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A Diverse National Urban League Conference

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“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Nelson Mandela

(NNPA) Earlier this month, we announced a diverse list of speakers taking the stage at last week’s National Urban League Annual Conference in Cincinnati. They included Vice President Joe Biden; Republican Senator Rand Paul; Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz; Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus; and eight dynamic mayors from across the country. In response to those who questioned the wisdom of offering a forum to people whose views may depart from ours, I want to share my thoughts on why inclusion is not only the right thing, but the smart thing to do. We cannot preach it without also practicing it.

At the root of recent tragic events unfolding across the globe, as well as the persistent gridlock in our own Congress and even violent confrontations on the streets of our cities, is a lack of respect for other people with different points of view.  From our beginnings 104 years ago, the National Urban League has always believed that the best way to solve problems and get things done is through building bridges of cooperation that cross all boundaries of race, class, culture and ideology.

That is how Lincoln succeeded in ending slavery and passing the 13thAmendment.  It is how Dr. King, John Lewis and Lyndon Johnson led the fight for the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  It is how Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress finally defeated apartheid in South Africa.  It is also how Congress and the White House were recently able to come to agreement to pass the first real jobs bill in the last 10 years, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.  Nonviolent protest, civil discourse and political negotiation may be difficult and slow at times, but they lead to real and lasting success.

The point is, we don’t have to agree with someone’s views to have a meaningful dialogue with them. In fact, it is only by talking, listening and reasoning together, that we build trust, end stalemates and transform conflicts into solutions.  That is why we convened  such a diverse line-up of speakers in Cincinnati.  These include young people, women of power, business executives, educators and political leaders who represent progressive, conservative and other points of view.  We are also expanded  our search for solutions beyond Washington by inviting mayors from seven cities to share their unique perspectives on jobs, education, gun violence, business development and other issues affecting urban America.

No solution or compromise is ever reached in silence. As Dr. King and Nelson Mandela reminded us, those who are motivated by hate and bitterness only imprison themselves in endless cycles of pain and conflict.   We hope our Annual Conference will serve as an example of the kind of civil discourse and diversity of ideas that is essential to ending conflict and solving problems in our country and in our world.  We don’t have to adopt every view that is presented to us, but we should never devolve to a place where we stop listening to – or worse – respecting each other.

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

U.S. Foreign Policy Led to Border Crisis

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(NNPA) I have been increasingly concerned by the near hysteria in connection with the Central American immigrant children who have attempted to enter the USA, fleeing from poverty, crime and violence. The political Right in the USA is trying to make this the defining moment in their attacks on the Obama administration, playing to the worst and most xenophobic sides of the U.S. public. The Obama administration, true to form, has done a very poor job in responding to this insanity. They have particularly avoided saying something that could change the entire tenor of the debate. It goes something like this.

The immigration from Mexico and Central America cannot be understood outside of understanding U.S. foreign policy and, specifically, the relationship of the U.S. towards Mexico and Central America. Continuously, since the 19th century, the USA has interfered in the internal affairs of Latin America and the Caribbean. This has included direct invasions, e.g., the Dominican Republic in 1965; coups, e.g., the 1954 ouster of the Guatemalan President Arbenz; the promotion of insurgencies, e.g., the Contra war against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua; blockades, e.g., Cuba, Haiti (in the 1800s); and colonialism, e.g., Puerto Rico. As a result the entire region has been destabilized for more than a century. Added to that is that there exists a proliferation of U.S.-produced weaponry that has shifted, over time, from political battles to battles among and between various crime families.

To all of this, of course, one must add the economic domination of the region by the U.S. This, most notably, includes NAFTA which destroyed Mexican agriculture and resulted in a mass migration of Mexicans to the USA.

In order to address immigration, we must come to terms with the role of the United States in Latin American and the Caribbean. We cannot continue to act as if there is no correlation. We cannot continue to act as if the USA can avoid responsibility for the depth of the crises in these regions and simply say no to migration.

Yet, this is what most of the Republican Party and many Democrats seem to want to do. None of this is to suggest that the immigration crisis lends itself to easy solutions. What it is to suggest, however, is that people would rather stay in their own countries as opposed to migrating. That means that the U.S. can and should provide the necessary support to countries that are attempting to stabilize and grow. It should not be promoting or endorsing coups, as it did as recently as 2009 in the case of Honduras, or as it implies in its relationship to the Venezuelan opposition. It needs to be cooperating with the governments of Latin American and the Caribbean on the basis of mutual respect rather than imposing what it sees as solutions, a factor that has contributed to the near civil war situation involving criminal gangs in Mexico.

