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Message to Congress: Show Courage on Gun Safety

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“Sometimes I close my eyes and all I can remember is that awful day…But other times, I feel Ben’s presence filling me with courage for what I have to do…” - Francine Wheeler, mother of 6-year-old Ben Wheeler, one of the 26 victims of the December 14 Sandy Hook tragedy.

(NNPA) I recently took my children to see the newly released movie, “42,” the story of Jackie Robinson’s courageous struggle to become the first African American Major League Baseball player. The movie also highlights the courage it took for Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to sign Robinson to a major league contract in 1947, marking the end of more than 50 years of all-White teams.

In his first year with the Dodgers, Robinson was subjected to racial taunts and threats from White fans and opposing teams, as well as hostility from some of his own teammates, who objected to sharing the field and locker room with a Black ballplayer. But Jackie Robinson exhibited a rare brand of courage, refusing to lash out as he piled up hits and blazed the base paths on his way to becoming Major League Baseball’s first Rookie of the Year. Robinson went on to have a Hall of Fame career, and until his death in 1972, he was also an all-star champion of civil rights. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once described Jackie as, “… a pilgrim that walked in the lonesome byways toward the high road of Freedom. He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom.”

The life of Jackie Robinson is a profile in courage that has inspired generations of Americans, including millions of young children. I thought about that this past weekend as I watched the tearful plea of a mother who lost her child on December 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Just four months after the loss of her son, Ben, Francine Wheeler found the courage to deliver President Obama’s weekly address to the nation. Visibly shaken, she used the opportunity to passionately implore Congress to “come together and pass commonsense gun responsibility reforms that will make our communities safer and prevent more tragedies like the one we thought would never happen to us.”

After the Senate failed last week to display similar courage by passing bipartisan measure to expand background checks for online gun purchasers and gun show sales, it is clear that Congress could use some courage.

As the movie “42” makes clear, change occurs when people choose to show courage in the face of adversity. The film demonstrates that it takes the courage of more than one to bring about change and that courage means doing what’s right, regardless of the odds. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball years before Thurgood Marshall argued Brown v. Board of Education and Rosa Parks took her seat on the bus. There was no blueprint for him to follow. But Congress has a blueprint to guide them as they are challenged to enact meaningful legislation to make America safer. It’s time to put the politics aside, and pick up some courage.

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

The Shifting Sands of Sequestration

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(NNPA) Sequestration is like the sand in an hour glass. When the sand starts falling, it does not seem to amount to much. The full section of the hour glass seems not to change, at least at first. Yet at a certain moment it becomes clear that the sand is disappearing and that what was once full is now approaching empty.

When sequestration began, it began with a whimper. Discussions took place for months about the dangers of sequestration. We were led to believe that it was not very likely that it would actually happen because, after all, neither side really wanted to court such a potential disaster. We were wrong on a number of counts.

The first danger that we have to acknowledge is that sequestration actually is to the advantage of the Republicans. They are the ones looking for cuts. Yes, some of them are complaining about this or that cut, but the reality is that they are seeking cuts. In that sense, they can live with sequestration, or at least they think that they can. There is, as a result, no pressure on their side to end this.

The second danger is precisely the hour glass problem. In the beginning, there seemed to be little damage. Federal workers, of course, were upset, but many people are prepared to write off federal workers. In fact, too many people have thought about sequestration as punishing federal workers for any number of alleged evils. So, large segments of the public have been willing to let it happen.

The third danger is that no one seems to have a clear sense as to how to arrive at a budget that would actually end sequestration. That is the punch line: there are vastly different views on what government should look like and what it should fund.

Yet, with sequestration some strange things started to happen. An excellent example has been the closing of airport control towers around the country. In one story from the Midwest, pro-sequestration citizens were shocked to discover that sequestration meant that the airport control tower in their home town was going to be shuttered. Ooops! Was that supposed to happen?

Sequestration, as with other austerity measures, is a response to an imaginary crisis. The notion that the main problem facing the U.S.A. is debt is irrational. The main challenge is job creation and income. With job creation and income one gains tax revenue. Continuous cutting means fewer people on the payrolls and deeper levels of debt and poverty. One does not need to be an economist to see that reality.

Sequestration and other austerity plans are aimed at strangling the government and forcing an end to various programs that have been won over the last century. This is precisely what is meant when the right-wing suggests that it wants to return government to the size that it was under President McKinley (1898), i.e., to return government to the size that it was prior to regulations to protect our food, prior to unemployment insurance, prior to programs for the homeless, etc.

While many people have watched and yawned as sequestration has unfolded, the reality is that the sand is dropping faster and faster, and soon enough we will all find that we have been touched by further unnecessary, and frankly immoral, cuts.

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.

Time to Embrace Blackopoliticonomics

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By James Clingman
NNPA Columnist

(NNPA) As George Benson sang in Moody’s Mood, “There I go, there I go, there I go…” making up words again. I couldn’t resist this one in light of our penchant to choose sides when it comes to economics versus politics. It seems we cannot understand, nor act upon, the fact that by combining the two disciplines and leveraging the resulting power from such a sensible strategy we could build a stronger base and finally put an end to being ignored and taken for granted.

