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George Curry

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.

Obama Should Thank Jesse Jackson for Winning Formula

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(NNPA) President Obama’s campaign strategists are receiving a lot of richly deserved praise in the wake of the president’s victory over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Nov. 6. Obama, who lost the majority of the White vote for the second time, won the election by assembling a progressive Democratic coalition pioneered by Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988.

I covered Jackson’s 1984 campaign for the Chicago Tribune and witnessed Jackson laying the groundwork for what would become two Obama victories.

“America is not like a blanket – one piece of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same texture, the same size,” I heard Jesse Jackson say more times than I care to remember. “America is more like a quilt: many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread. The White, the Hispanic, the Black, the Arab, the Jew, the woman, the Native American, the small farmer, the businessperson, the environmentalist, the peace activist, the young, the old, the lesbian, the gay, and the disabled make up the American quilt.”

The concept was more frequently expressed in terms of a rainbow.

The organization Jackson heads is known as Rainbow PUSH, the result of a merger between Operation PUSH, the organization Jackson created in 1971, and the Rainbow Coalition, an apparatus he developed following his 1984 presidential run.

In his stirring speech at the 1984 National Democratic Convention in San Francisco, Jackson spoke at length about the Rainbow Coalition.

“…We cannot be satisfied by just restoring the old coalition,” he said. “Old wine skins must make room for new wine. We must heal and expand. The Rainbow Coalition is making room for Arab Americans…The Rainbow Coalition is making room for Hispanic Americans…The Rainbow is making room for the Native American…The Rainbow Coalition includes Asian Americans…The Rainbow Coalition is making room for the young Americans…The Rainbow includes disabled veterans…The Rainbow is making room for small farmers…The Rainbow includes lesbians and gays.”

According to exit polls, Romney won the White vote 59 percent to 39 percent for Obama, which was 3 percent lower than the president’s 2008 outing. Like Clinton before him, Obama demonstrated that a candidate for national office does not need a majority of the White vote in order to win.

Blacks, who made up 13 percent of the electorate in 2012, favored Obama over Romney 93 percent to 6 percent. Latinos, who made up 10 percent of the electorate, preferred Obama by a margin of 71 percent to 27 percent. Asians, 3 percent of the electorate, supported Obama over Romney 73 percent to 26 percent. The remaining non-White groups, with 2 percent of the electorate, backed Obama by a margin of 58 percent to 38 percent.

Obama won the 18-24 category – 11 percent of the electorate – 60 percent to 36 percent for Romney. He also won the 25-29 age-group, which is 8 percent of voters, 60 percent to 38 percent.

Those describing themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual – 5 percent of voters – favored Obama over Romney 76 percent to 22 percent, compared with straight voters – 95 percent of the electorate – who were evenly divided, with Obama and Romney each receiving 49 percent.

Fifty-eight percent of union households – 18 percent of the electorate – supported Obama this year, down just one percentage point from four years ago. They supported Obama at even higher rates in the swing states of Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada.

Despite Jackson’s early coalition-building efforts, it’s no secret that relations between Obama and Jackson are as chilly as the temperature was on the day Obama was first inaugurated as president.

The friction was exacerbated in July 2008 after Jackson had been interviewed on Fox News. When the television interview was over, Jackson, apparently unaware that his microphone was still live, told a fellow guest: “See, Barack’s been talking down to Black people…I want to cut his nuts off.”

Not surprisingly, the relationship between the two immediately went south, so to speak. An understandably miffed Barack Obama has since kept his distance from Jackson.

But as Obama reaches out to Republicans whose stated goal was to make sure he didn’t get re-elected, perhaps it’s time for Obama to have détente with Jackson. The legendary civil rights leader has done his penitence. Because of what Jackson later described as his “crude and hurtful” comment – made at a time African-Americans were hoping to elect their first Black president – many Blacks mentally shipped Jackson off to a political Siberia, a never-never land where they didn’t care if he was never heard from again.

