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Detroit Unable to Outrun its Past

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(NNPA) I visited Cleveland a few years ago. As I was heading towards downtown I noticed a sign that showed pictures of blighted structures. There was a quote at the bottom of the sign which read, “Cheer up – we are not Detroit!” I guess all major U.S. cities can say the same thing. Nowhere in this nation is a city so ravaged with blight, poverty, drugs, violence, crime and hopelessness than Detroit, Mich. It didn’t happen overnight but the disaster is just about complete.

I lived five years in Detroit. It was the city where I met the love of my life, beautiful Kay DeBow, a native of Indianapolis. Gone are the days of great night clubs such as My Fair Lady, Lafayette Orleans, etc. There were so many pretty girls and before Kay I tried to love each and every one of them. The city had many challenges during the late 1970s and early 1980s but the people were tough and proud. Just like today, they ignored the ills. But now the ills are too big to ignore.

In 1950, the census reported Detroit had a population of 2 million. Today, there are less than 700,000 residents and that number is dropping as you read this article. This is a testament that many people during this time were miserable and decided to move out to the suburbs or even out of state. There are more than a few ex-Detroiters living in Texas, Georgia and California today. One of its pride and joy was Motown Records and it moved out completely. There are many empty corporate offices and plants now.

It all began to decline in the 1950s as this city became a complete “Union Town.” Cost of labor skyrocketed as unions demanded more and more pay and benefits which often the city could not afford (city, county and school employees). This pushed the pace for tax increases and many residents responded by moving out of the city.

As the more affluent (Whites) left the city limits, the Black vote became more powerful. By 1974, Detroit elected its first Black mayor. Coleman Young was a strong individual with a union background. Not only were people starting to leave but White business began to seek other venues. As the tax base weakened, the demand for higher taxes grew. It became a vicious financial cycle. Meanwhile, Mayor Young changed the city’s charter. All nine city council members became at-large. Consequently, he handpicked his city council members who happened to live in just about the same neighborhood. The people had no immediate representation for their particular neighborhoods – no accountability. Detroit has just nine city council members compared to 28 in Indianapolis.

Corruption became rampant. Even the Chief of Police William L. Hart was sentenced to 15 years in prison for stealing $1.3 million. His deputy, Kenneth Weiner, went in for five years. This epitomizes a deep problem in this city. It is a problem that still exists today. A former city council woman is in jail as you read this.

Then, during the late 1970s came the crack cocaine invasion into our cities. Detroit caught it steroid style. Murders plagued every section of town. But unlike the other cities, the drug problem has not subsided. It and its “first cousin” crime are worse than ever. The city just reported its highest homicide rate in 20 years. Detroit leads the nation in violent crimes for cities with 200,000-plus population.

The city is unable to shake off the ills. As Justice Croise says, “I’m a native Detroiter (born and raised), lifelong Democrat, and I voted for President Obama (twice), so I am well aware how “Republican” my stance on Detroit is, but having been on the inside of City Hall I have the first-hand experience to tell you that waste, fraud, ineptitude, selfishness, and a complete lack of personnel and financial management controls are holes in Detroit’s boat which no amount of bailing can keep afloat….Fundamentally obsolete union contracts… falsely protect underserving workers and processes….usurp the city’s ability to manage operations effectively and efficiently.” (The New American magazine)

Detroit cannot pay its bills and has no credit left. Its bonds are junk status and pretty soon the creditors are going to pounce. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has pledged to step in and hire an emergency financial manager to try and right this struggling ship called Detroit. The City Council and civil rights groups are crying foul. How can they when their backs are up against the wall? There is a child of Michigan who is equipped to handle this situation as he has done in the past. Yes, the best thing Gov. Snyder could do is convince Mitt Romney to come in and give Detroit a good scrubbing. This may be the only way to save it.

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

Ending Violence Against Women

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(NNPA) March is the official month to “discuss” women and it could not arrive too soon. What is sad about both Black History Month (February) and International Women’s Month (March) is that too many of us think that those are the only legitimate times of the year to discuss the issues affecting these respective groups. In either case, attention to the plight of women, in March or any other month, is warranted.

Last year seemed to be the year to attack women. The language of many on the political Right in during election season was so phenomenally backward that in a different context you would have wondered whether it was all an act. Suggesting that there are acceptable and unacceptable forms of rape, for instance, once again puts the burden on women for the violence that they experience.

This issue of violence against women needs much greater attention and we must realize that it is not only a domestic issue. A very good friend of mine had to flee her country of origin because of the physical and emotional abuse she was experiencing from her husband, knowing that her community would never believe that someone of the stature of her husband would be capable of such crimes. More to the point, she knew that her community would somehow conclude that she, rather than her husband, was the source of the problem.

