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Social Security is Vital for African-American Families

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By A. Barry Rand, Special to the NNPA from the Capital Outlook –

In these days of high unemployment and growing financial insecurity, the last thing African-American families need is a serious threat to the only guaranteed, lifelong source of income the majority of our families count on. It took too many years and too much blood, sweat and tears for African-American families to secure a place among America’s middle class.

I’m talking about the current threat to one of the most successful programs in U.S. history – Social Security. Social Security is much more important to African Americans than many realize. Social Security has become a prime target of many in Congress for cuts to pay the nation’s bills. Today, serious cuts in Social Security benefits are being considered by the so-called congressional “Super Committee.” These are benefits that African Americans have earned through a lifetime of hard work.

The “debt-ceiling” bill Congress passed in August charged 12 members of Congress with recommending additional measures to help reduce the federal deficit. They are due to report recommendations for further budget cuts to the full Congress next month.

There are those who speak of Social Security benefits as if they are something you don’t deserve. You are not entitled to Social Security benefits simply by turning age 65. Nor are Social Security benefits some sort of “handout.” You’ve earned your Social Security benefits. They are based on a lifetime of payroll contributions from your years of work.

We must never let our elected leaders forget the beneficial impact Social Security has had on the quality of life for African Americans, beginning with reduced poverty and better health. And most importantly, we must make sure they recognize the vital role of Social Security in building and sustaining the African-American middle class.

According to a report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies commissioned by AARP earlier this year, Social Security benefits are the only source of income for two out of five African-American retiree households that receive benefits.

According to the Social Security Administration, more than half of unmarried African-American Social Security beneficiaries and nearly one of every three married couples rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their retirement income.

In short, Social Security is all that stands between millions of African Americans and poverty in old age. And the vast majority of middle-income African Americans count Social Security as their largest source of income in retirement.

Social Security also provides valuable survivors’ and disability benefits. African Americans are more likely to receive both survivor benefits and disability benefits than white workers, and these benefits are a significant source of income for African-American families.

A study by the National Urban League Institute for Opportunity and Equality found that African-American children are almost four times more likely to be lifted out of poverty by Social Security benefits than white children.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

We cannot afford to be silent about protecting our Social Security benefits. By speaking out, we can help preserve earned Social Security benefits for African Americans for generations to come.

A. Barry Rand is Chief Executive Officer of AARP.

Electrified Fences and Herman Cain's Sense of 'Humor'

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(NNPA) I don't know about you but I have about had it with Herman Cain. I never agreed with his politics but the more that I see him perform in front of white audiences the more it feels like a political minstrel show. His sense of so-called humor, including his bizarre ad that ends with cigarette smoke being blown into the camera, has reached the level of insulting.

The particular "joke" that sticks in my craw, however, is his comment concerning the putting up of an electrified fence across our southern border in order to stop immigrants from crossing illegally into the USA. When pushed about this comment--that not a few people took quite seriously--he claimed that it was a joke. A joke? It starts to remind me of action on the streets where someone talks about someone else's mother but keeps a smile on their face. A joke, Mr. Cain?

What is so funny about people attempting to escape desperate and oppressive situations? Nearly a century ago, many of the ancestors of today's African American population took dramatic and dangerous steps to escape the vicious oppression and lawlessness we faced in the Jim Crow South. Hundreds of thousands began the trek north, facing death and torture along the way. The ruling elite in the South wanted African Americans to remain in the South serving a subordinate role. As World War I hit, industry in the North desperately needed labor, much the way that various industries in today's USA have looked for cheap labor. They encouraged African Americans to migrate to fill these roles in cities like East St. Louis, Illinois; Chicago; Detroit; Youngstown; and Pittsburgh. As these masses of migrants moved into these cities they were met with the most intense push back coming from white workers who saw the African American migrants as people who had arrived to steal their jobs and undermine their living standards. Rather than focusing on the way that big business was playing off white workers against blacks, these whites did everything they could to chase our ancestors out. The bloody Red Summer of 1919 with the race riots that mirrored a mini-civil war was one example.

