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Black American Income Inequality

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(NNPA) As we begin 2012, the issue of “income inequality” is a matter of high importance for millions of Black Americans and others who struggle to improve their overall quality of life. The fact is that the contradiction of economic injustice for decades has had a devastating impact on Black people across America. Inequality and systematic racial discrimination in education, economics, and the environment have been so pervasive and institutionalized that too many of us have come to falsely believe that this situation is permanent without recourse to challenge and change it. This is again why the growing Occupy Wall Street movement should be of particular interests to African Americans and Latino Americans who are the two groups that are most affected quantitatively by income inequality in America.

Black church leaders, in particular, are now moving to the forefront once again to raise the level of consciousness and social action of millions of Black people around this issue through the rise of Occupy the Dream that is revitalizing and reapplying the therapeutic and uplifting dream and legacy of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Our situation can and will change to the extent to which we organize and mobilize around our defined economic and political interests. More than ever before, Black Americans will have a larger role in shaping the future of America. But we must be focused on what the priority issues are while standing tall and bold in support of an inclusive movement for social change.

What is income inequality? It is the measurement of the distribution of income that highlights the gap between individuals or households making the most of the income in a given country and those making the least for a period of time. In the United States, overall income inequality has steadily increased during last 30 years between the super wealthy and the super poor. When you add race as a distinguishing characteristic, the widening gap of income inequality between Blacks and Whites in the U.S. exposes the lingering impact of years of targeted discrimination and economic injustice imposed on vast majority of Black Americans. Income inequality is the extent of disparity between high income and low income households.

The “Gini coefficient” measures income inequality by calculating the extent to which the distribution of income among individuals within a country deviates from a perfectly equal distribution. During the last ten years the United States had the highest Gini ranking of income inequality at coefficient number of “46” of all leading industrialized nations in the world. The Gini coefficient (named after an Italian statistician named Corrado Gini) is the most commonly used measure of income inequality. A Gini coefficient of 0 represents perfect equality (that is, every person in the society has the same amount of income); a Gini coefficient of 100 represents perfect inequality (that is, one person has all the income and the rest of the society has none). In the U.S., 1% of the people overwhelmingly and increasingly control the wealth of the nation at the economic hardship of 99% of the people. To put this inequality into a global context, the Credit Suisse Research Institute just released a report that documents that the richest .5% of global adults hold well over a third of the entire wealth of the world.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010-2011, the poverty rate in the U.S. reached its highest level since 1933 while the Forbes 400, an annual listing of America’s richest individuals inflation-adjusted net worth, cited that the wealth of the Forbes 400 rose from $507 billion in 1995 to over $2 trillion in 2011. Black Americans of all groups listed in national annual poverty analysis have the highest and increasing annual poverty rates in America going into 2012. I do not have to list the litany of all the problems that we face from double unemployment, foreclosures, loss of health care, incarceration, school drop outs, and other real painful problems as a result of the economic inequities and injustices that Black Americans face. The systemic problem of income inequality is a serious issue that we must address forthrightly. But we should not become cynical or hopeless. To the contrary, Black Americans have options. We first need to focus on this problem and we need to work on the solutions to income inequality. So much of our future is at stake. In the spirit of Dr. King and in the legacy of all our ancestors who overcame great hurdles in the past, let us pray, work, struggle, organize, mobilize, unify and build a future for our children and communities.

Join the movement. Let’s stand up to income inequality. Let’s occupy our dreams…. Let’s occupy our future.

Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is National Director of Occupy the Dream and President of Education Online Services Corporation and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN).

City Clerk Race: It's About Ethics, Not Politics

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Some would make the February 7 run-off election for San Bernardino City Clerk a referendum on current or past elected officials and have made it clear that they want me to do so also. But politicizing the Clerk’s office sells it short and diminishes the importance of true neutrality in providing San Bernardino residents the best possible service. It also belies my 25-year record of maintaining a healthy distance from elected officials in order to maintain professional independence.

First as a journalist and then as a public information and communications officer for public agencies, my only allegiance has been in letting the public know what its elected leaders are doing. My career choices have required that I maintain professional distance, take accurate notes, develop a firm backbone, thick skin and ability to speak for myself—all vital skills for the City Clerk.

Running for office is new to me, but managing people, projects and public information is not. I am the clear choice for City Clerk because I have the appropriate education, extensive communications experience and an unmatched passion for open government. My motivation in running for City Clerk is to post agendas, not promote or oppose one, even if it behooves me. That’s what ethics is about, and it’s what I’m about.

