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The Federal Shutdown is Very Personal

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(NNPA) In the interest of full disclosure, I work for the largest labor union in the federal sector: the American Federation of Government Employees. But I am not writing on their behalf or because I was told to do so. This is personal.

Federal employees are largely invisible. Actually, we take them for granted. With certain exceptions such as TSA and the VA, most of us think almost nothing about them until and unless we have a problem that forces us into the federal system, be that Social Security, worker rights, food safety, or any number of other issues. We get so used to the services provided by federal workers that many of us actually believe that these matters are being performed automatically. I would go further and suggest that some of us seem to believe that it is being done through magic.

With the government shutdown/lockout, we come face-to-face with the reality of government. Various functions have stopped working altogether; agencies and offices are closed; and almost a a million workers are out on the street.

I know some of those workers. Let me tell you a bit about what they are facing: complete uncertainty. For years, politicians, particularly but not exclusively Republicans, have been making federal workers scapegoats for any number of problems. Then last year there was the sequestration which, in effect, cut the pay of hundreds of thousands of workers. As someone said to me the other day while we were waiting to go through airport security, “…the cost of living is not dropping so why are workers being asked to take more and more cuts?” Why, indeed!

With the shutdown/lockout, these same workers have been thrown into a mist. They have rents and mortgages to pay; they have credit card payments; they have children in school, yet those in Congress who have shut down the government care not one bit for this reality. They see the federal worker as an enemy and they want that enemy punished. The shutdown is a “two-for” as far as the Tea Party Republicans are concerned: go after the Obama administration and go after the federal worker.

In the name of blocking healthcare for more than 50 million people, the Tea Party Republicans have shut down the government. In shutting down the government they have rendered another million people unemployed, thereby setting in motion economic dominoes that may wreck entire communities. One would think that they might think twice about this, but the political motivations of this attack are too strong for some and if they have to bring everything down in order to prove a point, they are apparently quite willing to do so.

This only stops when we stop them.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. works for the American Federation of Government Employees. This commentary does not necessarily represent the views of the AFGE and was not written on their behalf. Follow Bill Fletcher, Jr. on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Some Homosexuals Confuse a Crime with a 'Right'

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By Raynard Jackson
NNPA Columnist

As it is written, “there is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”
- Proverbs 14:12

(NNPA) What an appropriate statement to describe the continued denigration of the moral fabric of American society. I am fed up with everyone trying to be accommodating of homosexuals when they refuse to reciprocate towards those who disagree with them.

Let me explain.

Most of you probably have never heard of Kaitlyn Hunt. She is a 19-year-old from Sebastian, Fla., southeast of Orlando. Last week, she pleaded no contest to two counts of misdemeanor battery, misdemeanor contributing to the dependency of a child and two counts of felony interference with child custody.

Under the terms of the agreement, Hunt will be sentenced to four months in jail, to be followed by two years of house arrest with electronic monitoring, and then nine months of monitored probation. If she has no violations, she will not be a convicted felon under Florida law, and she will have the possibility of sealing her file and having the case expunged after 10 years.

Here’s the sordid background.

Hunt, who was 18 years old at the time of the crime, and an unnamed 14-year-old freshman girl went to the same high school and played on the varsity basketball team together. The coach discovered that the two girls were having sex and expelled Hunt from the team. The coach reported the situation to the police, as required by state law, and Hunt was subsequently arrested and sent to another school to finish her senior year. Under Florida law, it is illegal for an older teen to have sexual contact with a 14-year-old, even if the relationship was consensual. In Florida, the age of consent is 16.

The judge allowed Hunt to be released after posting $ 5,000 bond, with the pretrial court order prohibiting her from any contact with the victim. Hunt recently had her bond revoked because she violated the judge’s order.

She was discovered to have sent more than 20,000 text messages to the victim and had engaged in sex despite the judge’s no contact order. The text messages included nude photos and videos of Hunt masturbating. She had secretly given the victim an iPad so they could stay in touch.

The disturbing aspect of this disturbing case is the response from Hunt’s parents and homosexual activists. According to news accounts, Hunt’s father said, “It’s horrible. For my daughter’s sexual preferences, she’s getting two felony charges. It could possibly ruin her future.”

Hunt’s mother said, “They [the victim’s parents] are out to destroy my daughter because they feel like she made their daughter gay. They see being gay as wrong and they blame my daughter. Of course, I see it 100% differently. I don’t see or label these girls as gay. They are teenagers in high school experimenting with their sexuality – with mutual consent. And even if their daughter is gay, who cares? She is still their daughter.”

Mind you that the victim’s family never said anything about their position on homosexuality Yet, the predator’s family is purporting to speak for the victim’s parents.