I keep wondering whether Mr. Cain thinks that, perhaps, an electrified fence should have been put around the South to keep migrants penned in like animals? I keep wondering whether Mr. Cain is ignorant enough to not understand that the migration from Latin America and the Caribbean is directly related to the domineering policies of the USA towards these countries and the resulting underdevelopment?

A joke, Mr. Cain? Perhaps he would do better reading a little history. Sometimes, as my father would say, it is better to remain silent and to be thought a fool than open your mouth and prove it.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. He is the co-author of Solidarity Divided and can be reached at papaq54@hotmail.com.

Botswana: A Well Kept Secret

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(NNPA) There are 54 nations comprising the continent of Africa. We look at these nations, too often, as all the same – third world striving to enter the second world. South Africa is an exception as it, in total economic terms, is first world. The problem here is that the wealth is greatly weighted to a distinct minority of the population and that is by race, i.e. white. Slums, violence and hopelessness are as prevalent in South Africa as they are in the lowest rung of nations that endure wholesale poverty. Last week, I was in for a revelation. We took a Trade Mission to Botswana and found a modern nation with a solid middle class and beautiful neighborhoods. It is time for the rest of the world to look at Botswana as something special.

How did Botswana get it right? Perhaps the major event is a consistent democracy and good governance. This nation gained its independence in 1966 and has not had one day of political unrest or manipulation. Prior to that it was a “British colony” by choice. Yes, they asked Britain to take it in. Not because they wanted to be colonized but they had a big fear of invasion/annexation by South Africa, Namibia, Angola or Zimbabwe –all of which borders the nation. Being part of the British Empire was insurance for the time being. Early in the 1960’s there was a significant finding under the surface of the land of the nation. Botswana, as it turns out, has been blessed with diamonds. They have diamonds by the billions of annual dollars and for many decades to come. Wisely, and quickly, they set themselves free from the guidance of Britain and became its own “boss”.

Today, the diamond industry accounts for 50% of the national revenue of the nation. Their good governance allows them to invest this revenue into the lives of its people. There is free education through four years of college for everyone. The medical delivery system is offered to all as a right not a privilege. Their infrastructure is more advanced than most nations on the continent. I must admit that their asphalt roads seem superior to ours. The structure of their downtown buildings would rival any U.S. city. The proper management of their natural resources has brought many blessings to the whole nation not just to a few Swiss bank accounts owned by corrupted officials.

We had the opportunity to visit the richest diamond mine in the world, the Jwaneng Diamond Mine. It was absolutely awesome. The biggest highlight was meeting the General Manager of the mine. He was a well educated and articulate brother. That’s right – the world’s richest diamond mine is managed by a child of Africa. The majority of the staff was also indigenous Africans. The nation has a joint-venture with DeBeer’s Diamonds (South African firm). It seems to be working out for both. One of the participants of our Trade Mission was Signet Diamonds (Kay’s Jewelers, Jared, etc.). I believe they were convinced at the end of our trip that they must put a significant office in Botswana and concentrate their new efforts in this fantastic nation. Remember, the majority of all diamonds in the United States come from Botswana and most of us don’t know that.

Another natural resource the nation has is the natural beauty of its women. We heard about this but couldn’t imagine until we journeyed. All the men on the mission had sore necks from looking at all the Lena Horne/Halle Berry types walking here and there. My wife and I are now kidding our sons that they must first visit Botswana before they decide on a wife (mother of our grandchildren). In recent years, Botswana has provided two Miss Universe’s and many in the final selections.

Most important to us is the fact that Botswana has a great inventory of entrepreneurs. The banks are lending and there is an ample amount of quasi government/private investment and technical assistance resources for the growing businesses. The Bank of Botswana suggested that we establish a Holding Company made up of firms wishing to do business in Botswana and listing the company on the Botswana Stock Exchange. We are making plans for that.

