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A Backdoor Approach to Lowering Wages

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(NNPA) There has arisen a peculiar phenomenon over the past seven years. Conservative legislatures in states such as Florida and Wisconsin have passed statutes that limit the ability of cities and counties to raise minimum wages and pass other legislation to advance the interests of workers. This has become part of a well-oiled operation by the political Right to restrict the ability of working people to improve their living standards.

This effort has emerged in response to increasing demands around the U.S. for raising minimum wages, including the achievement of what is frequently referenced as a “livable wage.” Given gridlock in Congress and the unwillingness of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives to do anything about the declining living standard of U.S. workers, many labor unions and other worker organizations have turned their attention to the fight at the state, county and municipal levels. Locally-based campaigns have been conducted, and frequently won, improvements in minimum wages and other employment standards. Most recently strikes have been carried out by many fast-food workers demanding increases in their salaries.

Conservative state legislators have struck back by attempting to strangle democracy at the local level. Despite all of the conservative political rhetoric about local control and local initiative, when it comes to the rights of workers, this is quickly forgotten. Replacing local control are directives from the state capitals made at the request of business lobbies that see the only way to improve their – business – situation as being through ruining the situation of the worker.

In the November 2014 elections, there will exist the possibility, in many states, to turn this around. In addition to court action challenging such outrageous state legislative actions, the most powerful response should be success at the polls by candidates who are actually interested in representing working people.

The crushing of the working person, in the name of improving the climate for business, obviously does nothing positive for working people. It also does nothing positive for democracy. It actually represents a further demonstration of the evolution of the U.S.A. toward nothing short of a plutocracy: a society dominated by a small minority of its wealthiest citizens.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. He is the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

'Gainful Employment' Attacks Educational Opportunities

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(NNPA) On March 17, Obama administration took aim at career colleges and schools across the country with a new raft of regulations that would displace millions of minority students, strain local economies and reduce overall access to education for all Americans. The administration’s proposed “gainful employment” rule is nothing short of a direct attack on private-sector schools, which have a long tradition of helping to provide opportunity for life improvement to the underserved in this country by providing them access to important vocational training and higher education that they would otherwise be unable to access.

The proposed rule targets programs offered at private-sector schools and colleges and would deprive them of access to Title IV federal student aid if they fail to meet certain arbitrary and arduous metrics. While the administration claims that these regulations will help lower student debt and single out “bad actors,” it neglects to mention that they will also shut down accredited programs with good outcomes and high pass rates on independent licensing exams, or force them to abandon their mission of serving many African-American, Latino and other minority students who otherwise would not have the opportunity to pursue a higher education. As the Washington Post editorial board recently noted, the current draft regulations would force schools to admit only low-risk students, making it harder for minorities, low-income people and nontraditional students to obtain the education needed to improve their lives.

Independent studies have shown that if the current draft of the rule were implemented as written, 42 percent of programs at proprietary schools would fail or be in the failing zone. This includes more than one-third of certificate programs, three-quarters of associate degree programs, one-fifth of bachelor degree programs and one-third of professional degree programs. Moreover, in excess of 1.1 million students that are currently enrolled in these programs would lose eligibility for Title IV federal student aid under the proposed regulations, many while in the middle of pursuing their education.

By singling out private-sector schools with this rule the administration shows a clear preference for public and non-profit colleges and universities, despite the fact that many of these schools perform no better, and in many cases, worse, than their private-sector peers. On top of that, community colleges would not even be able to absorb all of the students affected by the proposed rule. Many community colleges are already filled to capacity, and, in many case, making substantial cuts.

Despite concerns from industry experts and members of Congress, including members from the president’s own party, the Department of Education continues to push this regulation on the American people. Additionally, the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, has attempted to back up the administration’s work with questionable, and sometimes false, statistics and misleading statements. Duncan claimed that 72 percent of graduates from for-profit programs earned less than high school dropouts, a statistic that was proven to be “bogus” by the experts at the Washington Post. Nevertheless, the Education Department has taken to social media to promote its fabricated numbers in an attempt to deceive the American public and damage the reputation of these important institutions.