While the U.S. political elite, and much of our population, would rather forget history and ignore the role of the USA in the crimes against the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, if we want solutions, we need to bite the bullet, so to speak, and come to terms with our own role.

There actually is no alternative.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Payday Lender ACE Cash Express Fined $10 Million

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(NNPA) For the second time in as many years, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has fined a major payday lender. On July 10, Director Richard Cordray announced that one of the nation’s largest payday lenders, ACE Cash Express,  will pay $10 million in restitution and penalties for directing its employees to “create a sense of urgency” when contacting delinquent borrowers. This abusive tactic was used to perpetuate the payday loan debt trap.

CFPB has ordered ACE Cash Express to provide consumers with $5 million in refunds and the same amount in penalties for its violations. The firm operates in 36 states and in the District of Columbia with 1,500 storefronts, 5,000 associates and online loans.

“We believe that ACE’s aggressive tactics were part of a culture of coercion aimed at pressuring payday borrowers into debt traps,” said Cordray.  “Our investigation uncovered a graphic in ACE’s training manual that lays out a step-by-step loan and collection process that can ensnare consumers in a cycle of debt. When borrowers could not pay back their loans, ACE would subject them to illegal debt collection threats and harassment.”

Commenting on CFPB’s actions, Mike Calhoun, president of the Center for Responsible  Lending, said, “This enforcement action also confirms what our research found long ago: payday lenders depend on keeping vulnerable consumers trapped in an endless cycle of debt of 300-400 percent interest loans. . . .It’s real, it’s abusive and it’s time to stop.”

CRL research shows that payday loans drain $3.4 billion a year from consumers.  Further, CRL has long held that the payday industry preys on customers who cannot repay their loans.

Now, with CFPB releasing an item from ACE Cash Express’ training manual, that contention is proven to be true. The ACE graphic shows how the business model intends to create a debt cycle that becomes increasingly difficult to break and urges its associates to be aggressive.

Across the country, the South has the highest concentration of payday loan stores and accounts for 60 percent of total payday lending fees. Missouri is the only state outside of the South with a comparable concentration of payday stores.

Last year, another large payday lender, the Fort Worth-based Cash America International, faced similar enforcement actions when CFPB ordered it to pay $5 million in fines for robo-signing court documents submitted in debt collection lawsuits. Cash America also paid $14 million to consumers through one of its more than 900 locations throughout the United States, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

On the same day that the CFPB’s enforcement action occurred, another key payday- related development occurred.

Missouri Gov. “Jay” Nixon vetoed a bill that purported to be payday reform. In part, Gov. Nixon’s veto letter states, “allowing payday lenders to charge 912.5 percent for a 14-day loan is not true reform. . . Supporters point to the prohibition of loan rollovers; but missing from the legislation is anything to address the unfortunately all-too-common situation where someone living paycheck-to-paycheck is offered multiple loans by multiple lenders at the same time or is encouraged to take out back-to-back loans from the same lender. . . .This bill cannot be called meaningful reform and does not receive my approval.”

Speaking in support of Gov. Nixon’s veto, Pastor Lloyd Fields of Kansas City added, “The faith community applauds Governor Nixon’s moral leadership in holding lawmakers to a higher standard on payday lending reform. Missourians deserve nothing less.”

On the following day, July 11, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined a Florida-based payday loan ‘broker’ $6.2 million in ill-gotten gains. According to FTC, the firm falsely promised to help consumers get payday loans. After promising consumers to assist them in securing a loan in as little as an hour, consumers shared their personal financial data. However that information was instead used to take money from consumers’ bank accounts and without their consent.

Speaking on behalf of the FTC, Jessica Rich, director of FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said, “These defendants deceived consumers to get their sensitive financial data and used it to take their money. The FTC will continue putting a stop to these kinds of illegal practices.”

Looking forward, CFPB’s Cordray also sees a need to remain watchful of payday developments.

“Debt collection tactics such as harassment and bullying take a profound toll on people – both financially and emotionally”, said Cordray. “The Consumer Bureau bears an important responsibility to stand up for those who are being wronged in this process.”

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

Cyber Child Abuse

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(NNPA) I was strolling down a very busy Broadway in New York City a couple of weeks ago.  It was a very nice Saturday and it seemed like everyone was out walking and shopping.  In front of me was a woman and her very young child (maybe 3- or 4-years old).  The woman was completely entranced by her cell phone.  She was texting away.  Her daughter was walking a few steps behind her and was meandering around.  My wife and I found this very unsettling.  So, too, did two young men who were approaching us.  They looked at each other and got ready to say something to the young mother.  My wife beat them to the punch, telling the woman that she needed to pay attention to her child because someone could simply grab the child since the mother appeared completely oblivious to the surroundings.  The mother grunted –  there is no other way to describe it – and yelled to her child to stay with her.  As we crossed the street I looked behind me and noticed that, while the daughter was closer to her mother, the mother was back at texting.

