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Cuba Begins the Road to Success

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Harry C. Alford(NNPA) The National Black Chamber of Commerce® has been studying the evolution of Cuba for 14 years. The evolution has been slow as we entered the 21st century but recently there have been some major economic developments. Last November, Cuban residents were given the right to personal property. They can now buy and sell homes. Beginning last week, they can now freely travel abroad with an authentic visa from the nation they wish to visit.

During our first trip to Cuba in August, 2000, we were stunned by all the promising features of this island nation and its people. My mentor, the late Arthur A. Fletcher, marveled at this and said to me, “This nation will one day become the ‘Hong Kong’ of the Caribbean.” Art, it is about to start happening. Let’s look at the possibilities.

Cuba has a great education system that is far superior to ours. These citizens are ready to take on the global market as they are adept at the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. For example, they are some of the best engineers and architects in the world. Much of this talent is used around the globe and helps generate revenue for the nation. The last time I was in Paris, I took a stroll past a new five star hotel that was being built. I was surprised to see so many Blacks participating in the construction. The next day, I came by again and heard one of Fidel Castro’s speeches blasting out through some speakers. It became clear to me that the construction company and probably the architectural team were indeed Cuban. I first witnessed this inspirational exercise while we were in Havana. Their prowess at infrastructure is becoming legend around the world. Africa, Europe, Asia and other places they are making a great reputation.

This island nation is also known for its healthcare delivery system. Cuban doctors are so efficient that they travel around the globe helping to address health issues wherever it is needed. A Black Cuban has a lifespan at least a decade longer than an African American. Every Cuban is required to have a full medical exam twice a year. Did you know that they have eradicated sickle cell anemia in Cuba? Now that they can freely travel we should be sending for some of their health services here since it is superior to ours. Just think of the possibilities in all third world nations.

The biggest provider of wealth for the average American is real estate equity (right now it is in a funk but it will return). Now that Cubans can buy and sell homes it is going to generate cash for prospective entrepreneurs. With these proceeds they can invest in start-up businesses and begin the venture of wealth building and job creation. Banks in Cuba are as busy as ever. There is now a housing demand for more than 600,000 new homes. Think of the construction companies popping up to meet that demand – Jobs, Jobs and Jobs. The government is estimating that more than 1 million new jobs can be created through this capitalistic activity. This nation has a population of about 11 million people and already 338,000 are now self – employed.

Cuba is one of the hottest tourist destinations for Europeans and South Americans. Its white sand beaches, modern hotels (mostly European owned), best rum in the world, best lobsters in the world and slick Afro – Cuban music (actually straight from the Congo via the slavery years) makes it a festive nation. Did I mention the world’s best cigars? We saw some of the most beautiful Black women in the world living there.

The gates of Cuba are unlocked. It is time for our nation to catch up to these changes and let us travel and do business with our brothers and sisters in Cuba like the rest of the world. Cuba has survived all the sanctions, dirty games, spying and trickery we have thrown at it since 1959. It is now ready, willing and quite able to participate in the global economy. In fact, we should be going there right now and invest in this newborn economy. The best educated people with a natural work ethic should be value added human capital for our corporations. They would be excellent joint venture partners for our small businesses. God has blessed Cuba. Maybe it is that giant statue of Jesus in downtown Havana that is helping things out. Also, maybe it is that statue of Abraham Lincoln in the town square that compels us to go there and join this renaissance.

Next year we need to organize a gigantic trade mission to spend a good two weeks in Havana, Santiago and the countryside. Hopefully, our nation will catch up to this modernization and extension of liberty in Cuba.

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

Yes on 33

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By Celes King IV

Having spent much of my life immersed in it, I am well-acquainted with the work of advocacy for the disenfranchised.

Too often, however, those who take up that mantle assume a paternalistic posture toward those classified as “low-income” — which, in this state, is commonly read and sold as African- Americans and Latinos.

During the political season, these forces, typically from outside the community, use the struggles of that demographic to sell positions that actually run counter to their interests.

