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George Curry

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.

Word and Number Games Played in Fiscal Showdown

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It should be embarrassing enough that President Obama and House Republicans postponed making tough fiscal decisions by kicking the can down the road to New Year’s Day – when certain automatic budget cuts will go into effect unless they act to avoid what is called a fiscal cliff. Instead of moving quickly to solve their self-created problems, both sides continue to misrepresent basic facts.

For example, House Speaker John Boehner [D-Ohio] has criticized the Obama administration for refusing to give list of specific cuts. He said the administration “put $400 billion worth of unspecified cuts that they’d be willing to talk about.”

FactCheck.org stated flatly: “Boehner is wrong.” It explained, “The president’s deficit-reduction plan, as proposed to Congress in September 2011, itemizes ‘nearly $580 billion in cuts and reforms to mandatory programs, of which $320 billion is savings from Federal health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.’ Those proposals are also listed in the president’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal in a section, beginning on page 23, titled ‘Cutting Waste, Reducing the Deficit.’

“The Medicare proposals, for example, are a mix of reduced payments to certain providers, including teaching hospitals and post-acute care facilities – as well as the higher premiums and new fees for certain beneficiaries…”

FactCheck.org, an organization that holds public officials accountable, also noted that Republican are running a numbers game.

“In a Dec. 3 letter to the president outlining the GOP counterproposal for deficit reduction, Boehner and other GOP leaders said there is ‘four times as much tax revenue as spending cuts’ in the president’s proposal,” the organization recalled. “The GOP math works like this: Obama’s proposal includes $1.6 trillion in new tax revenue and roughly $400 billion in spending cuts. In an email to us, Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said that ‘when Sec. Geithner made his proposal to us, the number he used – repeatedly – was $400 billion.’ However, as we mentioned earlier, on several Sunday talk shows, Geithner said the total savings comes to $600 billion over 10 years.”

Both Republicans and Democrats are playing being selective in their choice of words.

“In part, the discrepancy is a matter of language. Republicans are saying ‘spending cuts’ while Democrats are saying ‘savings,’ ‘reforms’ and ‘spending cuts.’ But the more substantial difference between the Democrats’ and Republicans’ spending cuts-to-tax hike ratios is that Republicans do not count the $1 trillion in discretionary spending cuts agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011,” FactCheck.org states. “The White House argues those are part of the ongoing negotiations to resolve a deficit crisis. Nor does the GOP include the $800 billion ‘saved’ from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

President Obama and Secretary of Treasury Timonty Geithner overstate exaggerate the amount of spending cuts in the president’s plan, according to FactCheck.org.

“On NBC’s ‘Meet the Press,’ Geithner said, ‘We have laid out a very detailed plan of spending cuts, $600 billion dollars in spending in mandatory programs over 10 years.’ The president made the same claim in a Dec. 4 interview with Bloomberg News, saying his proposal has ‘$600 billion in additional cuts in mandatory spending.’

“It’s true that there’s nearly $600 billion in estimated savings from mandatory programs: $326 billion in health programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, and $254 billion in other programs, such as farm subsidies. But not all of these are ‘spending cuts,’ and the administration’s own deficit-reduction plan doesn’t label them as such – instead calling them a combination of ‘cuts and reforms.’ “There are tens of billions in new fees and surcharges and increased premiums in Medicare alone.

Table S-10 of the revised fiscal 2013 budget proposal outlines numerous other new and higher fees under the section titled ‘Mandatory Initiatives and Savings.’”

Amid the word and numbers games, the public is clear about what should be done, even if Washington isn’t.

A Gallup poll in November found, “Forty-five percent of Americans now say they favor reducing the federal budget deficit with an equal balance of tax increases and spending cuts, up from 32% last year. At the same time, the percentage favoring an emphasis on spending cuts is now 40%, down from 50% last year, while the percentage in favor of reducing the deficit primarily through tax increases is unchanged at 11%.”

A Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll conducted Nov. 29-Dec. 2 found that a majority of Americans –53 percent – would blame Republicans in Congress if Washington fails to reach a deal in deficit talks to avoid the fiscal cliff.

