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It is Past Time to Confront the Obama Administration

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(NNPA) Alright, team, enough is enough. During the entire first term of the Obama administration, Black America—for the most part—gave the administration a pass. Many of us felt that the first Black president of the United States should have a little breathing room. While we gave him breathing room, the political Right, through organizations such as the Republicans in Congress and the Tea Party, did exactly the opposite.

For our silence we received very little. The Obama administration continuously caved to the political Right, apparently hoping that they could convince the other side that they were reasonable. Well, the political Right was not interested in reason: they were interested in blood. So, each concession that the administration made to the political Right resulted in nothing. Consider Obama’s pay freeze for federal workers. He received nothing in exchange for this, except further demands from the Republicans for even more cuts.

One does not have to be an economist or sociologist to know that Black America is in trouble. Our unemployment rate continues in double digit and at least double that of Whites. The Supreme Court’s recent decisions on the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action represent one more step towards grinding us down. To this must be added, the hiking in the student loan rate brought on by the failure of the administration and the Congress to reach an agreement, but added to this was an effort by the administration to shift how students (and their families) would actually qualify for loans.

There are also concerns when it comes to foreign policy, including, drone strikes, harassing political leaders of other countries (e.g., Bolivia’s Evo Morales), the on-going war in Afghanistan, the growing intervention in Syria and, well, you see the problem.

Many African Americans, for very understandable reasons, have been reluctant to openly criticize this administration fearing that to do so provides aid and comfort to the political Right. The time has come to cast aside such fears and recognize that there is no constituency that is better placed to lean on this administration than Black America.

Our reluctance to criticize this administration must end. Black America that must say, in no uncertain terms, that this administration would not have come into existence without our support and it is time for it to shift gears and focus on the needs of Black America and other constituencies that were there for this candidate, this president, this administration. Perhaps it is time that we also said that we need no more speeches; we need action that favors those of us who exist beneath the clouds.

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.

Obama is a 'Do-Nothing' (For Blacks) President

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By Raynard Jackson
NNPA Columnist

In the 2008 presidential election, Blacks were the largest voting bloc for Obama (as a percentage)—96 percent. In 2012, Obama received 93 percent of the Black vote, again the largest percentage of any voting bloc.

What type of return on their votes has the Black community received? Zero. They have received lectures, been talked down to, and, more often, totally ignored.

Obama was sworn into office on January 20, 2009. In less than two months (March 18, 2009), Obama had his first meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to discuss giving amnesty to the 30 million illegals in the U.S. After the meeting, the White House’s Press Office issued a statement that said, in part: “The President had a robust and strategic meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus today on the topic of immigration. The meeting lasted approximately one hour. The President discussed how the administration will work with the CHC to address immigration concerns in both the short and long term.”

Notice that only Hispanics were in this meeting and the purpose was to discuss an issue that is of particular importance to only them (though other groups that support amnesty would also benefit if amnesty were made into law).

Juxtapose that with Obama’s response in separate interviews about his administration’s inaction on issues of great concern to the Black community. “I think it’s a mistake to start thinking in terms of particular ethnic segments of the United States rather than to think that we are all in this together and we are all going to get out of this together,” he said. In a second interview he said, “the most important thing I can do for the African American community is the same thing I can do for the American community, period, and that is get the economy going again and get people hiring again.”

So, if that be true, can someone explain to me why there were no Blacks, Asians, Africans or Indians in the meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus? They are Americans. They have members from their community that have a great interest in immigration policy. They have members of congress from these various ethnic groups.

Let’s compare the White House’s official readout from the meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus from 2010, 2011, and 2013. Notice that there is always at least a year in between meetings with the Black Caucus, but he meets with Hispanics and homosexuals on a regular basis.

From March, 2010, “This afternoon, President Obama met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss the economy, job creation and the need to pass health care reform. President Obama acknowledged the progress that has been made on the economy while also expressing his concern for long-term unemployment. He requested that Members provide specific recommendations to the challenges concerning job creation.”

From May, 2011, “The President met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) today in the State Dining Room of the White House to discuss job creation and economic growth. The economy has added 2.1 million private sector jobs over 14 consecutive months, including more than 800,000 jobs since the beginning of the year, but the President recognizes that too many Americans families are still hurting and the unemployment rate is unacceptably high—especially among African Americans.”

From July, 2013, “This morning, President Obama met with Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) at the White House. During the meeting, they discussed a range of topics including the economy, voting rights legislation, education, comprehensive immigration reform, youth employment, gun violence, and anti-poverty programs… Though the economy is showing signs of improvement, the President and the CBC expressed shared frustration over the pace of economic growth and the elevated unemployment rate among African Americans. The president reaffirmed his commitment to support and create policies that will not only build a strong economy for the middle class but also create ladders of opportunity for those striving to get into the middle class.”