As Obama extends the olive branch to his ardent political foes, he should invite Jackson to visit him in the White House. If nothing else, President Obama can thank Jesse Jackson for paving the way for his two memorable victories.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and editorial director of Heart & Soul magazine. 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’s Media Coverage Half as Positive as 2008

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(NNPA) Barack Obama campaigned for president four years ago on a theme of change. Now, four years later, he has seen change in the way the media has covered him – change for the worse. That’s a major finding of an exhaustive study by the Pew Research Center titled, “Winning the Media Campaign 2012.”

The report stated, “…The starkest difference is that coverage of Obama is only half as positive this year (19%) as it was in 2008 (36%). And while his percentage of negative coverage in 2012 (31%) is only modestly larger than four years earlier (29%), neutral coverage has grown markedly, to 50% this year compared with 35% in 2008.”

Mitt Romney received more favorable treatment from the media than Arizona Republican Senator John McCain did four years ago, according to the study.

“The percentage of positive coverage about Romney is very similar to McCain’s four years earlier, but there is about one-third less negative coverage of the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign,” the report stated. “Romney has also seen considerably more neutral coverage than McCain received in 2008.”

Of the three major networks, only ABC gave Obama more positive coverage than negative (27 percent to 20 percent). CBS and NBC were essentially the same. On CBS, 17 percent of the stories about Obama had a positive tone and 28 percent were negative. Of NBC’s stories, 16 percent had a positive tone and 29 percent were negative.

Romney did not fare any better on the networks. On ABC, Romney’s negative stories outpaced his positive ones (33 percent to 18 percent). On CBS, 15 percent of the stories about Romney had a positive tone and 29 percent were negative. NBC had an identical percentage of negative stories, but a slightly higher percentage of stories with a positive tone (18 percent).

The high-octane, opinion-driven cable networks provided decidedly partisan coverage of the two presidential candidates, with Fox favoring Romney, MSNBC backing Obama and CNN sandwiched between the two.

After studying the tone of coverage between April 27 and October 21, 2012, the Pew report found that 46 percent of the stories about Obama on Fox were negative and only 6 percent were positive. On MSNBC, by contrast, 39 percent about Obama were positive and 15 percent were negative. More negative than positive stories about Obama appeared on CNN, but only by a margin of 21 percent to 18 percent. Of the stories about Romney on Fox, 28 percent were positive and 12 percent were negative.

There was a huge imbalance on MSNBC, with 71 percent of the stories about Romney negative and only 3 percent positive. There were three times as many negative stories than positive about Romney on CNN (33 percent to 11 percent).

“MSNBC was especially negative in its treatment of Romney’s policy prescriptions,” the Pew study found. “Fully 75% of the stories focused on Romney’s policies were negative compared with 1% that were positive. For Obama, by comparison, 32% of policy stories were favorable while 18% were negative.”

The report stated, “Fox aired more negative stories about Obama than positive on every aspect of campaign coverage. When it came to policy, 6% of the stories on Fox about Obama were positive and 51% were negative.

“Fox also focused much more on Obama than on Romney. The Democratic Party nominee was a significant figure in 74% of Fox campaign stories compared with 49% for Romney.”

Unlike Fox and MSNBC, CNN devoted a similar amount of time to both candidates (63 percent to Obama and 59 percent for Romney.

“The biggest change in CNN coverage from four years ago is the number of stories with no clear positive or negative tone,” the report said. “In 2008, about a quarter of the stories for Obama (25%) and McCain (26%) were mixed in tone. In this campaign, the count of balanced stories has more than doubled in 2012, fully 61% of Obama’s stories were mixed compared to 53% for Romney.”

The report found social media far more critical of the candidates than mainstream media. On Twitter, 48 percent of the discussions about Obama were negative, compared with 58 percent for Romney. On Facebook, 53 percent on Obama were negative versus 62 percent for Romney. Comments about Romney on blogs were slightly more negative than those about Obama (46 percent to 44 percent).