The survey found that only 27 percent would fault President Obama would if negotiations between the executive and legislative branches of government fail, 12 percent would split the blame equally between the two sides and 2 percent have no opinion.

Like Ronald Regan, this could be Obama’s “make my day” moment.

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 Right-Wing Witch Hunt Against Susan Rice

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(NNPA) Media Matters, the media monitoring group, has published a report titled, “Myths And Facts About The Right-Wing Witch Hunt Against Susan Rice.” It is a point-by-point rebuttal of some of the most flagrant lies being about United Nations Ambassador Susan E. Rice, President Obama’s leading candidate to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Below are some of the highlights:

MYTH: Rice Fabricated Her Statements As Part of An Obama Administration Cover-Up.

FACT: A Washington Post editorial [11/22/12] noted: “Ms. Rice’s Comments” On Sunday Shows “Were Based On Talking Points Drawn Up By The Intelligence Community.” It explained:

“[A]s congressional testimony has established, Ms. Rice’s comments on several Sunday television talk shows on Sept. 16 were based on talking points drawn up by the intelligence community. She was acting as an administration spokeswoman; there was nothing either incompetent or deliberately misleading about the way she presented the information she was given.

“… Nor was her account of what happened as far off the mark as Republicans claim. Though investigations are not complete, what has emerged so far suggests that the attack was staged by local jihadists, not ordered by the al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. Officials believe that it was inspired in part by demonstrations that took place that day in Cairo. That is not so far from Ms. Rice’s explanation that ‘this began as a spontaneous . . . response to what transpired in Cairo.’”

MYTH: Rice Had No Reason To Connect Benghazi Attack To Anti-Islam Video.

FACT: Rice Said Benghazi Attack Was A Response To Violent Protest At U.S. Embassy In Cairo … “On-the-ground accounts indicate that Ms. Rice’s description of the attack, though wrong in some respects, was accurate in others. Witnesses to the assault said it was carried out by members of the Ansar al-Shariah militant group, without any warning or protest, in retaliation for an American-made video mocking the Prophet Muhammad.” [The New York Times, 11/27/12]

MYTH: Rice Prematurely Gave A Definitive Assessment Of The Attack.

FACT: During Sunday Shows, Rice Repeatedly Emphasized Ongoing Investigations And Cautioned Against Jumping To Conclusions.

RICE: …. first of all, it’s important to know that there’s an FBI investigation that has begun and will take some time to be completed. That will tell us with certainty what transpired.

“But our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous – not a premeditated – response to what had transpired in Cairo. In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated.

“We believe that folks in Benghazi, a small number of people came to the embassy to – or to the consulate, rather, to replicate the sort of challenge that was posed in Cairo. And then as that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons, weapons that as you know in – in the wake of the revolution in Libya are – are quite common and accessible. And it then evolved from there.

“We’ll wait to see exactly what the investigation finally confirms, but that’s the best information we have at present.” [ABC News, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, 9/16/12]

MYTH: Rice Should Have Called The Attack Terrorism Because She Saw Classified Intelligence Suggesting Possible Al Qaeda Involvement.

FACT: References To Al Qaeda Were Removed To Protect National Security … The New York Times reported on Nov. 16:

“David H. Petraeus, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers on Friday that classified intelligence reports revealed that the deadly assault on the American diplomatic mission in Libya was a terrorist attack, but that the administration refrained from saying it suspected that the perpetrators of the attack were Al Qaeda affiliates and sympathizers to avoid tipping off the groups.

“Mr. Petraeus, who resigned last week after admitting to an extramarital affair, said the names of groups suspected in the attack – including Al Qaeda’s franchise in North Africa and a local Libyan group, Ansar al-Shariah – were removed from the public explanation of the attack immediately after the assault to avoid alerting the militants that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them, lawmakers said.”

Media Matters observed, “The article also noted that Petraeus reportedly said that after the references to the specific terrorist groups were removed and replaced with the less specific word ‘extremists,’ ‘the final document was put in front of all the senior agency leaders, including Mr. Petraeus, and everyone signed off on it.’”