Recent reports show that student’s aren’t enamored with the administration’s decisions, either. To the contrary, students realize that these regulations would not only hurt their own academic opportunities, but those of many future students and employers who rely on these important programs. CBS’s South Carolina affiliate television station recently captured comments from some of these students who are preparing for important careers in specific fields. “I believe that it not only just limits choice but it also limits creativity,” said one student studying fashion retail management.

Gutting important programs offered at private-sector institutions by denying students the financial aid they need does nothing to further the administration’s stated goals of improving access and affordability in higher education. Furthermore, the regulations would serve as another setback to the U.S. economy by adding to the skills gap we are currently experiencing in this country.

If the administration truly believes its rules to be so great, it would apply them equally to all institutions and end its crusade against private-sector institutions. In fact, as the administration develops its proposed college scorecard, if the metrics embodied in the gainful employment rule are a good measure of quality and outcomes for the private sector institutions, why not use those same metrics to measure the outcomes and quality of programs offered at traditional institutions, public and non-profit? The 845-page draft gainful employment regulation fails to acknowledge the important role that private sector colleges and universities play in educating an often neglected segment of the U.S. population and shows just how out of touch the administration is with the American people. The administration should rethink its gainful employment rule if it truly wants to help students receive the education of their choice and expand opportunities for low-income minority Americans in higher education.

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

An Open Letter to Democratic Party Fundraisers

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(NNPA) I am deeply concerned by the sorts of emails and hard-mail communications that I have been receiving from you folks. The sense of panic and the sky-is-falling approach toward the November 2014 midterm elections has led me to immediately delete emails and rip to shreds the hard-mail. Let me explain.

If you are going into battle and want to inspire the troops, the last thing that you want to do is to keep telling them that the situation is catastrophic. You want your forces to both understand what they are up against AND you want to inspire them to do more than they might otherwise do because you have a plan that just might succeed. In the case of fundraising, you want potential funders to believe that their contributions can and will make a difference rather than that their funds will be useless since the cause is hopeless.

I am being very blunt. Midterm elections are always difficult for the party that occupies the White House. This is compounded this year (as it was in 2010) by an Obama administration and a Democratic Party that seems less than excited about hitting the Republicans where it hurts: in their racism, sexism and anti-worker bias.

Instead, I feel that we those of us who are interested in progress are treated to are endless suggestions that the world will end on November 4th unless we make X,Y, or Z financial contributions and unless any Democrat gets elected.

What I want to hear from you fundraisers is about winning strategies. I want to hear about how my few dollars will help move organizing and mobilizing teams. I want to hear about the media messages that need to be constructed—and are being considered—to expose the avarice and greed of the political Right.

I am not interested in hearing gloom and doom. Let me put it more directly in case you have missed my point. If you are interested in depressing me, you have succeeded. If you are interested in getting my money, you have failed.

Any questions?

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist, educator and writer. He is the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Jim Crow's Ancestors – and Children

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(NNPA) At first glance, one might be hard-pressed to think that a recent opinion piece on the 1970s origins of the religious right as a political force and a new book on the causes of America’s founding, the war of independence of the 1770-1780 decades, would have much in common—beyond the fact that both were written by distinguished historians.

But both exercises do have a great deal in common.

For one thing, they show how history – the truth of what happened at particular moments or periods in the past – can be buried beneath more palatable myths. For another, they reveal how race and racism have always been at the center of the American experience. For still another, they underscore that anti-Black bigotry has always been the cornerstone of America’s tradition of exclusion – the “evil twin,” if you will, of the nation’s vaunted tradition of inclusion.

For example, contrary to the naïve predictions of the first weeks after President Obama’s 2008 election, his tenure has proven how a powerful force what one might call the Jim Crow Impulse remains in American society.

Writing in the May 27 issue of Politico.com magazine, Dartmouth College historian Randall Balmer corrects the notion that religious right was formed to oppose the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion.

Actually, as Balmer shows in “The Real Origins of the Religious Right,” much of the evangelical leadership at the time either approved of the decision or was largely indifferent to it. One reason for that, Balmer writes, was that many considered the campaign to outlaw abortion a “Catholic issue.”

He contends that the religious right’s true beginnings occurred nearly half a decade earlier. That’s when White evangelicals in the South began establishing all-White “Christian academies” in response to the possibility that the political victories of the Civil Rights Movement would actually bring integration to public schools throughout the region.

Balmer cites the Green v. Kennedy federal court lawsuit of 1970 as pivotal.