Every time Obama meets with homosexuals or Hispanics, it’s always to discuss specific legislation of interest to them, not to have some broad, free-wheeling conversation. You can even see the lack of importance of the Black Caucus by just noticing how the respective meetings are characterized by the White House.

Obama met with the CBC last week for the first time in almost two years. This is what Congressman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), chairman of the group, said after the meeting, “I’ve been the chair about six months, and the request we made to the president [for a meeting] has been answered. I am pleased… I think that the lines of communication have not only been open but will actually, we will have broader and deeper discussions as a result of our meeting today.”

I have absolutely no idea what this means. She is talking, but not saying anything.

Obama has had his perfunctory meeting with the CBC; now he can get back to ignoring them and passing out goodies to every other special interest (Hispanics, homosexuals, labor, White males,

As Politico, characterized Obama’s reaction to the recent Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act. The title was, “President Obama’s muted response to a civil rights challenge.” The article goes on to say, “Even a Supreme Court decision knocking out a central element of a landmark civil rights law couldn’t push President Barack Obama to abandon his muted approach to racial issues.

The court’s 5-4 recent ruling torpedoing a core provision of the Voting Rights Act led the first black president to issue a tepid, two-paragraph written statement referencing “discrimination” and declaring that he was “deeply disappointed,” but never invoking the vivid and searing dogs-and-firehoses imagery that spurred the passage of the law in 1965. He made no mention of African Americans or Latinos, the groups viewed as the act’s main beneficiaries, but simply called for making voting “fair” and ensuring it was open to all.

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.

The Unbelievable Walmart

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(NNPA) The other night I was watching television and a commercial came on. It was from Walmart and it was attempting to convey what a wonderful company they would like us to believe that they are. I went running to the rest room.

In April of this year, a building (Rana Plaza) collapsed in Bangladesh. It was a building containing garment factories. There had been evidence that this building was in danger of collapsing but the factory owners insisted that the workers go to work or face termination. More than 1,100 workers perished when the building imploded.

Disasters such as the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh are far from unusual. In November 2012, a factory fire resulted in the deaths of 112 workers. Instead of swift action being taken to address the conditions under which the workers labor, the owners are regularly given a pass by a Bangladeshi government in the pockets of the garment industry executives. Workers who protest are regularly fired or worse. Extra-judicial intimidation and killings are used against union organizers and, for that matter, any worker who stands their ground.

Did I forget to mention that these are the factories that produce for markets in the USA? Did I also forget to mention that Walmart is largely founded on its relationship with these contractors? Along with other major retailers, they insist on low cost and quick movement, regardless of the impact on the workers.

In the aftermath of the Bangladesh disasters an effort was undertaken to create what is known as “The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.” This agreement, to which 17 companies (largely from Europe) are signatories, represents a commitment to a legally-binding safety program for workers in the Bangladesh garment industry. Guess the name of one of the companies that chose not to sign on? Yes, you are correct: Walmart.

What was striking was that Walmart and several other U.S.-based companies suggested that such an agreement was unnecessary and that they would take independent—and non-legally binding—steps to ensure safety. This is from the same company that offered up this syrupy commercial about how compassionate they are. Why should we believe Walmart? If they took no steps prior to the disasters and now do not wish to be a party to a legally binding agreement on safety for the workers, why should anyone believe that they are going to act differently?

The answer is simple: you shouldn’t.

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 www.billfletcherjr.com.

America’s Crisis: 38 Million have no Retirement Assets

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(NNPA) As more Baby Boomers continue to retire, a new research report has found that the nation is facing a trillion dollar retirement savings crisis. According to the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), 38 million Americans – 45 percent of working-age households – have no retirement account assets.

Among all working households, 92 percent do not meet conservative retirement savings targets for their age and income. As a result, the collective retirement savings gap among working households ages 25-64 ranges from $6.8 to $14 trillion, depending upon the financial measure used. NIRS analyzed the readiness of all working-age households using data from the U.S. Federal Reserve.

“The heart of the issue consists of two problems: lack of access to retirement plans in and out of the workplace –particularly among low-income workers and families –and low retirement savings,” the report found. “These twin challenges amount to a severe retirement crisis that, if unaddressed, will result in grave consequences.”

Financial experts recommend that retirement assets be the equivalent of 8-11 times annual income to preserve a standard of living. Many experts also recommend retirement fund contribution rates ranging from 10-15 percent to eventually reach adequate retirement funds.

But what if there is no retirement plan or option for workers?

In 2011, according to the report, 44.5 million people worked for an employer that did not sponsor a retirement plan. Even among full-time employees, 35.2 million had no access to a retirement plan. Low-wage industries, regardless of size, were found to be the least likely to offer a retirement plan.

Today, the average working household has virtually no retirement savings. The median retirement balance for all working-age households is $3,000 and only $12,000 for those nearing retirement.

