we relentlessly gather the facts.”

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.

Political Maneuvering over the Budget

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(NNPA) There has been much discussion about the big picture items in President Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal 2014. If the devil is in the details, as politicians like to say, some parts of Obama’s budget will mean hell for some needy citizens.

Before getting into the details, let’s talk approach. As I have often said, I am not a fan of some of the tactical approaches Obama takes. I understand that his reasoned approach – as opposed to the meat cleaver style of House Republicans – is far better than the GOP alternative. Still, it makes no sense to offer a compromise position in advance of actual negotiations.

A report by the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a nonpartisan think tank that analyzes government policy and programs, notes, “It is unusual for a President to include these kinds of compromise policies in his budget. Typically, the President’s budget would include policies that are more akin to an opening bid in a negotiation — that is, the President’s budget generally reflects his preferred policies. This budget, in contrast, reflects the President’s position at a stage of the negotiations after several rounds of offers had been made. This budget differs significantly from the approach taken in earlier Obama budgets.”

Clearly, compromises will have to be made at some point – even compromises President Obama will not want to make – but this is not the time to make them.

Robert Greenstein, president of CBPP, said: “Politically speaking, I had thought that the White House should not put these concessions in its budget, as distinguished from offering them in bipartisan negotiations if and when Republicans agreed to dedicate substantial savings from curbing tax credits, deductions, and other preferences (known as ‘tax expenditures’) to deficit reduction. The Administration took a different approach. Having done so, it is appropriately insisting that the part of its budget that contains the President’s last offer to Boehner is an indivisible package — that policymakers cannot cherry pick the budget cuts on their own, as some Republicans are already suggesting, without taking the accompanying revenue increases.”

Given President Obama’s overtures, one would think reasonable people would meet him half way. But the operative word is “reasonable.” Instead of also making concession, Republicans have become even more recalcitrant.

“When it comes to deficit reduction, the playing field is not level,” Greenstein stated. “The President is sticking with his final offer to Boehner despite the anger that it’s creating in his party and his political base due to the chained CPI and other proposals.

“The Speaker and other Republican leaders, however, have buried their last offer to Obama in December and are ignoring the fact that it included $400 billion in revenue increases beyond what policymakers enacted at the start of the year. They now brand any new revenues as unacceptable. The contrast between the President’s approach and that of Republican leaders is striking.”

Beyond the political wrangling, there is plenty to be concerned about.

“The budget proposes to replace sequestration for all years — 2013 through 2021 — with other deficit-reduction measures. While most of the proposed deficit reduction is in the form of higher revenues and lower entitlement spending, the budget also reduces funding for discretionary programs by $200 billion below the already austere caps set in the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA),” the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report states.

“The $200 billion in proposed cuts are evenly split between defense and non-defense programs, consistent with the President’s December offer to Speaker Boehner. Non-defense discretionary programs include a broad set of government functions, such as education, public health, law enforcement, veterans’ health care, housing supports for low-income families, and scientific and medical research.”

Calling the non-defense discretionary program funding “ill-advised,” The center’s report noted, “The BCA funding caps already significantly constrain this area of the budget. In fact, under the BCA caps, spending for non-defense discretionary programs is on track to reach, by 2016, its lowest level on record as a share of the economy (these data go back to 1962). This area of the budget, which has been cut significantly in recent years and is not a driver of longer-term deficits, would be cut still more deeply under the President’s budget.”

In addition the CBPP said, “The budget would increase the income-related premiums paid by upper-income beneficiaries and gradually expand those premiums to cover a larger fraction of beneficiaries. It would also increase cost-sharing for new beneficiaries by raising the deductible for physician services, introducing co-payments for certain home health care services, and introducing a premium surcharge for those who purchase Medigap supplement plans that provide near-first-dollar coverage (which encourages greater utilization of health care services).”

There are plenty of good things in the president’s proposed budget, including his plan to expand early education and infrastructure investments, but Obama needs to break his addictive habit of making major concessions to Republicans before sitting at the bargaining table with them.

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.

Obama Budget Breaks Social Security Pledge

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(NNPA) Even before President Obama released his budget proposal this week for the next fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, preliminary details about his plan to effectively cut Social Security cost of living increases has caused a firestorm among supporters who now feel betrayed.

Under the plan, Obama would shift the way federal benefits are indexed from the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to the “chained” CPI, gradually reducing benefit payments. Without getting overly technical, the chained CPI – a way of indexing living costs – has grown on average by about 0.3 percentage points per year more slowly than the official CPI. Social Security actuaries assume the gap between the two CPIs will continue to average 0.3 percentage points per year in the future;

Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich said in a MoveOn.org press release that

“Social Security is not driving the deficit, therefore it should not be part of reforms aimed at cutting the deficit.” He added, “The chained CPI, deceptively portrayed as a reasonable cost-of-living adjustment, is a cut to Social Security that would hurt seniors.”

White House officials point out that the chained CPI would not affect initial Social Security benefits because they are based on wages. It is the subsequent cost of living increases that would be affected.

According to an analysis by the Associated Press, Social Security benefits for a typical middle-income 65-year-old would be about $136 less a year under the new indexing. At age 75, annual benefits would be $560 less. At 85, the cut would be $984 a year. While that might not seem huge to some, it represents a significant loss of income from the elderly living on a fixed income.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) shares Robert Reich’s outrage.