So I made up this word in an effort to indoctrinate us, to condition us, to program us, or whatever you want to call it, so that Black people can stop being sacrificial lambs led to the political and economic slaughter.

We do not have to choose between the two, but as I always say, if I had to choose I would definitely take economics over politics. Why? Isn’t it obvious that while politics runs most of our lives (because we have no real economic base) it certainly does not run the lives of those who are economically empowered?

Whatever Wall Street wants Wall Street gets. The stock market hits record highs; but Black people are sinking lower in net worth and income. Black people are too busy watching the Wives of … or Scandal, or all of those BET Award shows to recognize the subordinated consumer-oriented role we are playing in the economy. Like sister Sweet Brown said about the fire on YouTube, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

As the war machine cranks up once again, the moneychangers are rubbing their greedy hands together in anticipation of another windfall from supplying the tools of war, the food for the troops, the equipment, the uniforms, and all the accoutrements necessary to dispose of those pesky Koreans, Syrians, and Iranians.

This is the country of the Golden Rule – He who has the gold makes the rules. Blacks aren’t making any rules; we are just playing by them, and being used as grist for profit mill. Sadly, some of us are so entrenched in the political shenanigans in Washington, so enamored by the celebrity of our president and those with whom he socializes, that we either ignore the weightier things in life or simply refuse to listen, even though we know that the road we are on leads to destruction.

Just watch the dueling news channels, MSNBC and Fox, and you will get a steady dose of Obama love and Obama hate. He can hardly do any wrong on MSNBC and can seldom, if ever, do anything right on Fox. I often wonder if these newscasters have a life outside of the bashing they do of each other’s political parties. Even sadder is the fact that Black people, who have little or no skin in the game, take sides and starting fighting one another over emotional rhetoric centered on who likes or dislikes the POTUS and his policies.

It makes little sense for us to spend 90 percent of our capital and time on 10 percent of our problem, as Khalid Al-Mansour suggested in his book, Betrayal by any Other Name. When it comes to choosing instead of combining and leveraging, Al-Mansour says, “Blacks feel helpless because they hear so many conflicting voices and so much empty rhetoric. It’s easy to throw up one’s hands, get drunk, and have another baby. The African American has been hearing about the problem and the solution since he can remember and yet, his condition always continues to disintegrate.”

We get a daily dose of political rhetoric and hardly ever take any economic medicine; it’s no wonder that many Black people see no way out of our economic/political dilemma. We have chosen political rhetoric over practical tried-and-true economic initiatives to free us from psychological bondage – a prescription that has not and does not work.

The political hacks are doing what they do because they get paid to do it, not because they necessarily believe in everything they promote. Our problem is allowing these jokers to dominate our thinking and our actions, as though what they say, or who they support, or what ideology they promote will move Black people to a position of real power rather than mere influence. And if that happens at all, whatever influence we attain will have to be channeled through them, because they are the political gatekeepers.

As Malcolm said, “…you are chumps…” when it comes to politics; and I say we are pawns when it comes to economics. However, if we combine politics with economics and not be led around by the ears by so-called leaders who only care about themselves, their political connections, and the money they make from selling us down the road, we will be much better off than we are now.

So, turn off the television and start reading more, start learning more for yourself, and start initiating and participating in efforts, where you live, to combine and leverage your collective economic and political clout – a winning strategy for sure. In other words, start practicing “Blackopoliticonomics.”

Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.

Rodman-Styled Diplomacy Game being Played with North Korea

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(NNPA) There is this saying that “just because you are paranoid does not mean that people are not out to get you.” This saying is very important in understanding the dynamics of the North Korean’s relationship with the United States.

Nothing in this commentary is to serve as an apology for North Korea. Rather, it is critical that we have a better understanding of dynamics in the North Korean regime in order to avoid a major military clash.

The Korean peninsula was divided in the aftermath of World War II when Soviet troops, coming from the north, moved against the Japanese occupiers and U.S. troops moved up from the South. At the 38th Parallel, the peninsula was divided. Between 1945 and 1950, rather than the peninsula being unified, two separate regimes were established in the occupation zones (in the North it came to be known as the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea;” in the South, the “Republic of Korea”. A guerrilla war started in the South against a U.S.-supported dictatorship aimed at reunifying the peninsula. The U.S.A. remained committed to not only a divided Korea but also one that was led by their friendly dictator in the South.

In June 1950, the formal war in Korea began when North Korean troops moved south in what can accurately be described as a continuation of the civil war that had started shortly after the end of World War II. The U.S.A. was able to convince the United Nations to get involved in the war, which was followed by a massive U.S. intervention. U.S. troops came close to winning the war until they ignored the Chinese warnings to stay away from the border with China. U.S. General Douglas MacArthur seemed intent on provoking a war with China and reinstating the Guomindang government that had just been overthrown. At that point, 1 million Chinese troops came across the border pushing the US/UN troops back to the armistice line that currently divides Korea.