As Election Day draws closer, that is how I have come to view the opposition to Prop. 33, a statewide ballot initiative that would restore fundamental fairness to California’s often confusing and one-sided insurance laws.

The logic behind the initiative is simple, and resonates with anyone who has ever purchased auto insurance: Under the proposal that voters will decide upon Nov. 6, consumers would be able keep the “continuous coverage” discounts they earn by staying insured for a number of years, even if they decide to change insurance companies. Incredibly, as the law stands today, motorists only qualify for those discounts if they remain with a single insurer; should they decide to seek coverage elsewhere, they are forced to relinquish those cost savings — no matter how long they took to establish.

The opposition is led Yes on 33 By Celes King IV Celes King IV mostly by a single individual, who is bent on blocking even the most commonsense updates to insurance reforms that he championed more than 20 years ago.

Predictably, the initiative’s supposed ill effects on lowincome consumers is often cited, but a closer analysis reveals how the initiative’s passage holds the potential to free African-Americans and others from discriminatory practices that drive up their insurance rates.

In 2006, researchers at UCLA found that another enduring practice of the auto insurance industry — using ZIP codes as a factor when calculating rates — takes a disproportionately adverse effect on African-Americans in Los Angeles.

Through Prop. 33, African-American and other motorists living in neighborhoods deemed higher-risk, but — through a combination of responsible driving, adherence to insurance laws and loyalty to a single insurer — have still managed to establish affordable insurance payments, can exercise a fundamental right as consumers to explore new options without the risk of paying higher premiums as the cost of finding a better deal. If motorists could take an existing continuous coverage discount to new insurers motivated to compete for their business, it makes sense that drivers statewide would stand a much better chance of securing more favorable rates.

But it could go even further than basic pocketbook issues: What if, for instance, African-American drivers want the opportunity to do business with insurers that do not hike rates in their ZIP codes? Or ones that, at the very least, impose lighter penalties on drivers from their communities? Why should they be forever bound to companies that have no incentive to give them an even better deal, or end practices that take an excessive financial toll on their communities?

Indeed, for African- Americans, Prop. 33 holds the potential to further empower us to take control of our own economic destiny. By voting yes at the polls on Nov. 6, we can take a firm stance against an unjust law that drains wealth from our communities, and leaves us with far fewer choices in the marketplace.

Celes King IV is the vice chairman for of the Congress of Racial Equality California, CORE. CORE was instrumental in renaming Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in South Los Angeles, and is the principal sponsor of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade in Los Angeles, which has grown to be the largest Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration in the country, with 3.5 million viewers.

Steps to Counter Voter Suppression

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(NNPA) Hopefully by now you have heard a thing or two about efforts on the part of the Republicans to suppress the votes of minorities, youth, the elderly, union members and many veterans. The plot is fairly simple: make it especially difficult to vote by setting up all sort of systems of identification in the name of avoiding alleged voter fraud. The fact that voter fraud has not been a major issue in the U.S. in recent memory is irrelevant for the Republicans since their principal objective is to decrease the potential turnout on the part of voters likely to go with Democratic candidates.

In the last year, with the increased attention on voter suppression efforts, there have been counter-efforts undertaken to minimize this threat. Various organizations have worked to ensure that voters have the proper identification. Many courageous individuals and groups have also challenged these anti-democratic laws in courts and, in many cases, won.

On Election Day, however, there are a variety of challenges for which we must prepare. Among other things we have to make sure that the voting machines correctly tabulate the vote. This will be helped by good poll watchers who can get a sense of the mood of the voters. If there are apparent regularities we need to be ready to yell “foul” immediately.

Another ominous challenge is that of right-wing outfits that are assembling volunteers who are going to be sent to challenge voters who they believe to be engaged in alleged fraudulent behavior. It is not clear how they will approach doing this, but we must be clear that their objective is the intimidation of voters. For this reason defensive measures will need to be taken.

