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George Curry

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.

Income Inequality Grows in U.S.

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(NNPA) The threat of an impending fiscal cliff has sparked intense conversations about whether upper income citizens are paying their fair share of taxes. But equally important – and perhaps more important in the long term – is the issue of income inequality.

A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute, two Washington-based think tanks, documents the growing gap between rich and poor as well as the rich and middle-class families. That pattern holds true both nationally and at the state level.

The report, titled, Pulling Apart: A State-by-State Analysis of Income Trends, found: “Over the past three business cycles prior to 2007, the incomes of the country’s highest-income households climbed substantially, while middle- and lower-income households saw only modest increases.

“During the recession of 2007 through 2009, households at all income levels, including the wealthiest, saw declines in real income due to widespread job losses and the loss of realized capital gains. But the incomes of the richest households have begun to grow again while the incomes of those at the bottom and middle continue to stagnate and wide gaps remain between high-income households and poor and middle-income households saw only modest increases.”

The poorest fifth of households in the U.S. had an average income of $20,510. The top fifth had eight times as much – $164,490.

“On average incomes fell by close to 6 percent among the bottom fifth of households between the late 1990s and the mid-2000s, while rising 8.6 percent among the top fifth,” the report found.

“Incomes grew even faster –14 percent – among the top 5 percent of households.

A similar gap existed been top earners and middle-class households.

“On average, incomes grew by just 1.2 percent among the middle fifth of households between the late 1990s and the mid-2000s, well below the 8.6 percent gain among the top fifth,” the report stated. “Income disparities between the top and middle fifths increased significantly in 36 states and declined significantly in only one state (New Hampshire.)”

The report contains charts that show how income equality plays out at the state level.

The state with the largest household income gap was New Mexico, where the bottom fifth averaged $16,319 annually and the top fifth of households earned $161,162, a top-to-bottom ratio of 9.9. New Mexico was followed, in order, by Arizona, California, Georgia, New York, Louisiana, Texas, Massachusetts, Illinois and Mississippi.

New Mexico also had the greatest gap between the middle fifth of households ($51,136) and top fifth ($161,162), a ratio of 3.2. New Mexico was followed, in order, by California, Georgia, Mississippi, Arizona, New York, Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Louisiana.

Those gaps were even larger when poor and middle-class households were compared with the top 5 percent of all earners. For example, the income of the top 5 percent of households was 13.3 times the average income of the bottom fifth. The ratio was more than 15 times that in Arizona, New Mexico, California, Georgia and New York.

According to the report, the major reason for the growing economic disparity has been the stagnant wages for workers in the low and middle-income brackets while wages of the highest paid employees have grown significantly.

“The erosion weakness of wage growth for workers at the bottom and middle of the income scale reflects a variety of factors,” the report noted. “Over the last 30 years, the nation has seen increasingly long periods of high unemployment, more intense competition from foreign firms, a shift in the mix of jobs from manufacturing to services, and advances in technology that have changed jobs. The share of workers in unions also fell significantly.

“At the same time, the share of the workforce made up of households headed by women – which tend to have lower incomes – has increased. Government policies such as the failure to maintain the real value of the minimum wage and to adequately fund supports for low-wage workers as well as changes to the tax code that favored the wealthy have also contributed to growing wage inequality.”

Authors of the report made the following recommendations for narrowing the inequality gap:

Raise and index the minimum wage;
Improve and extend unemployment insurance;
Make state tax systems more progressive by weighing he impact of sales tax and user fees on low-income families and
Strengthening the safety net.

“The consequences of growing income inequality reach beyond individual families,” the report stated. “For instance, in order to compete in the future economy, states and the nation as a whole need a highly-skilled workforce. But research shows that children from poor families don’t perform as well in school and are likely to be less-prepared for the jobs of the future. Moreover, as income gaps widen, wealthy households become increasingly isolated from poor and middle-income communities. This hurts the nation’s sense of community and shared interests, for example, undermining support for public schools and other building blocks of economic growth.”

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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