The Chamber of Commerce of Botswana, BOCCIM, opened its arms to us and we are now working on a Memorandum of Understanding. Our entrepreneurs and theirs will have a living process of interaction, joint venturing and doing business in both nations from here on out. Together we will grow from this. Before we left, one of our participants had already established a joint venture with one of BOCCIM’s members. Let it be known, that if you want to do international business COME TO BOTSWANA.

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

Letter to the Editor: City Manager Responds to Editorial

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The Black Voice News recently published a commentary critical of the City of Moreno Valley’s efforts to fund infrastructure improvements in the “City Center” area of our community. The commentary opined that the City Council “voted to push through a proposal to improve the value of 200 acres of land owned by developer Iddo Benzeevi by shifting $75 million of the city’s street improvement funds to improve street for a large medical complex on his undeveloped land.”

I appreciate the opportunity to address the opinions stated in the commentary.

Yes, the City is committing a total of approximately $75 million for the following infrastructure improvements:

• New ramps and bridge: Nason/State Route 60 interchange ($30 million)

• New southerly ramps: Moreno Beach/State Route 60 interchange and construction of the connection of Eucalyptus to Moreno Beach ($10 million)

• Cactus Avenue widening from Nason to Lasselle and Nason extension to Iris ($20 million)

• Ultimate improvements on Nason from Eucalyptus to Cactus ($15 million)

We are not shifting all $75 million from street maintenance projects in order to fund these improvements, as was implied in the commentary. In fact, nearly half of these funds were planned long ago for Nason and Moreno Beach interchange projects. Interchange projects take years of design and approvals prior to construction and Nason is currently under construction. Moreno Beach is currently being designed and is scheduled for bid for construction in June 2012. All of the projects noted above have been included in the City’s capital Improvement Program and Traffic Circulation Plan for years.

Moreno Valley adopted a medical overlay planning zone in this area over 4 years ago with a vision to develop a medical and health services corridor serving Moreno Valley and the region. Essentially, the City wanted to capitalize on the presence of the Riverside County Regional Medical Center and Kaiser Community Hospital, the emergence of Moreno Valley College with its emphasis on allied health services, and the planned UCR School of Medicine to bring quality health care and jobs to the region.

In February of this year, as City Manager I asked developer Iddo Benzeevi to reconsider the land use for 200 acres of his Aqua Bella housing development to advance the City’s medical overlay concept.

In just a matter of a few weeks, conceptual plans were prepared by the developer depicting a wellness campus with medical offices, retail stores, a hotel, office space, and classrooms.

The Black Voice News commentary was critical that the developer would benefit from Moreno Valley’s capital investments. I don’t disagree with that statement, but it must also be noted that other entities that will benefit include Kaiser, RCRMC, Moreno Valley College and other properties located in what is essentially the geographical center of Moreno Valley. More importantly, Moreno Valley residents will benefit as all of the following will be vastly improved: emergency vehicle access; access to the expanding Auto Mall and the shopping opportunities at Stoneridge Towne Centre and the Moreno Beach Plaza; residents’ commutes will become significantly safer and shorter. Additionally, the safety of the residents and shoppers that use Nason, Cactus, and the freeway interchanges will improve.

In the past capital improvement projects have been spread out by Council District, however through this commitment of funding we are concentrating these expenditures in one District to solve traffic problems experienced by all our residents. This strategic capital investment makes sense for all residents, as half of Moreno Valley’s top 20 sales tax producers are situated in this area of the community. Committing funds to preserve and increase this revenue, which goes into the General Fund and pays for citywide services such as public safety, is particularly critical for our community as we have seen our revenues tumble.

The medical corridor is a key element in an aggressive economic development action plan focused on creating much-needed jobs. With an unemployment rate of 16%, Moreno Valley cannot continue to wait around for development to bring the jobs. Strategically investing capital improvement funds in this critical area is our best opportunity to do so.

