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George Curry

NRA Maintains Stranglehold on Congress

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(NNPA) In the wake of the killing of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn. last month and just before Vice President Joe Biden presented a list of proposals to President Obama this week that includes banning assault weapons and limiting sales of high-capacity ammunition clips, the president of the National Rifle Association expressed confidence that new gun legislation will stall in Congress.

In an interview Sunday on CNN’s “State Of The Union,” NRA President David Keene said, “I would say that the likelihood is that they are not going to be able to get assault weapons ban through this Congress.”

When asked about placing limits on high-capacity ammunition clips, Keene replied, “I don’t think ultimately they are going to get that, either.”

Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), referring to Keene, said on CNN, “I think he’s wrong.” Murphy explained, “Newtown fundamentally changed things. The NRA doesn’t get this.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) acknowledged that it will not be easy to get Congress to ban assault weapons.

He told CNN, “I think we have the possibility, but it’s going to be difficult.” Cummings said the prospects are brighter for Congress to place restrictions on high-capacity magazines and require expanded background checks.

A 10-year ban on the sale of assault weapons expired in 2004, largely as a result of pressure exerted by the NRA. The organization has risen from being founded in 1871 to help improve marksmanship to a powerful 4 million-member lobbying organization that takes in more than $200 million in annual revenue.

According to Opensecrets.org, NRA spent $20 million in the last election cycle, all on friendly lawmakers who score well on the NRA’s political scorecard. The combination of big bucks and political pressure have made too many members of Congress fearful of bucking the powerful gun lobby, a group that doesn’t even want machine guns banned.

But there are growing indications that the NRA’s political clout might be vastly overrated.

“The gun lobby had an abysmal 2012 election cycle. They spent more than $11 million to defeat President Obama, warning that on Election Day, “Americans will vote either to defend or surrender freedom in the most consequential national decision in U.S. history.” They also failed to elect their preferred candidate in six of their seven top targets for the U.S. Senate. And more than two-thirds of incumbents who lost their seats in the House of Representatives were backed by the NRA, including four Democrats,” noted Media Matters, the watchdog group.

And the NRA got a poor return on its political investment.

“According to open government group the Sunlight Foundation, the NRA Political Victory Fund, the NRA’s political action committee, received a less than one percent return on $10,536,106 spent on independent expenditures during the election cycle,” the media monitoring group also found. “The NRA spent 0.44 percent of its money supporting winning candidates and 0.39 percent opposing losing candidates. The NRA Institute for Legislative Action, the organization’s lobbying arm, garnered a 10.25 percent return on $7,448,017 spent on the election. In seven Senate races where the NRA spent more than $100,000, six of the NRA-backed candidates lost.”

That trend did not start with the November elections, according to ThinkProgress, a liberal blog.

Paul Waldman, contributing editor at The American Prospect, analyzed data from the last four federal elections – 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010.

“The conclusion to be drawn from these data will be surprising to many: The NRA has virtually no impact on congressional elections,” he wrote. “The NRA endorsement, so coveted by so many politicians, is almost meaningless. Nor does the money the organization spends have any demonstrable impact on the outcome of races. In short, when it comes to elections, the NRA is a paper tiger.” Not exactly.

“If you’ve been following the issue of guns over the last few years, you know that these have been good times for gun advocates,” according to ThinkProgress. “In a landmark 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court settled a longstanding question by declaring that the 2nd Amendment confers an individual right to own guns. Under Barack Obama’s administration, the only pieces of legislation on guns have expanded gun rights; for instance, gun owners are now allowed to bring firearms into national parks as a result of legislation Obama signed in 2009. The assault weapons ban passed under Bill Clinton expired in 2004, and despite early indications the Obama administration might try to renew it, they have made no moves to do so.”

Public opinion on gun control has moved, according to a Gallup poll released Monday. It showed that 38 percent of Americans favor stricter gun measures, a 13-point increase from last year and the highest it has been in more than a decade.

Now is the time for Obama to make his move. If not, the NRA will do it for him.

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.

Wilmington Ten Pardons: Black Press at its Best

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(NNPA) When then-National Newspaper Publishers Association Chairman Danny Bakewell, Sr. asked me to emcee the Black Press Week luncheon at the National Press Club in 2011, I had no idea that I would be witnessing history. At the urging of Wilmington Journal Publisher Mary Alice Thatch, the NNPA decided to launch a national campaign to win pardons for the Wilmington 10, a group of activists who were falsely convicted and sentenced to a combined total of 282 years.

Everyone knew it would be an uphill battle, but it was a battle the NNPA was willing to wage. It established The Wilmington Ten Pardon of Innocence Project whose goal was “to generate national and worldwide support for the petition, to the state of North Carolina, and specifically the governor, to grant individual pardons of innocence to the Wilmington Ten.”