The previous year, a group of Black parents in Holmes County, Miss. had sued the U.S. Treasury Department to prevent it granting tax-exempt status to three new Whites-only K-12 private academies there. The backdrop to the suit was that when federally-mandated desegregation had been implemented in the county’s public school system that very year, the number of White students in the public schools declined from 771 to 28. The next year, 1970, every White school-age student in the county was enrolled in a Whites-only academy.

The Black parents argued that those schools’ discrimination policies made them ineligible for federal support. A federal court issued a preliminary injunction in favor of the parents; and later that year the Nixon administration ordered the Internal Revenue Service to issue new regulations denying tax-exempt status to all such “seg academies.” The religious right’s fury at that ruling festered until 1979, when, as Balmer writes, its leader “seized on abortion not for moral reason, but as a rallying cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. … Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than [its] real motive: protecting segregated schools.”

Gerald Horne, professor at the University of Houston, contends in his just-published book, The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origin of the United States of America, that it wasn’t “liberty” but the protection of White economic and racial advantage that forged the successful settler rebellion that created the United States of America.

In other words, the American War of Independence wasn’t a revolution. It was a “counter-revolution” to protect the British colonists’ use of African slavery as the foundation of their economic well-being. That’s one reason it was overwhelmingly led by wealthy merchants – not only slave owners and slave traders in the South, but titans of the Northern-centered banking, insurance, manufacturing and shipping industries as well. (In fact, the most prominent slave traders of the period lived in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.)

The supporting evidence Horne presents from the decades of 1688 to 1776 that are the book’s focus is voluminous and persuasive. It includes his extensive discussion of the intrigues and wars among Britain, France and Spain over their North American possessions; the influence of the continual slave revolts in the Caribbean as well as on the North American mainland; and, ultimately, Britain’s use of African soldiers in the troops it sent to police its increasingly troublesome colonists.

All this, and more, Horne asserts played a role in the “grimy origin” of the United States. But at its center was the issue of the presence and status of the African-becoming African-American peoples whose enslavement was the source of White wealth and power in the New World.

That’s a perspective worth remembering as the U.S. prepares to celebrate its counter-revolutionary war of independence.

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.

Obama’s Reprehensible Foreign Policy

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I was reading an editorial criticizing President Obama for not doing more in the international realm. Specifically, it suggested that he was too weak. He was supposedly not responding sufficiently to the alleged Russian threat to Ukraine, for instance. Another example is that some critics believe that the administration should have done more in response to the Arab Spring, in particular, offering more assistance. The editorial dribbled on.

I found this to be an odd criticism. When I look at Obama’s foreign policy I actually see a high level of international engagement; it is just that much of it is reprehensible. Let’s note a few and you see what you think.

  • Drone strikes: Hundreds of people have been killed in drone strikes during the course of the Obama administration. These strikes violate the sovereignty of various countries, e.g., Pakistan, Yemen. Civilians are killed; nations protest; terrorists are encouraged; yet they continue.
  • Destabilization of governments: The government of Honduras was overthrown and, while the Obama administration initially complained, it not only did nothing to restore the democratically elected government. Yet, it got in the way of the restoration. In Venezuela, despite the initial overtures by the late President Hugo Chavez, the administration has given a cold shoulder to the Venezuelan government and, even worse, given encouragement to the opposition to persist in efforts to undermine the government (despite the government’s clear electoral mandate).
  • Continuous support of Israel and frustration of justice for the Palestinians: Despite rhetorical interventions, the Obama administration has been steadfast in supporting Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territories, including ignoring the expansion of illegal settlements and sanctioning the inhumane blockade of Gaza. While Secretary of State Kerry was allegedly attempting to work out a peace deal, he was putting pressure on the Palestinians – who have very little to give – to concede more and more, while the Israeli government thumbed its nose at Kerry. Yet, there were no consequences.

So, when the Republicans and some Democrats assert that the Obama administration has been timid, I ask “How?” When they suggest that the administration seems to have no foreign policy, I ask, “What world are you looking at?”

And when regular people ask “Is this what we voted for in 2008 and 2012?” I answer: ”No it is not, but since we did not keep the pressure on Obama, it is what we were handed.”

It’s not too late for those who believe in global peace and justice to insist on a different course of action.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer, educator and activist. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

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