After reading what her parents said, it is quite easy to see why the daughter has no values or morals. The parents are supposed to be adults, but they are behaving like children. Wait, it gets worse, if that’s possible.

Some guy named Steven Hunt, Jr., set up a supporters’ page for Hunt and it has more than 300,000 people who have asked that all charges be dropped because this is a case about “consensual” sex. Never mind the fact that in Florida, a 14-year-old is not legally able to consent to sex.

The Florida ACLU interjected, “Older high schoolers dating their younger counterparts is an innocuous, everyday occurrence that is not prosecuted – regardless of sexual orientation – and not a crime on par with predatory sex offenses.”

Innocuous? Hardly. A crime? Absolutely.

The victim’s family is the only ones showing any class – or common sense – in this repulsive incident. They said in a statement, “It was never our intent to harm the defendant and this case was never about gender or sexual orientation. It was about age-appropriate relationships and following the rules and laws of our society.”

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has not uttered a word about this criminal act. By their silence, one can deduce they believe that it’s okay for an 18-year-old to have “sex” with a 14-year-old as long as they pretend to be in love.

This case makes me sick to my stomach. This issue here is about the rule of law and nothing else, regardless of how homosexual activists try to rationalize it.

Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a Washington, D.C.-based public relations/government affairs firm. He can be reached through his Web site, www.raynardjackson.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at raynard1223.

Africans Reunite in Italy

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(NNPA) It was an unusual setting in Italy, or at least so I thought. My wife and I sat at a meeting there of the directorate (national leadership) of an immigrant association known as “Prendiamo La Parola.” Looking around the room, it felt more like we were attending a leadership meeting of a Pan African Congress. The African World was represented in the room. Actually, not just represented; it was the entire room.

Hailing from the Dominican Republic, Peru, Tunisia, Algeria, Ethiopia, the Cameroon and Nigeria were leaders of a developing movement in Italy of migrants. Like migrants around the world, they left their home countries for an assortment of individual reasons. Taken together, it represented the response by millions of people to the legacy of colonialism, the slave trade, wars, environmental devastation, and economic underdevelopment, all largely imposed on the global South by the global North. The slogan that summarizes this movement, not just in Italy but in much of the world, was coined in Britain: “We are here because you were there!” In other words, migration from the global South is the direct result of the assault on the global South by the global North over hundreds of years.

There are migrants from other parts of the world in Italy, for sure. The Philippines has a large contingent that is especially centered in domestic service. Eastern Europe has sent waves, especially from Albania and more recently Rumania. Yet, it is the migration from the African World that has especially become the site of controversy in Italy since it has been seized upon by right-wing groups as a way of scaring non-migrants with the fear of a racial takeover of the country by the ‘hordes’ from the South. Most recently the Italian Minister for Integration—a woman of African descent—has come under assault, literally and figuratively, by right-wingers, including being satirized as an orangutan. It is this sort of right-wing racism that has brought groups like Prendiamo La Parola together, and focused them on building alliances with other parts of Italian society to fight not only against such racist attacks, but for an expansion of Italian democracy.

One feature of the plight of African migrants to Italy—a plight suffered by many migrants to the USA—that struck me was the near irrelevance of the skills that they had gained in their home countries once they have arrived in Italy. Individuals who gained advanced degrees from credible institutions and/or practiced in respectable professions in their home countries, have found themselves relegated to janitorial positions, tour guides, personal service, or dangerous manufacturing once they migrate. It may be around this matter that these and other migrants begin to push the envelope, i.e., to pose the question as to why is that their prior skills and achievements should be cast aside?

Sitting in a room with people from Africa and those of African descent was sobering. It placed the issue of migration and immigration in a very different light. I would like to have captured that experience and the countless discussions on film and shown them to African American audiences in the USA. It would become, to borrow the cliché, a teachable moment.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Black and Latino Wealth Drops to Record Lows

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(NNPA) As part of the 43rd annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Conference, the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) unveiled new and disturbing research on how communities of color are suffering a worsening racial economic disparity. The State of Housing in Black America reveals that while the private sector and financially secure consumers recover financial ground from the Great Recession, much of Black America is being economically left behind.

Long-time civil rights activist Benjamin Chavis, Jr., wrote the report’s foreword advising,

“African-Americans have a large buying power nowadays, yet we continue to be the most foreclosed and wealth-depleted community in America. We cannot and will not just be bystanders as the American economy continues to rebound.”

Julius L. Cartwright, NAREB president added, “Not only has our homeownership rate plummeted, but also accessing mortgage credit has become nearly impossible outside of government insured programs such as the FHA and VA.”