Stories over the past year about assaults on women in Egypt have made any sane person’s skin crawl. But we should recognize that such assaults—rape and molestation of politically active women—are not new. There is a long history of rape and other forms of violence being used—domestically and internationally—as a means to subjugate politically active women, and those women who dare to speak out on social, economic and political issues, and not necessarily just on women-related issues.

This year’s Billion Rising protests were aimed at bringing international attention to the matter of violence against women. The consciousness and concerns raised by this and other such efforts needs to be sustained throughout the rest of the year. Real attention needs to be focused on young men so that they understand that violence against women is totally unacceptable. A different sort of attention needs to be focused on women such that those who experience violence do not internalize this experience, blaming themselves. But the attention must also go to other women who, because of the male supremacist societies in which we live, will on occasion close their eyes and ears to the pain of victimized women, in the worst case joining in the chorus of putting the blame on women.

March 2013 is just the right moment to raise popular attention to violence against women. We have to shift the impulses, particularly of men, such that violence against women is not met with silence, nor met with excuses, but is met with support to women and condemnation of all perpetrators of violence.

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 at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Car-title loans: $3.6 billion in Interest Paid on $1.6 Billion in Loans

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(NNPA) In today’s struggling economy, many consumers find themselves short on cash. When consumers seek a credit remedy, one particular lender is likely to bring more problems than solutions: companies that make car title loans.

According to new joint research report by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), the average car-title loan of $951 winds up costing the typical borrower $2,142 in interest. Nationwide, 7,730 car-title lenders in 21 states reap $3.6 billion in interest on loans valued at only $1.6 billion.

The car-title loan uses a borrower’s personal vehicle as collateral and additionally charges triple-digit interest rates, like those of payday loans. And similar to payday loans, the typical car-title loan requires full repayment in just one month. When borrowers cannot afford to pay in full, they are forced to renew their loan by paying additional interest and fees. The report found that a typical customer renews their loan eight times.

The report also found anecdotal instances in which car-title lender marketing practices have lured consumers by advertising 25 percent interest per month for a two-week loan. The actual rate of interest, however, equates to 300 percent annual percentage rate (APR). And it’s not as though 300 percent APR is an offsetting risk to the lender: Car-title loans are usually made for only a fraction of the vehicle’s market value – approximately 26 percent.

When borrowers can no longer keep up with interest payments, cars are repossessed and yet another fee is added to the borrower’s debt. On average, these repossession fees run in the range of $350-$400 or about half of the borrower’s remaining loan balance. The report found that one in six consumers was charged expensive repossession fees.

It’s easy to sum up the central problems with car-title loans. As the authors write in the report, these loans “carry inherently unsuitable terms that cause already vulnerable borrowers to pay more in fees than they receive in credit while putting one of their most important assets at risk.”

If you’re thinking that there ought to be a law against this obviously predatory product, be sure to tell your state legislators. Most states with car-title loan laws either have no interest rate caps, or authorize triple digit interest.

Tracking how these loans affect consumers is one thing; financial reforms are quite another. In this regard, the CFA-CRL report calls for public policy actions at the state and federal levels.

For example, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau could enact protections addressing loan terms and underwriting. States, on the other hand, could adopt rate caps of 36 percent on these loans.

Other policy recommendations include:

Changing loan terms to equal monthly payments that would enable borrowers to gradually pay down their debt;

Require written notice prior to borrowers and the right to redeem the vehicle before lenders repossess or sell the car; and

In the event of a vehicle sale, return to the borrower any surplus between a new sales price and the remaining amount of money owed.

In 2006, similar consumer protections were enacted to protect the military and their families. If President George W. Bush and Congress could agree to cap small loans at 36 percent annually for this consumer sector, it seems reasonable that the rest of us should be given the same protections.

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

More Meteors Coming Our Way by Bill Fletcher, Jr.

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(NNPA) We should not have been as surprised as we were. The 10-ton, 55-feet meteor that struck Russia on Friday, February 15 unleashed 500 kilotons of energy – at least 30 times that unleashed at Hiroshima in 1945. More than a thousand people were injured and heavy damage was done in the vicinity of the meteor.

And this was a small meteor.

The February 15th incident should be taken as a wake-up call to the nature of universe in which we live. While the February 15th meteor was the largest strike in a century, the reality is that there are even more dangerous objects in space, some of which have or will come quite close to Earth.