From 1953 through today tensions have flared up at various points. The USA has regularly threatened the North Koreans and for many years placed nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula. In North Korea, a fiercely independent Communist regime was established under Kim Il Sung. Although there is a political party–the Korean Workers Party–that theoretically leads the country, there has been something approaching a “red monarchy” dominating the North that began with Kim Il Sung and has been followed by his son and, now, grandson.

North Korea deeply fears attacks from South Korea and from the U.S. This fear is rooted in the reality of what took place from the end of World War II through today. The U.S.A. and the South Koreans have engaged in a mini-cold war with North Korea that has included both propaganda and military actions carried out by both sides against one another.

Much of what we have been witnessing in the current moment is a continuation of an almost bizarre effort by the North Koreans to get the USA to speak directly with them towards an ending of tensions on the Korean peninsula. That may sound odd since the North Koreans are threatening war, but at base the North Koreans want to have direct, one-on-one talks with the USA where they–the North Koreans–can be assured that there will be security for them on the peninsula.

When the U.S. refuses to have one-on-one talks with the North Koreans and refuses to acknowledge the legitimate interests that North Korea has in national security—irrespective of one’s view of the nature of the North Korean regime—tensions inevitably increase. When the North Koreans start throwing around suggestions of war and missile strikes they are playing directly into the hands of those in the U.S. who would like to turn North Korea into a cinder. As such, the rhetoric is useless, if not outright destructive.

Perhaps President Obama should do a version of what Dennis Rodman conveyed as the request from North Korea’s current leader: pick up the phone and give him a call. Yes, diplomacy is more complicated than that, but you get the point…

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.

Advocates Push to Preserve Foreclosure Program

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(NNPA) A broad coalition of state and national organizations is pushing to preserve a key federal program that has helped more than 1.1 million troubled homeowners and reduced mortgage payments by a median savings of $546 each month. The Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), created in response to the nation’s housing crisis, is set to close shop on December 31. Housing and consumer advocates are urging the U.S. Treasury Department to reconsider ending the program.

A March 26 letter to Jacob J. Lew, U.S. Treasury Secretary, was signed by 14 national organizations, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Fair Housing Alliance, National Urban League and the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL). Another 22 state and local groups, including the California Reinvestment Coalition, Mississippi Center for Justice and New York’s Empire Justice Center, joined with their national colleagues to fight for more foreclosure assistance.

The letter states, “Research has shown that foreclosure and delinquency rates have disproportionately impacted African-American and Latino families, and median household wealth has dramatically declined. . . High foreclosure rates in communities of color have also impacted those homeowners neighboring foreclosed properties, and estimates show that these properties stand to lose $1 trillion in home equity as a result.”

Launched in 2009, HAMP initially sought to lower monthly mortgage payments to an affordable and sustainable level through a uniform loan modification process. HAMP funding was a part of the $29.9 billion authorized for the Making Home Affordable Program. Later in 2012, program options were expanded to focus on principal reduction modifications, expand relief for unemployed homeowners and ease other alternatives to foreclosures such as short sales.

To date, $12 billion has been obligated to pay incentives for HAMP homeowners already in the program. With the approaching expiration date, any unspent funds will ultimately be returned to Treasury’s general fund. Yet, many communities have yet to economically recovery.

For example, HAMP’s unemployment program offers a minimum of 12 months of temporary forbearance to allow these homeowners time to focus on securing new employment while still owning their homes. Depending upon homeowner circumstances, forbearance plans can be approved with some required payment or none at all. Thus far, more than 30,500 homeowners have accessed this program.

It is also relevant to note that African-American unemployment is higher than most. According to recent U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, Black unemployment at 14 percent is double that for White Americans.

The nation’s metro areas with the largest HAMP participation rates are Los Angeles-Long Beach, New-York-New Jersey, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Chicago-Northwest Indiana, and California’s Riverside-San Bernardino. California and Florida homeowners represented more than a third of all HAMP activity.

Additionally, the most recent HAMP program performance report shows that the program is working as it increasingly helps eligible borrowers by forgiving a portion of their mortgage debt. HAMP homeowners who received permanent mortgage modifications were granted a total of $9.2 billion in principal reductions. Additionally, 114,000 homeowners avoided foreclosures through short sales or deed-in-lieu.

Nationwide, the average non-HAMP mortgage modification reduced monthly payments by $389; while the average HAMP modification reduced the same monthly payments by $558. Similarly, non-HAMP servicers reduced interest rates in 73 percent of modifications made in the fourth quarter of 2012. Participating HAMP servicers reduced interest rates for 81 percent of borrows during this same period.

Of all HAMP trial modifications, 80 percent of the homeowners were at least 60 days delinquent at the trial start. The chief reason – for 68 percent of the troubled homeowners – was financial hardship because of reduced income or unemployment.

In 2012, CRL research found that among the 10.9 million homes that went into foreclosure between 2007 and 2011, more than half of the “spillover” cost to nearby homes have led to a $1 trillion loss in home equity for African-American and Latino families. High concentration of foreclosures in neighborhoods of color perpetuated disproportionate burdens in America’s continuing foreclosure crisis.

Coalition leaders agree: “Effective housing policies must recognize that neighborhoods with higher foreclosure rates and deeper foreclosure-related impacts will take more time to recover.”

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

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