Henry T. Garcia is the City Manager of Moreno Valley

Blacks Make the Cell Phone Business

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(NNPA) Major wireless (cell phone) corporations should be conscious of the fact that much of their business and future depends heavily on the African American community. Fortunately, Verizon and AT&T understand this and are heavily involved in our community. T-Mobile will become much better, if the merger with AT&T takes place (AT&T guarantees this). The others should take serious notice with the latest studies now being released.

Wireless communication is an invaluable and increasingly necessary way to do business and stay connected with friends, family, and our local communities. While it seems just about everyone has a cell phone or smart phone these days, wireless use is especially prevalent within the Black community. According to Nielsen, African Americans talk and text on our cell phones more than any other race or ethnicity in the country – on average using 1,300 voice minutes and sending about 780 SMS (text) messages each month.

We’re also increasingly leading the way in how the technology is used. The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project was released this past August, and it shows African Americans use wireless more than any other ethnic group – to access the Internet, send or receive email, play games, access social networking sites, post photos or videos online, and to bank online. We are also among the most likely to use our cell phones to download an app, play music and participate in video calls and chats with our wireless device.

African Americans of all ages are clearly relying on wireless technology to improve their professional and personal lives, which leads me to an extremely perplexing question: If Black communities are using wireless as a lifeline to connect themselves and to improve our daily lives, then why is such a vital service taxed at such incredibly high (and still growing) rates in this country?

The average American now pays more than 16 percent in combined monthly local, state and federal wireless taxes and fees; and in this age of budget-strapped governments thirsty for revenue, there is a very real threat of that taxpayer burden going ever higher. Often, tax levies are being heaped on us, per device – which certainly adds up for families with children and seniors relying on them, as well as small business owners providing them for their employees. These regressive state and local wireless taxes across the board hit those on fixed incomes, such as seniors, small businesses and our minority community families the hardest. It makes no sense to me how we are discouraging the use of such an important tool by imposing a tax and fee burden that’s at this point more than double that which we pay, on average, in general sales tax (7 percent on average).

Luckily, the U.S. Congress is trying to help taxpayers and consumers alike. It is considering the bipartisan and strongly-supported Lofgren-Franks ‘Wireless Tax Fairness Act of 2011,’ or H.R. 1002, and S. 543 (Wyden-Snowe), which would place a five-year ban on all unfair, new state and local wireless taxes and fees. If enacted, this legislation would be a substantial step in the right direction for establishing a fair and rational tax structure on wireless. The bill was ‘scored’ by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) at zero additional cost to government, and after being approved by the House Judiciary Committee, it stands ready for a vote on the floor of the full House.

Congress is also considering the bipartisan Smith-Cohen ‘Digital Goods and Services Tax Fairness Act of 2011,’ or H.R. 1860, and S. 971 (Wyden-Thune), which would create a fair, responsible 'national framework' for the state and local taxation of digital purchases – such as songs, apps, E-books, ring tones, video games, movies or TV shows. The legislation would bring tax uniformity to how we purchase such items with wireless/Internet, as right now, multiple jurisdictions can claim tax rights over the items you buy, and you can wind up paying them all taxes for the very same purchase.

Wireless is clearly the leading communication choice of African Americans of all ages to stay connected, and to move our communities forward. For education, employment, healthcare, research and simply navigating our day-to-day lives, accessing the Internet via wireless is something that Black Americans have embraced and then some. We MUST insist that an invaluable resource such as wireless remains affordable and accessible to ALL Americans, regardless of location, race or ethnicity, nor income. Please stand up and let them know you’re watching – let your elected officials at every level of government know that when it comes to wireless taxes, enough is enough. Take a moment to contact your Mayor and City/County Council, your Representative and your Senators, and better yet, contact all the Members of the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C. today – and tell them these proposed pieces of pro-consumer legislation are important to you and for our country’s future.

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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