NNPA publishers saw a video about the Wilmington Ten at the luncheon and its leader, Benjamin Chavis, Jr., was interviewed by me and the publishers. When I asked Ben, a longtime friend, about his lowest point in prison, he tried to steer me away from the question by saying he preferred to focus on the future, not the past.

But the past affects the future, which is why I brought him back to my original question. This time, he gave a direct, emotional answer.

“I was warned not to go into the shower,” he said, his voice barely audible. “I couldn’t take a bath for eight months.”

And the reason Chavis was reluctant to take a bath was because of death threats.

No one should have to live like that, especially after the criminal justice system has been manipulated to obtain a false conviction.

For Chavis, the trouble began after the all-Black high school was closed as part of the court-ordered desegregation of New Hanover County, N.C. schools. The Black students were forced to attend the previously all-White high school, where they were harassed. In February 1971, the United Church of Christ dispatched Chavis, a native of Oxford, N.C., to help organize a school boycott.

During that period of unrest, someone firebombed Mike’s Grocery, a White-owned business located a block away from Gregory Congregational Church, where Chavis had set up headquarters. When fire fighters and police officers arrived, they were attacked by snipers.

Chavis and nine others were charged and convicted of arson and conspiracy in connection with the incident. Most of the defendants received a 29-year sentence, with Ann Shepard, the White woman from Auburn, N.Y., receiving the lightest sentence of 15 years and Chavis, then only 24 years old, getting 34 years, the longest sentence.

In 1980, a federal appeals court overturned the convictions of the Wilmington Ten. The court ruled that the trial judge had wrongly restricted defense attorneys from cross-examining witnesses who had received special treatment in exchange for their testimony and that the prosecutor violated due process rights by failing to turn over evidence that would have impeached the testimony of its chief witness, Allen Hall. In addition, the prosecutor refused to turn over a second statement made by Hall that directly contradicted at least 15 of his allegations.

After taking up the cause of the Wilmington Ten, NNPA newspapers gave prominent display to stories written about the case by Cash Michaels, editor of the Wilmington Journal, and distributed to member papers by the NNPA News Service. Through talent and dogged persistence, neither Cash nor his publisher, Mary Alice Thatch, would let the campaign for pardons stall.

The national campaign heated up last spring when Michaels produced a string of stories examining every aspect of the case. In one story, Michaels traced the shattered lives of the seven survivors (one has since died) and the families of three deceased members of the Wilmington Ten. He found that some of the survivors, including Chavis, had successfully rebuilt their lives while others had not.

One blockbuster story began: “In an extraordinary discovery, the 40-year-old case files of the prosecuting attorney in the two 1972 Wilmington Ten criminal trials not only document how he sought to impanel, according to his own written jury selection notes, mostly White ‘KKK’ juries to guarantee convictions, but also to keep Black men from serving on both juries.”

Michaels story continued, “The prosecutor chose, in his own words, ‘Uncle Tom’ types to serve on the jury, it was disclosed. The files of Assistant New Hanover County District Attorney James ‘Jay’ Stroud Jr. also document how he plotted to cause a mistrial in the first June 1972 Wilmington Ten trial because there were 10 Blacks and two Whites on the jury, his star false witness against the Ten was not cooperating, and it looked very unlikely that he could win the case, given the lack of evidence.”

Without Michaels’ exceptional reporting and the national exposure, many of the facts about the Wilmington Ten injustice would still remain unknown – and Gov. Perdue would not have pardoned the civil rights activists.

This was the Black Press at its best.

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.

Social Security, Medicare Should be Off the Table

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(NNPA) Even though feuding Democrats and Republicans reached a last-minute deal on New Year’s Day to avoid the fiscal cliff, a lively debate will continue in coming months over the role the federal government should play in the lives of its citizens.

In one corner are Republicans who contend that federal spending has run amuck – and it should be slashed. In the other corner are Democrats, including President Obama, who make the right oral arguments, but the wrong moves to defend such worthy American staples as Social Security and Medicare. In most political crises, Republicans will fight and Democrats will take flight.

Let’s begin with a president who doesn’t seem comfortable in the rough-and-tumble world of politics. He has a tendency to give away the store even before the store opens up its doors for business.

As Paul Krugman wrote July 31, 2011 the New York Times, “Republicans will surely be emboldened by the way Mr. Obama keeps folding in the face of their threats. He surrendered last December, extending the Bush tax cuts; he surrendered in the spring when they threatened to shut down the government; and he has now surrendered on a grand scale to the raw extortion over the debt ceiling. Maybe it’s just me, but I see a pattern here.”

Unfortunately, that pattern remains unbroken.

A Center for Policy and Budget Priorities blog noted, “Boehner complains that, in what the White House describes as an offer of $1.2 trillion in spending cuts and the same in tax increases, Obama counts interest savings that accrue as spending cuts, thus making the one-to-one ratio illegitimate.

