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What Killed President Kennedy and Trayvon Martin?

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By Marian Wright Edelman
NNPA Columnist

(NNPA) Tuesday, February 26 marked one year since 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed by a gun wielded by self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman after he saw Trayvon walking home from a 7-Eleven with a bag of Skittles and bottle of Arizona iced tea.

Black children, youths, and families know first-hand that the killing of Black children by gun violence is not new but a relentlessly unreported and under-reported plague that has been disproportionately snuffing out Black child lives for a very long time. Fifteen percent of children and teens are Black but 45 percent of all children and youths killed by guns in 2010 were Black. Black boys 15 to 19 years old were 28 times more likely than White boys the same age to be killed in a gun homicide.

Shortly after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that it was time for our nation to do some soul-searching, and while the question “Who killed President Kennedy?” was important, answering the question “What killed President Kennedy?” was even more critical. Dr. King believed the answer was that “our late President was assassinated by a morally inclement climate”: “It is a climate filled with heavy torrents of false accusation, jostling winds of hatred, and raging storms of violence. It is a climate where men cannot disagree without being disagreeable, and where they express dissent through violence and murder. It is the same climate that murdered Medgar Evers in Mississippi and six innocent Negro children in Birmingham, Alabama.”

Dr. King further noted that the undercurrents of hatred and violence that made up this morally inclement climate were fueled by our cultural embrace of guns: “By our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim, by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the technique of killing, by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes.”

The same winds of hatred, storms of violence, and easy access to and glorification of guns that Dr. King believed killed President Kennedy would soon also kill Dr. King. Fifty years after Dr. King described our morally inclement climate, the outward signs of racial intolerance and hatred have undoubtedly diminished but there are still far too many reminders of the dangers lurking everywhere that devastate us all—like Trayvon’s senseless death for walking home while Black. Between 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and 2010, nearly 60,000 Black children and teens were killed by guns, more than 1,200 every year for 48 years. This is 17 times the number of reported lynchings of Black Americans of all ages since 1882 but we have not had an equivalent Black community anti-lynching movement to save our children from gun violence.

While there are troubling undertones of racial suspicion and fear in Trayvon Martin’s killing which must be addressed as justice is sought, the fact is that most Black young people murdered by guns are killed by Black shooters —just as most White children and teens murdered by guns are killed by White shooters. Sadly, the tragedies of Tucson, Aurora, Newtown and elsewhere made clear that none of us are safe anywhere or immune to the pervasive threat of gun violence.

We are all in the same boat and must act together to stop the plague of violence. Gun safety laws that only apply in one city or state can’t fully stop our national epidemic of gun proliferation and violence any better than we can stop a flu epidemic by vaccinating one family. We must struggle together to stop gun violence and to change the morally inclement climate that Dr. King warned about if we are going to protect all of our nation’s children everywhere.

Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

It's Time for Us to Deliver for the Postal Service

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(NNPA) I have written about this previously but I am getting more and more concerned that the Postal Service will go the way of the dodo bird. Like virtually every other part of the legitimate role of government, the Postal Service is and has been under attack by conservatives. The perpetrators of the assault are the same crew that have been trying to privatize everything that is standing. Organizations such as the right-wing Cato Institute and their allies in Congress wish to see the U.S. Postal Service weakened to the point that it ceases to exist. Then they would have the mail handled through privately owned operations.

There are many reasons that we should be concerned about this attack. First, postal delivery is actually a Constitutional right. It is there in the Constitution. Now, our conservative friends will throw their hands in the air and exclaim that they are not challenging the Constitution. Rather, they will argue, mail delivery can, allegedly, be handled more efficiently by private outfits. There is no particular reason to believe that private companies can handle the mail more efficiently than the USPS.

With the USPS we are guaranteed that everything of a certain weight gets delivered to specific sites in the U.S.A. for a given price. In other words, a letter weighing one ounce does not cost more if it is mailed from Baltimore to Spokane or from Baltimore to New York. With privatization we can be guaranteed that the cost of mail would vary according to where the mail is being sent.

A second reason for concern has to do with the workforce. The Postal Service has been an important employer of African Americans and, especially since the unionization of the Postal Service in the early 1970s, it has provided employment at good wages with good benefits. In a situation where good jobs are vanishing as quickly as one can say ‘Jack be nimble…,’ the Postal Service jobs cannot be easily dismissed. There is a ripple effect with good jobs. With good paying jobs people have more money to spend in their neighborhoods. With poorly paying jobs—or no jobs at all—the neighborhood suffers. Thus, each time you hear about the closing of a post office or a bulk mail center, it is not only an inconvenience to you but it probably is having a net negative impact on that community.

There is one more piece to this whole affair. The conservatives are yelling about the Postal Service not making money. Yet, let’s keep in mind, as the Economic Policy Institute has reminded us, that making money was and is not the main purpose of the Postal Service. Their purpose is to ensure the efficient and speed delivery of the mail to all residents of the United States. Certainly, that does not mean that one should condone backwardness. But it does mean that it is patently unfair and disingenuous to compare the USPS to a private company, such as an auto company. When auto companies are charged with providing all people in the U.S.A. with efficient, low cost, environmentally safe vehicles, we can reopen this discussion.