“If Obama is serious about dealing with our deficit, he would not cut Social Security – which has not added one penny to the deficit,” Sanders said in a statement posted on his website. “Instead, he would support legislation that ends the absurdity of one out of four profitable corporations paying nothing in federal income taxes. He would also help us close the offshore tax haven loopholes that enable large corporations and the wealthy to avoid paying $100 billion a year in federal taxes.”

Social Security payments and COLAs are not limited to the elderly. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, approximately 6 million children under age 18 (8 percent of all U.S. children) lived in families that received income from Social Security in 2011. That includes children who received their benefits as dependents of retired, disabled, or deceased workers as well as those who live with parents or relatives who received Social Security benefits.

Democrats are irked that Obama is breaking a pledge he made in 2008 not to cut Social Security. And regardless of how he couches it, that’s the net effect of his action.

“You can’t call yourself a Democrat and support Social Security benefit cuts,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “… The president has no mandate to cut these benefits, and progressives will do everything possible to stop him.”

Critics note that any “savings” from the chained CPI would go into the government’s general fund, not the Social Security Trust Fund. Therefore, it does nothing to “strengthen” Social Security.

“It’s not the president’s ideal approach to our budget challenges, but it is a serious compromise proposition that demonstrates that he wants to get things done,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday.

As I have noted in this space before, Obama is an Apprentice Negotiator. We saw that in 2012 when Republicans goaded him into extending the Bush tax cuts. In a failing effort to garner Republican support, Obama keeps offering up programs cherished by progressives, sometimes before the negotiating begins.

President Obama’s new proposal also calls for placing a 28 percent cap on tax deductions and other exclusions. Because the change would raise taxes of the wealthy, GOP leaders are expected to reject the plan.

Social Security provides monthly benefits to more than 50 million retired workers and workers with disabilities, their dependents, and their survivors. Obama faces considerable opposition from his own party, largely because of the importance of the popular retirement program.

“Social Security benefits play a vital role in reducing poverty,” observed the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. “Without Social Security, 21.4 million more Americans would be poor, according to the latest available Census data (for 2011). Although most of those whom Social Security keeps out of poverty are elderly, nearly a third are under age 65, including 1.1 million children.”

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.

Supreme Court Determined to Kill Affirmative Action

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(NNPA) A decade after carefully ruling in two University of Michigan cases – striking down the undergraduate admissions procedures and upholding those implemented by the law school – the U.S. Supreme Court seems on course to strike down even the mildest form of affirmative action admissions in higher education.

After oral arguments in a case brought by a White student who was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin, the justices are expected to hand down a ruling in late June or early July. Rather than await the outcome of that case, last week the court accepted another challenge to affirmative action in Michigan, which will not be argued until the October term.

The fact that the court accepted the Texas and Michigan cases, after higher education officials thought the matter was settled law, is a clear indication that the conservative-leaning court plans to eviscerate race- and gender-conscious college admissions programs, no matter how conservative or narrowly drawn. If the court had other intentions, it would have left lower court rulings favorable to affirmative action in the two cases stand.

Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the case the court is expected to rule on in late June, was brought by Abigail Fisher, a 22-year-old White woman who was rejected for admission in the fall of 2008. Under the University of Texas admissions program, the top 10 percent of each high school graduating class was guaranteed admission to the state’s flagship university. When Fisher applied, 90 percent of the students were selected that way.

The other 10 percent of applicants were admitted based on a variety of factors, including extracurricular activities, awards and honors, work experience, socioeconomic status, standardized test scores and race. Of all of those factors, Fisher decided to challenge admissions because the university considered race as one of many factors.

“Race is only one modest factor among many others weighed; it is considered only in an individualized and contextual way… and admissions officers do not know an applicant’s race when they decide [who] to admit in UT’s process,” the university argued in its brief.

University of Texas officials said if the modest affirmative action program had not been in place, Fisher still would not have qualified for admission. The district and appeals courts agreed, ruling against Fisher. But the Supreme Court decided to accept the case anyway.

Even more surprising was the court’s decision to accept another Michigan case, Schulette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, while Fisher is still pending.

After the Supreme Court upheld affirmative action in the University of Michigan law school case, 58 percent of voters adopted Proposal 2 in 2006, which prohibited discrimination or preferential treatment in public education, government contracting and public employment based on race, ethnicity or gender. It was modeled after a ballot measure passed by California voters in 1996.

Supporters of affirmative action in Michigan, lodged a legal challenge to Proposal 2, paving the path for the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to rule 8-7 that ballot initiative, which amended the state constitution, violated the federal Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

According to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the percentage of Black students enrolled at the University of Michigan had dropped from 6.7 percent in 2006 to 4.5 percent in 2010 as a result of Proposal 2.

The permissible use of affirmative action was thought to be decided for good in 2003. In Gratz v. Bollinger, the court ruled that the University of Michigan’s undergraduate admissions program violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment when it assigned 20 points to minority applicants.

But in Grutter v. Bollinger, the court ruled that when narrowly tailored, race can be lawfully used in combination with other factors as part of the University of Michigan Law School admissions process. In her written opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor cited benefits of “obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.”

O’Connor, who has since retired from the court, said she did not envision affirmative action in place forever. In fact, she suggested 25 years, without giving a reason why it would not be needed beyond that point.

Now, just 10 years later – and despite this nation’s horrible history on race – the conservative majority on the court seem unwilling to leave affirmative action in place for another 15 years.

As Justice Stephen G. Breyer, a supporter of affirmative action, said last October: “Grutter said it would be good law for at least 25 years, and I know that time flies, but I think only nine of those years have passed.”

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.

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