I came to San Bernardino in 1994 when I accepted a job as a reporter. The affordable housing, proximity to the mountains, and the people I met kept me here long after I traded my reporter’s notebook for a public relations job. And now I’m eager to use my skills and experience to benefit my adopted community. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, with a minor in political science. My graduate work in communications focus on open government and public records law—key aspects of the City Clerk’s job. Most notably, I am the only candidate with formal City Clerk training from the City Clerks Association of California.

Besides keeping the City Clerk’s office independent and local elections fair, I’d like to increase the volume of city records that are digitized, make them easier to find online and streamline the business registration process to allow business owners to apply for, get approvals, renew and pay for registrations online, saving them time and effort.

As the public’s main link to its government, the caretaker of its history if you will, the Clerk must treat everyone equally and be committed to fair elections and integrity in the official record. We cannot allow our city’s records to be managed by someone who favors one elected official over others. San Bernardino needs a City Clerk who values accuracy in the official record, and has the skills and independence to protect those records them from those who might not. I am that person, and I need your vote.

Directly related professional experience and educational focus, not any political alliances, are what will ensure the City Clerk’s office is run professionally, and—most importantly—independently—from other City Hall departments.

Therefore, in order to avoid even an appearance of collusion that might affect my ability to remain independent, I have not sought endorsement from elected officials or special interest groups—even those I agree with, and even though it may mean greater financial support. Ethics is doing the right thing even if it isn’t personally beneficial. I understand the constraints I place on myself in not seeking endorsement, and in maintaining my “independent” political party affiliation; abandoning these positions would make it easier for partisan groups to endorse me. It’s the way to win, people have told me. But I think we’re capable of something better in San Bernardino.

That is why you won’t find my name next to any other elected official in this city in this election, or any other. Instead, I’m asking you to consider my qualifications, consider my demonstrated commitment to independence, and then make the choice to support me, the clear choice for this most important position. Ballots come out the week of January 9; please vote and return them early.

Gigi Hanna is a candidate in the run-off for San Bernardino City Clerk. Her web site is www.gigihanna4sbcityclerk.com. If you’d like to add your name to her list of supporters please contact her at ghanna4sbcityclerk@gmail.com, or (909) 709-2019.

Letter to the Editor: Setting the Record Straight

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By Rikke Van Johnson,
6th Ward City Councilman, San Bernardino

For the record my last name is Johnson. Van is my middle name. I have been searching my family tree and so far have not found any Dutch ancestry.

Also, just to set the record straight Scot Spencer was already entrenched at the San Bernardino Airport when I was appointed to the Inland Valley Development Agency and the San Bernardino International Airport Authority. I’ll admit some mistakes have been made, but I believe that we are heading in the right direction.

There have been a number of letters about San Bernardino lately with a negative undertone. It’s alright for you to complain, but anyone can do that. If you truly desire positive change, why not present viable solutions after your complaint instead of just spewing out negativity. You will probably say that no one will listen. If you don’t try you will never know.

I understand that this would be hard for everyone to do because some of you have personal agendas. Either you have political aspirations; or you are caught up in all of the negative propaganda that has been presented and feel you need to add to it; or evil is your dwelling place and resides deeply within your heart; or all of the above.

Nonetheless to those who persist to emit negative noise, I’ll continue to pray that you will come from under that shroud of darkness. Instead of just complaining and expecting positive change to take place because of your complaints, I’ll hope that you will strive and work to make positive change.

Broadband Access for All: Connect Today, Change Your Tomorrow

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“Whether we’re talking about jobs, education, or health care…Broadband is now a basic requirement to participate in the 21st century economy.”
Julius Genachowski, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission

(NNPA) Somewhere in the United States today, a student is unable to finish his homework, a father will not be able to find a job and a mother will not be able to seek proper medical treatment. Today, broadband is a basic need and provides information that is vital to the quality of life and economic stability. Unfortunately one third of Americans remain unconnected and they are overwhelmingly people of color.

The paradox of the Digital Age is that while technology has the capacity to bring people together and connect people to information, it simultaneously presents the threat of deepening the divide between society’s information “haves” and “have nots”, often referred to as the digital divide.

This dilemma was highlighted in a recent Commerce Department report which found that “Broadband adoption rates varied substantially between different racial and ethnic groups, with 81% of Asian and 72% of White households having broadband Internet access, compared to only 55% and 57% of Black and Hispanic households.” Major reasons for these disparities include lack of knowledge, the high cost of getting online, and the lack of an adequate computer. With so much of modern life tied to Internet access, these are barriers that must be overcome. As FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski recently put it, “Closing the digital divide is about achieving the basic American promise of opportunity for all.”