There are legitimate questions that should be asked of Susan Rice such as her service on the National Security Council at the time of the Rwandan genocide and her role as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. But her confirmation should rest on her answers to legitimate questions, not an illegitimate political witch hunt.

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.

A 'Perverse' Move by the National Black Chamber of Commerce

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(NNPA) I have enjoyed an excellent relationship with the National Black Chamber of Commerce over the years. I have conducted media training sessions at national conventions, spoken at functions sponsored by state and local affiliates, and enjoyed a friendship with many of its top officers, including president and co-founder Harry C. Alford. That’s why I was stunned and mystified when, in the course of researching a challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to learn that the group had filed a friend-of-the-court petition with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting an objection filed by Shelby County, Ala.

In short, Shelby County – after losing at the federal district and appeals court level – appealed to the Supreme Court, hoping to overturn the provision of the Voting Rights Act that requires jurisdictions with a proven history of discrimination in elections to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department before implementing changes in voting laws that might adversely impact Black voters. The court is expected to issue a ruling next summer.

In its petition, the National Black Chamber of Commerce said, “Section 5 is no longer necessary to combat widespread and persistent discrimination in voting and now, perversely [my emphasis], serves as an impediment to racial neutrality in voting and to the empowerment of state and local officials who represent minority constituencies.”

Perverse? Nothing is more perverse than a Black business group, with no direct interest in a case, favoring the elimination of a major tool that helps remove the last vestiges of discrimination against African-American voters and officeholders.

I placed a call to Alford to ask why the National Black Chamber of Commerce decided to align itself with right-wing groups that routinely oppose affirmative action, the Voting Rights Act, and any other legislation that seeks to level the playing field for African-Americans and other people of color.

Alford said he filed the brief out of concern for Black lawmakers, many elected after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He asserted that the cumbersome pre-clearance process is a burden on Black elected officials.

But there is only one problem with Alford’s position – no reputable national organization representing Black elected officials have called for an end to Section 5 or any other provision of the Voting Rights Act. Not the Congressional Black Caucus. Not the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. Not the National Conference of Black Mayors. Not the National Organization of Black County Officials.

I told Alford even if he believes what he was saying, there are ways for jurisdictions covered by Section 5 to “bail out” of the pre-clearance requirement. In fact, I told him, 46 jurisdictions had done just that and two more cases are pending. So if any official wants to be exempted, all they need to do is show they have not run discriminatory voting operations for the past 10 years. After having assured me earlier that he had read the voting law, Alford said evidently he had “not read far enough” because he was unaware of that bail out provision. It’s perverse for Alford to challenge the provision of an important law that he was not thoroughly familiar with. Finally, the National Black Chamber of Commerce (not to be confused with its rival U.S. Black Chamber) asserted in its petition: “The Chamber rejects the assumption underlying Congress’s reauthorization of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that the exceptional circumstances which justified close federal oversight of the electoral practices in many states and localities in 1965 and 1975 persist today.”

Evidently, that was another perverse instance of Alford not reading far enough into the public record.

Congress renewed Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in 1970, 1975, 1982 and for another 25 years in 2006. In its petition, the Justice Department noted, “based on its exhaustive review of the record, the [lower] court confirmed that Congress had found ample evidence of a history and ongoing pattern of purposeful, state-sponsored voting discrimination in covered jurisdictions.”

The petition explained, “Congress concluded that ‘without the continuation of the [VRA’s] protections, racial and language minority citizens will be deprived of the opportunity to exercise their right to vote, or will have their votes diluted, undermining the significant gains made by minorities in the last 40 years.’”

With bipartisan support, the Voting Rights Act was extended in 2006 on a 390-33 vote in the House and a 98-0 vote in the Senate. George W. Bush signed the bill into law.

With that kind of broad support in Congress and from a Republican president, it is indeed perverse that the National Black Chamber of Commerce would have the gall to support eliminating a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.

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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