It is the case that some dangers can simply not be prevented. The February 15th meteor, for example, was relatively small and hard to detect. But there are species-ending objects in space that are being watched and for which we will need to be prepared.

Over time there have been various commercial films that suggest dangers that exist from various space objects. Generally speaking, in those films Earth survives a strike or a near strike, though there is always some degree of damage. Yet there have been moments in the history of the planet when there have been serious strikes. The dinosaurs, for instance, were very likely annihilated as a result of the “nuclear winter” that resulted from the collision of an object with Earth, the result of which was a dramatic shift in the climate.

At a moment in time when elected officials are focusing so much of their attention on cutting budgets rather than identifying the real needs of the population, it may seem a bit strange to emphasize the need for space exploration and preparedness. Yet that is precisely what is necessary. In 2029, an object designated as “99942 Apophis” will come very close to Earth. There were some predictions that it might strike, the results of which would be disastrous. Objects such as these will need to have their trajectories deflected in such a manner as to get them out of harm’s way. That means resources will need to be put into the necessary technology. I can only imagine what the Tea Party’s response would be to such suggestions.

As long as we view events such as the February 15th meteor as an aberration in an otherwise calm solar system, and, as a result, fail at long-term planning and risk assessment, we set up humanity for potential catastrophe. As with climate change, we can continue to act as if it is not happening, but when all the signs point in the direction of danger, one is a fool not to change course.

The February 15th meteor was not a made-for-TV film and neither was it a hoax. It was a reminder that nature engages in the unpredictable and unexpected. But it was also a reminder of the dangers inherent in this solar system, some of which can be addressed through a serious investment in research and planning.

Enough with the rhetoric surrounding budget deficits; let’s talk about the survival of life on this planet!

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 at www.billfletcherjr.com.

What Killed President Kennedy and Trayvon Martin?

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By Marian Wright Edelman
NNPA Columnist

(NNPA) Tuesday, February 26 marked one year since 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed by a gun wielded by self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman after he saw Trayvon walking home from a 7-Eleven with a bag of Skittles and bottle of Arizona iced tea.

Black children, youths, and families know first-hand that the killing of Black children by gun violence is not new but a relentlessly unreported and under-reported plague that has been disproportionately snuffing out Black child lives for a very long time. Fifteen percent of children and teens are Black but 45 percent of all children and youths killed by guns in 2010 were Black. Black boys 15 to 19 years old were 28 times more likely than White boys the same age to be killed in a gun homicide.

Shortly after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that it was time for our nation to do some soul-searching, and while the question “Who killed President Kennedy?” was important, answering the question “What killed President Kennedy?” was even more critical. Dr. King believed the answer was that “our late President was assassinated by a morally inclement climate”: “It is a climate filled with heavy torrents of false accusation, jostling winds of hatred, and raging storms of violence. It is a climate where men cannot disagree without being disagreeable, and where they express dissent through violence and murder. It is the same climate that murdered Medgar Evers in Mississippi and six innocent Negro children in Birmingham, Alabama.”

Dr. King further noted that the undercurrents of hatred and violence that made up this morally inclement climate were fueled by our cultural embrace of guns: “By our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim, by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the technique of killing, by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes.”

The same winds of hatred, storms of violence, and easy access to and glorification of guns that Dr. King believed killed President Kennedy would soon also kill Dr. King. Fifty years after Dr. King described our morally inclement climate, the outward signs of racial intolerance and hatred have undoubtedly diminished but there are still far too many reminders of the dangers lurking everywhere that devastate us all—like Trayvon’s senseless death for walking home while Black. Between 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and 2010, nearly 60,000 Black children and teens were killed by guns, more than 1,200 every year for 48 years. This is 17 times the number of reported lynchings of Black Americans of all ages since 1882 but we have not had an equivalent Black community anti-lynching movement to save our children from gun violence.

While there are troubling undertones of racial suspicion and fear in Trayvon Martin’s killing which must be addressed as justice is sought, the fact is that most Black young people murdered by guns are killed by Black shooters —just as most White children and teens murdered by guns are killed by White shooters. Sadly, the tragedies of Tucson, Aurora, Newtown and elsewhere made clear that none of us are safe anywhere or immune to the pervasive threat of gun violence.

We are all in the same boat and must act together to stop the plague of violence. Gun safety laws that only apply in one city or state can’t fully stop our national epidemic of gun proliferation and violence any better than we can stop a flu epidemic by vaccinating one family. We must struggle together to stop gun violence and to change the morally inclement climate that Dr. King warned about if we are going to protect all of our nation’s children everywhere.

Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

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