The National Urban League has stepped up to meet this challenge in a big way. In 2010, we joined forces with the One Economy Corporation as part of a Broadband Opportunity Coalition (BBOC) focused on breaking down the barriers to people getting online and getting the information they need to improve their lives. The BBOC is comprised of other leading civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, National Council of La Raza, Asian American Justice Center, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council.

This effort is the outgrowth of efforts already underway by the non-profit One Economy Corporation. Since 2000, One Economy, under the leadership of Chairman Rey Ramsey, has been committed to ensuring that every person, regardless of income and location, can maximize the power of technology to improve the quality of his or her life and enter the economic mainstream. In April of last year, One Economy and the BBOC were awarded $28.5 million in federal stimulus funds to support that goal. We are supplementing the stimulus award with private sector matching support valued at $23 million for a total of $51.5 million.

This effort will bring broadband connections to 27,000 low income housing developments, promote digital literacy to 20 million people and offer digital mentoring for more than 235,000 at-risk youth. The National Urban League has also made the expansion of minority participation in the Information and Communications Technology Industry one of the pillars of our 12-point Jobs Rebuild America plan.

In his 2011 State of the Union Address, President Obama set the goal of enabling businesses to provide high-speed wireless services to at least 98 percent of all Americans within five years. We support that goal. Broadband access for all is essential to expanding opportunity, creating jobs, reducing our deficit and winning the future.

Marc H. Morial is the President and CEO of the National Urban League.

Newt Gingrich, Glib Opportunist

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By Eugene Robinson, Special Columnist
Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American –

Can we please bury the notion that Newt Gingrich is some kind of deep thinker? His intellect may be as broad as the sea, but it's about as deep as a birdbath.

I'm not saying the Republican presidential front-runner is unacquainted with ideas. Quite the contrary: Ideas rain through his brain like confetti, escaping at random as definitive pronouncements about this or that. But they are other people's ideas, and Gingrich doesn't bother to curate them into anything resembling a consistent philosophy.

The week's most vivid example of Gingrich's intellectual promiscuity sent principled conservatives into apoplexy. Mitt Romney, his chief opponent for the GOP nomination, had called on Gingrich to return the $1.6 million in consulting fees he received from housing giant Freddie Mac. Gingrich replied that he would "be glad to listen" if Romney would first "give back all the money he's earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees" during his time as head of the investment firm Bain Capital.

If this were a column about Gingrich's hypocrisy, the point would be that he has been scorchingly critical of Freddie Mac while at the same time accepting tons of the firm's money. But this is about his shallowness – and the fact that in blasting Romney he adopted the ideas and rhetoric of Occupy Wall Street.

Republicans are supposed to believe that "bankrupting companies and laying off employees" is something to celebrate, not bemoan, because this is seen as the way capitalism works. Even in the heat of a campaign, no one who has thought deeply about economics and adopted the conservative viewpoint – which Gingrich wants us to believe he has done – could possibly commit such heresy.

Gingrich doesn't just borrow ideas from the protesters he once advised to "get a job, right after you take a bath." He's as indiscriminate as a vacuum cleaner, except for a bias toward the highfalutin and trendy.

Take his solution for making the federal government so efficient that we could save $500 billion a year: a management system called Lean Six Sigma. There's no way Gingrich could resist such a shiny bauble of jargon.

I won't argue with the corporate executives who say that Lean Six Sigma works wonders for their firms. But is a technique developed by Motorola to reduce the number of defects in its electronic gear really applicable to government? There's no reason to think it would be, unless you somehow restructured government to introduce competition and a genuine, not simulated, profit motive.

Another example is Gingrich's bizarre claim last year that "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior" was the key to understanding President Obama. Aside from being one of the stranger, least comprehensible utterances by a prominent American politician in recent memory, it was also completely unoriginal. Gingrich was citing and endorsing a hallucinatory piece in Forbes by Dinesh D'Souza. It was merely the idea du jour.

Gingrich finds it hard to watch an intellectual fad pass by without becoming infatuated. Do you remember Second Life, the digital realm? In 2007, he told us it was "an example of how we can rethink learning" and potentially "one of the great breakthroughs of the next 10 years." I know Second Life still exists, but have you heard a lot about it recently? Has it changed your world?

Gingrich didn't originate the idea of solving the health insurance problem through an individual mandate, but he supported it – before bitterly opposing it. Nor was he saying anything new last week when he made the offensive claim that Palestinians are an "invented people." His xenophobic views about the alleged threat to the United States from Islam and Sharia law are in conflict with earlier statements praising immigration and the melting pot as great American strengths. But for Gingrich, the word contradiction has no meaning. His discourse knows no past and no future, just the glib opportunism of now.

Eugene Robinson's email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

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