One measure is to make sure civil liberties, civil rights, and labor union organizations have volunteers at the polls to make sure that there is fairness. Should voters have questions or if there is an attempt to intimidate anyone, liberal and progressive volunteers need to be ready to intervene to ensure that everyone has a chance to cast their ballot.

An organized presence is critical, a point that needs double underlining. The right-wing has whipped itself up into a frenzy repeating over and over that the Democrats (and most especially President Obama) plan to steal the election. The irony is that demonstrable efforts at disenfranchising have not come from the Democrats but from the Republicans, including the infamous 2000 election; the 2004 mysteries in Ohio; and the post-2008 efforts by Republican state legislators across the country to pass legislation that makes it more and more difficult for citizens to vote.

There are those who seek to make the notion of democracy the equivalent of a movie set with all of the trappings and none of the substance. Our resistance to such shenanigans will again be tested this November 6th.

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. He can be reached at papaq54@hotmail.com.

Prop 32: Silencing the Voice of the People

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By Doug Moore


The backers of Proposition 32, a measure that would give corporations yet another political advantage over California working men and women, claim it’s about political reform. The backers of Proposition 32 are being dishonest.

The billionaires who are doing much of the backing know that the measure going before voters on November 6 is really about keeping working men and women – and the unions that represent them -- from having a say in politics.

The facts speak for themselves.

Prop 32 would prohibit unions from using members’ dues to fight for ballot measures and candidates they support. It would also ban union members from having dues deducted from their paychecks for this cause. But corporations? They’d still be free to give as much as they want to their causes and candidates.

Even though Prop 32 supporters claim that unions and businesses would be treated the same under the initiative because it applies to both, most California corporations don’t use payroll deductions for political giving – they use profits. So in fact, businesses and their super PACs would be exempt from Prop 32’s controls, free to spend unlimited amounts of money to force their agenda on the rest of us. At the same time, the voices of Homecare providers, sanitation workers, teachers and firefighters, to name just a few, would be silenced across the state.

Let’s take a look at who is pushing Prop 32: oil companies, super PACS, Wall Street firms, hedge funds, real estate developers, and insurance companies. And now let’s take a look at who is exempted from Prop 32’s provisions: oil companies, super PACS, Wall Street firms, hedge funds, real estate developers, and insurance companies.

And why wouldn’t they be pushing it? Consider this: Unions are already at a huge disadvantage when it comes to playing a role in politics. For every $1 a union member spends advocating for her rights politically through her union, businesses spend $15. Prop 32 is an unbalanced and unfair piece of gimmickry that will widen that gap immeasurably, because it restricts unions and their members, but does not similarly restrict corporate special interests. That will create a political system that is even more skewed toward the wealthy and well-connected than it already is.

Unions – in particular, public employee unions – have historically created a route to the middle class for black and Latino Californians. Anything that significantly weakens the power of unions and limits unions’ ability to have a say in the political process – which is exactly Prop 32’s purpose – has a disproportionately harmful effect on these workers.

Prop 32 also belies the notion of “reform.” True reform improves a system so that it works better for everyone. It doesn’t create a system that works well for one group but puts others at a disadvantage. That’s discrimination, and there is no place for it in our state or our nation.

If Prop 32 passes, it’s not hard to predict what workers in California can expect from this corporate power grab: laws that threaten jobs, overtime pay, retirement security and the very right to form and join unions. In short, laws that upend decades of progress in workers’ rights.

Ultimately, Prop 32 is about fairness. Rules should apply equally to everyone, no group should be exempted from real campaign finance reform, and as citizens, all of us should have the same ability to impact our democracy.

The BLS and that 7.8% Unemployment Rate

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By Brad Furnish

On Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shocked the world of business, finance and economics by declaring that unemployment in September fell to 7.8% from its August level of 8.1%. Coming just a month before the Nov. 6 Presidential election, this dubious finding gave rise to widespread rumors and even accusations of collusion between the Obama campaign and the Bureau.