The report examines how African-Americans and Latinos have been cut off from the housing market and home finance in addition to employment opportunities. Further, according to the report, until economic equity and recovery are added to the long-standing issue of equal access to housing, the ability for communities of color – Black and Brown – to build wealth will remain an elusive and distant dream.

For example, today the majority of mortgage loans made to African-Americans are FHA backed. Long-lured by FHA’s low down payment requirement (usually 3.5 percent), today’s costs for these loans have increased, particularly in the areas of mortgage insurance and fees. Consequently, although available, FHA loans will cost more over the life of the loans and they will also be higher than a decade ago.

By contrast, the report states that loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, “are all but impossible for many African-Americans to secure.” The typical credit scores of borrowers for these mortgages are in the upper 700 range with down payments at or near 20 percent and usually resulting in a more affordable monthly payment.

According to James Carr, lead author of the report, “One of the major problems with most proposals to revamp Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is that access and affordability is not the driving goal of those recommendations. Rather, risk sharing between the private and public sector seems to be the driving mantra.”

In the meantime according to the report, nearly 5 million borrowers remain either in the foreclosure process or are seriously delinquent on their mortgages. Between January 1, 2007 and May 31, 2013, nearly 14.8 million foreclosure notices were filed. Since the onset of the crisis, African-Americans had 7.8 percent of mortgage originations, but 11.6 percent of completed foreclosures. When similar statistics for Latinos are combined, people of color are more likely to have completed foreclosures at a rate higher than 70 percent.

The loss of homes to foreclosures is also lost family wealth. While African American and Latino families respectively lost 53 and 66 percent of their net worth, non-Hispanic White households lost wealth was limited to 16 percent.

The report states, “More than 90 percent of the amount of total aggregate wealth lost during the collapse of the housing market and the subsequent recession has been recovered. However, this wealth recovery is not equally shared across households as a large proportion has occurred for stocks that are disproportionately held by high-income, typically non-Hispanic White households.”

The report urges measurable progress in four key areas before consumers of color can begin to financially recover:

Reducing the existing number of underwater mortgages through principal reduction;
More consumer mortgage purchase originations
Easing of tight mortgage credit; and
Reducing the growth of investor purchases that transform former owner-occupied dwellings into rental properties.

“Owning a home has been the most successful vehicle for people of color to build wealth”, observed Carr. “But with a tightening housing market and weak labor market and no exceptional programs to assist communities battered by the crises, the outlook does not look promising.”

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

Obama Should Not Play 'Global Cop'

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(NNPA) The central issue that should concern us when it comes to the chemical weapons crisis in Syria is not the identity of the perpetrator but which international body responds to such a crisis. What we are looking at in the current situation is the Obama administration (following from its predecessors) ignoring international law when it fails to suit their strategic objectives. Instead, again like its predecessors, the administration has decided to follow the law of the ‘star chamber,’—a body that sees itself above the law, is unaccountable, and believes itself capable of making and implementing any decision it deems appropriate—that is, the law of the self-appointed, akin to vigilante ‘justice.’

In some respects, the issues at stake are simple and clear. International law instructs us that a nation can use military means when it has been attacked or when facing imminent attack. There are no exceptions outside of agreed upon international actions through institutions such as the United Nations. Every argument made by the Obama administration fails this test. It suggests that the gravity of the killings in the chemical weapons attack in Syria should lead us to ignore international law in the name of taking a stand against a cruel action. This argument is simply flawed.

There are cruel actions, in fact, criminal violations of international law that take place on a regular basis across this planet. In Palestine, there is an open ignoring of international law when it comes to the so-called separation (apartheid) wall established by the Israelis, not to mention the illegal Israeli settlements on occupied land.

No cruise missiles have hit Israel.

There is, in other words, a selective approach by the administration when it comes to the question of at what moment military means are appropriate in response to violations of international human rights law. In the current situation, the administration is simply dead wrong.

There have been many progressives who have engaged in a debate as to whether the chemical attack was carried out by Assad’s forces or the rebels. While I think that it is quite probable that it was carried out by Assad’s forces, especially in light of the sorts of military activities in which it has engaged, that is not the central discussion to have right now. The central point at this moment is that it is not up to the U.S.A. to play global ‘cop’. It is up to international bodies to investigate the situation and recommend action.

Should the U.S. wish to play a constructive role, it should take the advice that so many have been offering: work with the Russians and other stakeholders to achieve a political settlement of the Syrian civil war. Naked aggression in violation of international law brings us no closer to a constructive resolution of this chemical weapons incident, or the Syrian civil war itself.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the co-author of Solidarity Divided. He can be reached at papaq54@hotmail.com.

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