This all reminded me of an episode from Star Trek:  The Next Generation, where members of the crew discover this toy that completely captivates them to the point that they can do nothing but play with it.

On another recent day, I saw a mother and her child walking to school with the mother texting away, ignoring the child altogether. Let me be clear.  I use my cell phone regularly. But what I am seeing is not simply the usage of cell phones.  Rather, it is the cell replacing real human contact. It is the cell as a narcotic.  The woman in NYC had completely lost focus.  Her child could have vanished in a nano-second and she would not have noticed.

Yet, there is another aspect to this.  When I was a child and with my parents, my parents would talk with me.  I do not mean that I was the center of every conversation, but we spoke about all sorts of things.  If a parent is focused on that cell –  and  dollars to donuts they are not cutting deals for some hedge fund or handling major issues in their organizations – they cannot pay attention to the questions that the child might be asking or might wish to ask.

Let me put it even more directly in case I have been too subtle:  what is so important in that cell phone that one feels comfortable ignoring a child?

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

Immigration: Organized Chaos

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(NNPA) It appears nearly impossible for our nation to have an orderly and simple immigration program. It should be quite easy and routine with a simple application form and a written process and time lines. A big problem is that obtaining American citizenship is a very big accomplishment for a foreigner. No other nation on earth has such demand. It is because of our capitalistic society where dreams can come true and democracy flourishes. The demand is so high that corruption, manipulation and schemes get in the way of doing the right thing.

We have many thousands of educated people who have H1B work visas and work in many technical fields. When their visas expire they have to leave. Why can’t they receive permanent status as they are an asset to our workplace and society? It seems that our elected officials can’t seem to work that out.

Instead, what we have now is another big scandal coming at the request of the White House. Normally, Mexico strongly secures its southern border. Now people are crossing into the country to connect with smugglers known as “coyotes.” Each person is usually charged about $700 to be led across Mexico to our southern border. Once they arrive, our border agents who should be turning them around, actually let all of them in and put them on a bus. Then they drive them to a processing station. After a cursory screening, they are released on their own. At this point, they have completed an illegal process and become illegal aliens – compliments of the American government. Thus, we now have an administration that is involved (actually created) an illegal act. The whole thing is unconstitutional.

These illegal aliens travel through Mexico at great risk. Many of the girls are being raped along the way, some as young as 10 years old. There is no sanitation provided. Disease is spreading among them at a rapid rate. The whole picture of this is ugly. The processing centers are at full capacity as the population of the aliens is growing exponentially. Homeland Security is now taking them to military bases, causing even more confusion. Recently, more than 20,000 have arrived at various stations along the southern border.

Wait. It gets worse. As they are being processed, there are buses waiting to transport them to unsuspected towns. Phoenix, Dallas, Tucson are just some of the towns receiving these indigent, non-English speaking people. They have even put them on planes and have flown them to Baltimore and other cities. They release them to empty buildings and hope the local governments will provide for them. These buses and planes have been contracted by the federal government to do this dirty activity. What kind of contracting is that? The federal government is letting formal contracts to violate the constitution and commit illegal and dangerous acts.

When they release them, Homeland Security assigns them a date to appear for formal review. None of these illegal aliens are going to show up for the review. They are going to melt into our population and live a life in hiding and on the run. The quality of life for many of our towns and neighborhoods will be disrupted for a very long period of time.

This is indeed chaos. But the worst thing about it is that it is organized. It is well organized by the White House. The only response the White House is giving is to ask for $3.8 billion to handle this mass flow of illegal activity. They are predicting that this is going to last for a long time and as much as 50,000 more will cross the border illegally.

Another illegal act the White House is committing is to silence their employees working in the processing centers. They cannot speak to the press or anyone else about this without getting fired. Visitors cannot take pictures or speak with the illegal aliens. Even the press is denied access. Congressmen have been turned away. Is this America?

Some communities are starting to protest this government-sponsored invasion of illegal aliens. They find it detestable that our own government is doing such a low life thing. One town, Murrieta, Calif.,, formed a crowd and blocked the buses from dropping off the unsanitary, disease and lice ridden illegal aliens. The buses left and went off to another center.

America has never seen such brazen illegal acts by the federal government. I guess government officials are saying “what are you going to do? Report it to the government – ha! It is so shameful and sad that things are going awry without an end in sight. Impoverished people fleeing despair in one place; traveling incognito across thousands of miles; being abused and raped along the way to arrive in a place called America as illegal aliens. Their dream of free citizenship is highly unlikely.

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

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