It is highly unlikely that the President's men conspired with Bureau officials or employees to invent or alter employment data. The Obama campaign would have too little to gain relative to its potential loss. A 0.3% fall in the unemployment rate hardly delivered a passkey to the Oval Office, but proof of a collusive conspiracy would doom Obama's chances - even if undiscovered until after the election.

That does not mean there was no wrongdoing here - far from it. It should be obvious to all that something was indeed terribly wrong with the way this episode was handled.

Start with the fact that BLS's unemployment number is obviously wrong. "Wrong" does not connote fraud or deceit. It means there was a short-circuit in the chain of reasoning leading to 7.8% unemployment. The BLS household survey estimated a seasonally adjusted total of newly employed workers exceeding 873,000 in September. This was the largest total since June, 1983 (when annualized GDP growth was 9.3%) and January, 1990 (when growth was 4.2%). (Two larger totals in 2000 and 2003 are not comparable because of data adjustments made by BLS.) Yet our current reported growth rate is 1.3%. Moreover, some 582,000 of those estimated workers were part-time.

The BLS also conducts a survey of job growth based on a sampling of business payrolls. This estimate has declined in each of the last three months, from 181,000 to 142,000 to September's total of 114,000. It isn't just that the two surveys differ - they often do. But not by this much. And the fact that recent payrolls detect falling job growth contrasts starkly with the September household survey's stratospheric increase.

Private-sector forecasters each have their own individualized reasons for thinking that the BLS has lost its marbles. My firm, Access Advertising, is a national leader in placing truck-driver recruiting ads. We compile the Driver Recruiting Index (DRI), which estimates the demand for commercial drivers in real time by sampling classified driver ads in 32 major-metropolitan newspapers throughout the country. The DRI has been declining on a year-over-year basis throughout 2012 and by 10-20% since June. In September, the DRI fell by an average of over 14% compared to August. In order to believe the 7.8% figure, I would have to believe that the agency has detected a major economic expansion from which trucking - which carries two-thirds of the nation's freight - is somehow excluded. This is wildly unlikely.

Here is a sampling of characterizations of the 7.8% unemployment rate and the 873,000 job gain in the household survey: "Must be an anomaly;" "statistical anomaly;" "just a fluke;" "statistical quirk;" "implausible;" "almost certainly a statistical fluke;" "huge statistical outlier on the upside;" "not reality;" "an aberration." All of these comments come from respected economists, forecasters and consultants, one of whom is a former director of the Congressional Budget Office. Some of them are known to be supporter of the Obama administration. None are rabid anti-administration partisans.

Suppose you are Hilda Solis, Obama-appointee as head of BLS. It is 8AM, Oct. 5. You have just been handed the report including the 7.8% unemployment and 870,000 household survey figures. You should: 1. order a double-check of all relevant data generation and calculation. 2. (assuming your results checked out) accompany a press release with an announcement that your sampling procedures produced one estimate that defies common sense. 3. Advise the public that no weighty conclusions be drawn from the 7.8% unemployment estimate, since it is highly suspect. 4. Invite scrutiny of your methods, results and checks by any interested parties.

What did the BLS do? Apparently, none of the above. Instead, they simply released the results with no special emphasis. (Later, Ms. Solis even refused to cast doubt on the suspect estimates and even defended them, somewhat obliquely.) This had the effect of inviting the general public, the press and even sophisticated analysts to take the information at face value. Quite a few people did. Others viewed it as a slap in the face. And some of those started to question the honesty of the whole process.

Why did the BLS do nothing instead of the right things? Their inaction may have been due to political bias or to bureaucratic inertia. In this case, the outcome of a Presidential election might ride on the procedures for handling a foul-up like this.

But the point would apply just as strongly if the data had been released on Nov. 7 or any other day. There are always important matters riding on the content of government data releases, and people want to believe that government employees are acting in good faith and providing reliable information. The best way to convince people that the government is here to help them is to go out of your way to do just that.

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