“Throughout the eight-week period studied, a good deal of the difference in treatment of the two contenders is related to who was perceived to be ahead in the race. When horse-race stories—those focused on strategy, tactics and the polls—are taken out of the analysis, and one looks at those framed around the candidates’ policy ideas, biographies and records, the distinctions in the tone of media coverage between the two nominees vanish,” the report stated. “With horse-race stories removed, 15% of campaign stories about Obama were positive, 32% were negative and 53% were mixed. For Romney it was 14% positive, 32% negative and 55% mixed.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and editorial director of Heart & Soul magazine. 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 End of Republicans' "Whites Only" Strategy

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(NNPA) This will probably be the last presidential election in which Republicans can afford to ignore issues of paramount importance to Blacks and Latinos and expect to have a remote chance of winning the White House. Obama v. Romney is the political equivalent of Brown v. Board of Education. A separate and unequal approach to national politics is in its final days.

The U.S. is becoming increasingly diverse. The numbers tell the story. People of color, about one-third of the population, are expected to become a majority of the population in 2042 and 54 percent of the population by 2050, according to the Census Bureau. Latinos are expected to make up the largest share of that growth, tripling from one in six residents to one in three.

Meanwhile, Blacks and Asians are expected to grow at a rate of 60 percent by 2050. The Black share of the U.S. population will increase from 14 percent to 15 percent and Asians are projected to grow from 5 percent to 9 percent. By contrast, the non-Hispanic White segment will fall from 66 percent of the population to 46 percent.

As the country grows increasingly diverse, the Republican Party has made a narrow appeal to Whites and is viewed as hostile to the interests of Blacks and Latinos. For example, on the most recent NAACP Legislative Report Card covering the 112th Congress, every Republican in the United States Senate and House of Representatives earned an “F.” By contrast, 159 Democrats in the house earned As and only four received Fs. In the Senate, no Democrat earned an F and 47 got As.

At a time when the GOP could have expanded its appeal among voters, it has chased out White moderates in the mold of former Connecticut Sen. Lowell Weicker and former New York City Mayor John Lindsay and is now captive of the ultra-conservative Tea Party wing of the Party.

That is also true for race-sensitive Black Republicans. Former Assistant Secretary of Labor Arthur Fletcher, former Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, and former Secretary of Treasury William Coleman were Black Republicans who never turned their back on African Americans or the Civil Rights Movement. Now, Black moderates such as Colin Powell are shunned . Today’s GOP embraces the likes of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), a Black conservative who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in opposition to the University of Texas’s modest affirmative action program now under review by the Supreme Court.

Given the GOP’s sharp turn to the far right – it is so extreme that former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said even Ronald Reagan would not be welcome in the Republican Party today – it is not surprising that Mitt Romney’s strongest support is among White men.

According to a recent ABC News poll, Romney has a 65-32 percent lead over Obama among White men. That gap is twice as large as John McCain’s 57-41 percent margin over Obama among White men in the 2008 exit poll.

Obama outpolled McCain among White women by 13 points. He is leading Romney among that group by 15 percent, according to the ABC News poll. Still, that’s enough to give Romney 59 percent of the White vote.

Meanwhile, a Washington Post poll showed Obama getting 80 percent of the non-White vote. Romney has made no inroads among African-American voters, who are solidly for Obama, and is expected to receive a lesser share of the Latino vote than John McCain. Both Obama and Bill Clinton were elected with a minority of the White vote.

In addition to denouncing Obama’s handling of the economy, Romney has gone after Obama on food stamps. Romney said, “Forty-seven million now on food stamps. When he came to office there were 32 million. He’s added 15 million people.” Obama countered by saying the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, saw its greatest expansion under George W. Bush. Given the state of the economy, Obama said it is only natural that more people would need to rely on food stamps.

Like Ronald Reagan did while campaigning for president, Romney has injected welfare into the debate. He ran an ad in August saying the Obama administration had adopted “a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements.” The ad also said that under the plan, “you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job.”

FactCheck.org said Obama’s plan, which gave states more latitude to revise work requirements, neither gutted welfare nor eliminated the work requirement. The fact checker for the Washington Post gave Romney’s ad four Pinocchios , representing its biggest lie.

Of course, talk about welfare and food stamps is a subtle and supposedly respectable way to make an appeal based on race. We’ll see on Tuesday whether it works in this election. Whether it works or not, Republicans will have to find a different song in 2016.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and editorial director of Heart & Soul magazine. 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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