It is now time for the public to respond to this attack. I don’t know about you but I have simply had enough of the attacks on the U.S. Postal Service. To me, there remains a certain level of magic in knowing that you can put that letter or package in the mail and, presto, it appears somewhere else in such a relatively short amount of time. I do not want to have to bargain with someone or some company over how quickly and efficiently my mail will be delivered.

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.

The Evil Ways of Environmentalists

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(NNPA) The environmental movement has been around since the days of naturalist John Muir (late 19th century), the founder of the Sierra Club. Back then, it had high credibility and did great work to promote and preserve our natural beauty such as national parks, lakes and rivers. Sometime in the 1950s it started straying into scare tactics. A popular claim was global cooling – we were going to freeze to death via our polluting ways. Then it turned to the opposite claim of global warming after a few warm years.

President Nixon used this cause to divert our attention from the Civil Rights Movement and the anti-war furor over Vietnam. He proclaimed Earth Day as an annual event and enlarged the Environmental Bureau into a separate agency, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). This worked and today the EPA has become one of the most meddling entities in the federal government. It is a friend of the environmentalists and is often used as a weapon for their advocacy.

Under the Clinton administration, the environmentalists started an outrageous claim. They accused corporate America of seeking Black communities to dump their waste, poison the water and render the land toxic. They summed it up by calling the mythical activity “environmental racism” and persuaded (funded) local civil rights groups to join in the fight and demand “environmental justice.” This died down after about 10 years.

One of the current activities of the environmentalists is the assault on coal. They want to kill the coal industry. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $50 million to the Sierra Club for the sole purpose of killing off our coal industry. Right now they have the EPA planning to shut down more than 31 coal fired utility plants by way of a “Rule.” Rules are like executive orders in that they can avoid congressional approval. With the blessing of the president they just do it as if it were voted legislation. This will wreck our economy and destroy our personal worth if we don’t fight back and stop the action. Think of the many thousands of jobs that will be lost and the rising cost of electricity we will all be stuck with.

Another tactic by the environmentalists is a legal proceeding known as “Sue and Settle.” This is done by collusion between the environmentalists and pro-environmentalist bureaucrats. These groups will file a massive lawsuit against the EPA, Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Services, etc. The problem is the “deal” has already been made. Thus, the agency being sued will quickly sit down and settle with the environmentalists. In the end, it is like a wish list for the suing environmentalists as the federal agency gives them just about everything they want.

According to Marita Noon, executive director of Energy Makes America Great Inc., “In 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) entered into a massive settlement of a lawsuit filed by environmental groups in which the agency promised to address more than 250 candidate species it had previously found warranted protection but were precluded from listing due to a backlog. As a part of the behind-closed-door agreement, the FWS also pledged to review hundreds more species proposed for listing.” According to Senator David Vitter (R-LA), “It is the sue-and-settle agreements. This future regulation could prohibit many beneficial uses of tens of millions of acres of private property. All this was set in motion while no affected landowner or other stakeholder was given any opportunity for input”.

You can’t “break ground” on land that houses a registered endangered species – factual or not. Just like that millions of acres will be denied any development or growth. Economic opportunities and millions of jobs will be put on “ice” so that the environmentalists can have their way. This sue-and-settle racket is growing in use and we and Congress must stop this mockery. In effect, it is a conspiracy to behave in such a matter within the court of law.

The National Black Chamber of Commerce spends an inordinate amount of time fighting these environmentalists who come after our communities in so many ways. They lie, cheat and deceive in so many ways. Internationally, they have a collective treasury of over $8 billion to push their agenda. What is that agenda? To stop growth and positive change as Commerce is their enemy. Jobs, commodities, manufacturing, etc. are bitter items to them. Funny, most of these groups are made up of very wealthy people who got their wealth through plain American style capitalism. They now want to prevent the rest of the population from having a chance to do the same. They will continue their evil ways and we will continue to fight them. Free Enterprise is our mission.

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

Ignoring 40 Percent of the South Carolina Electorate

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(NNPA) On a recent visit to South Carolina, I was reminded that last November President Obama received 40 percent of the state’s vote. There are a number of things that make this fact interesting but one really struck me: No significant funds were spent in South Carolina by anyone to turn out the vote in favor of Obama. The other interesting point is that that 40 percent is repeatedly ignored after Election Day.

The U.S. electoral system is blatantly undemocratic. Think about it for a moment. When it comes to electing the president of the United States it is not one person-one vote. Instead, there is this bizarre institution called the Electoral College. As a result no matter how many votes are cast in Texas or California, for instance, those states receive a set number of electoral votes to cast. These are added up and whoever comes out on top in a particular state gets that state’s entire Electoral College allotment. Republicans, by the way, are trying to change that so that states can parcel out their Electoral College votes, not proportionately but according to the manner in which the Republicans have gerrymandered states that they dominate.

What the Electoral College system means, however, is that there are certain states that are considered solidly Democratic or solidly Republican because a majority consistently (or relatively consistently) votes in the direction of one or the other party. South Carolina, in this case, is considered solidly Republican. Because of our voting system that means that those voters who consistently reject the Republican candidates are treated as if they never existed.