“More importantly, however, is that, when viewed correctly and in their entirety, the non-interest spending cuts under the President’s latest offer would actually exceed his proposed tax increases and would roughly equal the spending cuts that Boehner himself proposed in his deficit-related negotiations with the President last year.”

And that’s on top of cuts already made.

The CBPP also pointed out, “When those negotiations broke down, the President and Congress enacted the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA), which established annual caps on discretionary spending for each of the next ten years. These caps, which will cut spending by what the White House estimates to be $1 trillion over the next decade, reflected a tentative agreement by the President and Speaker over discretionary spending in those negotiations.”

President Obama has already signaled a willingness to make additional concessions on Social Security and Medicare.

Let’s take a closer look at Social Security.

A story by FAIR noted, “Social Security is not bloated or poorly run. Its shortfall is primarily the result of people living longer, and therefore drawing benefits longer.”

As a CBPP fact sheet observes, “In June 2012, 56 million people, or about one in every six U.S. residents, collected Social Security benefits. While three-quarters of them received benefits as retirees or elderly widow(er)s, another 11 million (19 percent) received disability insurance benefits, and 2 million (4 percent) received benefits as young survivors of deceased workers.”

It also noted, “Social Security benefits are much more modest than many people realize. In June 2012, the average Social Security retirement benefit was $1,234 a month, or about $14,800 a year. (The average disabled worker and aged widow received slightly less.) For someone who worked all of his or her adult life at average earnings and retires at 65 in 2012, Social Security benefits replace about 41 percent of past earnings. This replacement rate will slip to about 36 percent for a medium earner retiring at 65 in the future, chiefly because the full retirement age, which has already risen to 66, will climb to 67 over the 2017-2022 period.

“Moreover, most retirees enroll in Medicare’s Supplementary Medical Insurance (also known as Medicare Part B) and have Part B premiums deducted from their Social Security checks. As health-care costs continue to outpace general inflation, those premiums will take a bigger bite out of their checks.

“Social Security benefits are modest by international standards, too. The United States ranks 30th among 34 developed countries in the percentage of a median worker’s earnings that the public-pension system replaces.”

Social Security plays an outsized role in the lives retired African-Americans.

“Social Security is a particularly important source of income for groups with low earnings and with less opportunity to save and earn pensions, including African Americans and Hispanics,” CBPP said. “Among beneficiaries aged 65 and older, Social Security represents 90 percent or more of income for 35 percent of elderly white beneficiaries, 42 percent of Asian Americans, 49 percent of blacks, and 55 percent of Hispanics.”

Yes, money spent on Social Security and Medicare is well spent. And that’s why Obama should summon the courage to stand his ground.

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.

National Rifle Association Misfires Again

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(NNPA) When the National Rifle Association finally revealed last week what it was willing to do to help curb gun violence in schools, it fired a blank.

“Politicians pass laws for Gun-Free School Zones. They issue press releases bragging about them. They post signs advertising them. And in so doing, they tell every insane killer in America that schools are their safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said at a so-called news conference in which he refused to take questions.

As 20 innocent kids, most of them 6-years-old, and six caring adults were being buried last week, the best idea the NRA had to offer was for us to begin arming teachers with guns. That’s the same feeble, ineffective “answer” LaPierre provided five years ago after the Virginia Tech shootings. Instead of making productive suggestions in the aftermath of 26 deaths in Newtown, Conn., LaPierre went on to blame Congress, President Obama, the media, video game manufacturers – everyone but the NRA, which thinks it should be alright for citizens to own an arsenal of automatic weapons.

LaPierre failed to note that many schools already have armed guards on site. Columbine High School, for example, had a two armed policemen stationed in the school in 1999, yet 15 people were killed and 23 injured.

The NRA executive sought to belittle gun-free school safety zones. But Media Matters, the watchdog group, pointed out: “In fact, primary and secondary schools – where firearms are typically prohibited – are much safer environments for young people than the surrounding communities, even taking into account horrific school shootings. Since the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics began recording homicides at schools in the 1992-3 school year, the proportion of youth homicides that occurred at school has never exceeded 2 percent of total youth homicides. Suicide was also much more likely to occur away from school.”

It added, “Even gun advocate Gary Kleck noted in his 1997 book Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control that “Both gun carrying and gun violence are thus phenomena almost entirely confined to the world outside schools.”

No political rant would be complete these days without an attack on President Obama. And when LaPierre fired at the White House, he was again off target.

In his remarks, LaPierre said, “Ladies and gentlemen, there is no national, one-size-fits-all solution to protecting our children. But do know this president zeroed out school emergency planning grants in last year’s budget, and scrapped ‘Secure Our Schools’ policing grants in next year’s budget.”