The shortage of available funds for retirement adds yet another complex dimension to the hope for a full financial recovery. In the aftermath of the worst financial crisis since the 1930s’ Great Depression, communities of color face financial challenges worsened by disproportionate unemployment, foreclosure-blighted neighborhoods and in many instances, lower incomes and markedly less wealth than the general population.

While some might assume that America’s workers make poor financial decisions, earlier research by the Center for Responsible Lending determined that the typical household has just $100 left each month after paying for basic expenses and debt payments. After controlling for inflation, the typical household had less annual income at the end of 2010 than it did in 2000. Households headed by persons aged 55-65 saw the largest losses in wealth. People at or nearing retirement lost an average of $90,000 from 2007-2010.

Additionally, CRL found that income declines in communities of color are higher in part because of declines in over-representation in two types of employment that historically provided stable and secure jobs: manufacturing and construction. These two industries suffered job losses of 10 and 20 percent, respectively. African-Americans who formerly worked manufacturing and construction jobs lost more than twice the number of jobs between 2007 and 2011 than they previously gained in the pre-recession decade.

The new NIRS report offered three specific actions to remedy the retirement crisis:

Strengthen Social Security, the primary source of retirement income for low and middle-income Americans;

Expand low- and middle-wage workers’ access to high-quality, low-cost retirement plans with professional investment management and risk pooling; and

Expand eligible income limits and credit rates for the federal Saver’s Credit that reduces income tax liability by 10-15 percent on the first $2,000 in contributions to a qualified retirement account.

Without long-term solutions to the retirement crisis, NIRS concludes, “An increasingly dependent elder population will likely place increased strain on families and social service organizations. . . .American workers, employers, and policymakers need to look closely at what we need to do individually and collectively, so that everyone can build sufficient assets to have adequate and secure income after a lifetime of work.”

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

Obama should Lead Fight to Revive Voting Rights Act

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By Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
NNPA Columnist

President Barack Obama should lead a forceful drive to revive the Voting Rights Act, which was effectively disemboweled by the Supreme Court’s recent decision. All celebrate the 1965 Act as the most consequential civil rights legislation of the past century. Its passage was central to the building of the New South, opening the way to attracting foreign investment in auto factories, creating CNN, hosting the Super Bowl, even electing presidents. One afflicted with a poisoned heart is often blind to its effects. The South learned only after the civil rights legislation that segregation was blighting its own potential.

In 2006, the Congress, after weeks of hearings and thousands of pages of testimony and evidence, overwhelmingly reauthorized the law by a vote of 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House. Legislators chose to sustain Section 4 that identified which counties and states had a history of discrimination sufficient that changes in voting rights would be subject to prior approval by the Justice Department or a federal court under Section 5. Preclearance not only blocked laws with discriminatory effect, but it also inhibited efforts to suppress the right to vote.

But Justice John Roberts, writing for the court in a 5-4 decision, argued that “our country has changed.” He and the activist reactionaries on the court substituted their judgment for that of elected officials and struck down Section 4. Yet, the decision came after an election in which Republicans, particularly in Section 4 states, had pushed harsh restrictions on voting that would make it harder for minorities to vote. When the Miami Heat played the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA finals, the games were rough, but proactive referees kept them from becoming brawls. Justice Roberts’ decision, in essence, would pull the referees off the court.

With Republican office holders increasingly worried by the growing numbers of African-American, Latino, Asian-American and other minority voters, measures to curtail voting rights have spread. It is perverse that the chief justice thought this was the time to overrule the congressional judgment.

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) defended the court’s decision, saying that his state had witnessed “tremendous progress” in voting rights. Progress, no doubt, but in 2012 South Carolina passed a discriminatory voting act that was struck down by the courts. David Gergen said he was from North Carolina and “times have changed.” Change, yes, but in 2012, North Carolina pushed an aggressive agenda to curtail voting rights, including restrictive voting ID, elimination of early voting on Sunday, a ban on same day voter registration and more. Similar reforms in Texas, blocked by a Section 5 preclearance review, were immediately taken up again when the court’s decision came down.

We need to keep the referees on the court. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has already pledged hearings to begin reformulating Section 4. Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said that he hoped the House would find a “responsible way forward.” The president should elevate this issue so that Americans can see who stands for voting rights, and who stands in the way.

Over the past years, the new South has made progress, but that is in large part because the Voting Rights Act put referees on the field to enforce the law. Will Republicans join Democrats in reviving bipartisan support for remedying the Supreme Court’s wrong-headed decision? Or will they use the court’s decision to intensify their efforts to suppress the vote? By pushing hard for action, the president can help re-create the bipartisan support that is vital for our progress as one nation.

Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is founder and president of the Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition. You can keep up with his work at www.rainbowpush.org.

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