Forty percent is an interesting figure. Forty percent of the vote with no outside assistance is an even more interesting figure. That means that conceivably South Carolina, and several other states that are considered solidly Republican, may actually end up in play in upcoming elections but only if a new strategy is implemented. The key elements of such a strategy were summarized in the 1988 presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson when he suggested that voters in the South needed to have a voting card in one hand and in the other hand they needed a union card.

Moving states into play will necessitate greater resources at election time, for sure, but the longer term commitment must be to the organizing of workers in the South. What the Republicans are very well aware—which is why they are desperately pushing so-called “right to work” laws—is that the stronger workers are through their unions, they more likely it is that Republicans will lose elections. Why? Because labor unions will be challenging candidates on questions of economic justice and in light of the Republicans consolidating as both the ‘non-Black’ party as well as the party in favor of economic inequality, labor unions are a direct threat.

If we want to flip the script in future elections in states such as South Carolina not only do serious resources need to be put in at election time, but labor unions need to be built and rebuilt as bases for progress. They are one of the few organizations that brings workers together across racial, ethnic and gender lines. This is also what makes them so dangerous for corporate America and their political allies in the Republican Party.

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

Black History Month's Powerful Question

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By Lee A. Daniels
NNPA Columnist

(NNPA) I have a rule about this month. If it’s February, I know that somebody somewhere has given an interview or written an article declaring America no longer needs Black History Month.

And, sure enough, the conservative National Review Online of February 4 has given us the article of one Charles W. Cooke. Its title is succinct – “Against Black History Month: This month is Black History Month. Let’s hope it’s the last.”

That snarky comment is revealing, isn’t it? Even if you’re opposed to Black History Month, no one would credibly think there’s any chance that this month’s, or next year’s, or the year after that’s, or … you get the picture … would be the last Black History Month American society commemorates? It’s not a serious comment, of course, and it indicates we’re not going to get a logical argument from Cooke.

But then, that’s not entirely Cooke’s fault. That’s because there is no logical argument against commemorating Black History Month. Indeed, now it’s more important than ever that we plumb the facts and complexities of African-American history.

This is not a matter of “segregating” American history into racial and ethnic enclaves. It is a matter of acquiring a fuller understanding of American history by not pretending that considering American history primarily through that of White Americans is the only approach that counts. Indeed, it’s clear that Carter G. Woodson, the great scholar who established Negro History Week in 1926, had two goals in mind. One was to enable African Americans to see that Blacks had a rich history before their capture and transport to the Americas; and that pursuing the truth of the Black experience in America was the only way to construct an America worthy of its ideals.

Cooke’s article follows the usual scheme of the attack on Black History Month. He asserts that the undertaking was necessary before the 1960s, when de jure and de facto segregation ruled the land. Now, however, it’s outlived its usefulness and in fact is harming the ability of all Americans to gain a shared understanding of American history. Black History Month should be eliminated and the Black American experiences should be integrated into schools’ regular curriculum. “If there is still too little ‘black history’ taught in America’s schools,” Cooke writes, “or if ‘black history’ is being taught incorrectly – then we should change the curriculum. If black Americans remain unfairly in the shadows, then the solution is to bring them out, not to sort and concentrate them by color.”

This is an argument built on sand. For one thing, Cooke cites no actual examples of the supposed sins of Black History Month – no examples of schools or school systems where Black history is taught only in February and ignored in the curriculum the rest of the year. No examples of colleges where Black studies courses ignore the impact of the other currents of American society. No examples where in either elementary and secondary schools or colleges there is what he calls the “equally absurd” repetitive focus on heroic Black figures.

These attacks on Black History Month ignore many things: They ignore how deeply Black history has already been “integrated” into broader examinations of American history, as even a cursory perusal of popular and scholarly books would indicate. They ignore how complex and searching explorations of Black history have become – as a forthcoming documentary airing next week on the Public Broadcasting Service on Whitney M. Young, Jr., the charismatic leader of the National Urban League from 1961 until his untimely death in 1971, will show.

Most of all, they ignore why over the last four decades other sub-groups of Americans have adopted the “special month” model. Cooke does list some of these: Women’s History Month, South Asian Heritage Month, Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, Haitian Heritage Month, Jewish American Heritage Month, Caribbean-American Heritage Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month, National American Indian Heritage Month, and Alaskan Native Heritage Month.

Revealingly, he merely lists them, ignoring the implications of their founding, and the fact that, just like Black History Month, their establishment was approved by acts of Congress, and signed by Republican and Democratic presidents. In fact, just as Black History Month does, they underscore valid – and widespread – educational practice of focusing on particular facets of a broad topic and the widespread social-group practice of closely examining their particular experience in America.

And they do something else. They all echo the question that Carter G. Woodson’s Negro History Week, now Black History Month set before the nation more than 80 ago.

That question was never more powerfully expressed than in the penultimate line posed by Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions in the title track of their 1969 album, “This Is My Country:”

“Shall we perish unjust,” the song asks, “or live equal as a nation.”

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

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