What LaPierre neglected to say was the Secure Our Schools policy grants are not the only source of financing school safety initiatives. In fact, the Department of Education has requested nearly $200 million for its Successful, Safe and Health Schools program.

The NRA official also took aim at video games, listing some by name: “Bulletstorm,” “Grand Theft Auto,” “Mortal Kombat,” “Splatterhouse” and “Kindergarten Killers.”

But Max Fisher wrote in the Washington Post, “Looking at the world’s 10 largest video game markets yields no evident, statistical correlation between video game consumption and gun-related killings.”

While there is no provable link between acts of violence and video games, states with higher gun ownership rates and weak gun laws have the highest rates of gun deaths, according to the Violence Policy Center.

It said in one report, “The analysis reveals that the five states with the highest per capita gun death rates were Louisiana, Mississippi, Alaska, Alabama, and Nevada. Each of these states had a per capita gun death rate far exceeding the national per capita gun death rate of 10.34 per 100,000 for 2007. Each of the top-ranking states has lax gun laws and higher gun ownership rates.

“By contrast, states with strong gun laws and low rates of gun ownership had far lower rates of firearm-related death. Ranking last in the nation for gun death was Hawaii, followed by Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York.”

Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center and a native of Newtown, Conn., said the NRA’s plan to arm teachers won’t work.

“The NRA plan, which cynically allows for the continued sale of the assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines marketed by its gun industry corporate donors has already been tried, and it did not work,” Sugarmann said.

He added, “Now is the time to limit the increasingly lethal firepower available to civilians and halt the sale of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. The American people understand that – even if the NRA and the gun industry that helps fund it do not.”

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.

One Week, Two Sides of Obama

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(NNPA) Over the span of one week, two different sides of President Obama emerged in different yet unforgettable terms. This first was political, involving Susan Rice’s decision to withdraw her name as a candidate for Secretary of State. The second was deeply personal in the wake of mass murders in a Newtown, Conn. elementary school.

In a column explaining her decision to withdraw her name, Rice said:

“ …As it became clear that my potential nomination would spark an enduring partisan battle, I concluded that it would be wrong to allow this debate to continue distracting from urgent national priorities — creating jobs, growing our economy, addressing our deficit, reforming our immigration system and protecting our national security.”

That was the public perception: A loyal UN Ambassador declining to fight for a promotion so that an embattled president could avoid a showdown with Republican hypocrites in the Senate.

Just as Rice withdrew her name to give Obama a way out, I believe that if the president had insisted, Rice would have kept her name in the ring and ultimately would have been confirmed by the Senate to succeed Hillary Clinton as the next Secretary of State. But evidently Obama would rather switch than fight, to paraphrase an old cigarette commercial.

According to the Washington Post, “When asked if Obama had tried to dissuade her, [Rice] said that he ‘understood that this was the right decision, and that I made it for the right reasons.’”

In his statement accepting Rice’s decision, Obama said, “While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks, her decision demonstrates the strength of her character and an admirable commitment to rise above the politics of the moment to put our national interests first…”

Obama didn’t demonstrate any strength of character when he abandoned Rice. And this is one of the troubling things about Obama: He frequently caves in to Republican extremists, even when he has public opinion on his side.

When Obama first defended Rice, we all thought he had finally discovered some political backbone. He said at a news conference, “If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody they should go after me. For them to go after the UN ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi…to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.”

Game on. Or so we thought.

Had Obama chosen to fight, it would have set the tone for his second term. Instead, he retreated behind the comfort and safety of Susan Rice’s loyalty rather than standing up to conservative bullies. Republicans not only have Rice as a political trophy, but if Senator John Kerry is the eventual nominee as expected, they will get a chance to replace him with Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts.

This is not the first case of political timidity by Democrats. Republicans nominate – and fight for – for extreme ideologues to serve on the Supreme Court. Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and John Roberts are but three examples. But weak-kneed Democrats are afraid to fight for liberal justices and instead settle for centrist nominees who will be “accepted” by Republicans. The end result is a more conservative Supreme Court because Republicans nominate far-right conservatives and Democrats don’t have the guts to offer a liberal counter-balance. This was true of both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

While President Obama refused to fight for a Susan Rice nomination to be Secretary of State, he demonstrated in Newtown, Conn. that he is at his best when serving as Comforter-in-Chief to a bereaved nation.

The president visited the city two days after the massacre of 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. According to authorities, Adam P. Lanza, a 20-year-old gunman, inflicted the carnage before killing himself.

“I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief; that our world too has been torn apart; that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you, we’ve pulled our children tight,” President Obama said. “And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide; whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it.”

Obama noted that he has attended similar services in three other cities. “Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by a mass shooting. The fourth time we’ve hugged survivors. The fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims,” he said. “And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and big cities all across America – victims whose – much of the time, their only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

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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