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Dr. King's Voting Rights Legacy Under Attack

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No nation can long continue to flourish or to find its way to a better society while it allows any one of its citizens to be denied the right to participate in the most fundamental of all privileges of democracy -- the right to vote. -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

(NNPA) On Monday, January 16th, America celebrated what would have been the 83rd birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The day is marked from coast-to-coast with parades, speeches, and pilgrimages to the new King Memorial on the National Mall. But in the midst of this outpouring of praise, there is a sinister movement afoot to undo one of Dr. King’s hardest fought victories – the removal of discriminatory barriers to voting and the passage of the Voting Rights Act signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965.

In Dr. King’s day, billy clubs, cattle prods and guns kept African Americans away from the polls. Today, new voter restriction laws on the books or in the works in at least 34 states could deny the right to vote to more than 5 million Americans this year. These laws include new photo ID requirements, elimination of early voting, bans on voting by out-of-state college students, and rollbacks of voting rights for ex-felons who have paid their debts to society. Florida has even eliminated voting on the Sunday before Election Day which has traditionally been a day when African American churches organized “souls to the polls” drives for their congregations.

The mostly conservative proponents of these new laws claim they are meant to prevent widespread fraud – the casting of ballots by people who are not legally eligible to vote. But both the Bush and Obama Justice Departments have looked and not found significant voter fraud in American elections. So let’s be clear – the real reason behind this spate of new laws is to suppress the votes of people likely to support progressive candidates and issues – African Americans, Latinos, young people, the elderly and people with disabilities. This is unconscionable. It is un-American. And it dishonors the sacrifices of generations of Americans who have fought and died to extend the right to vote to every citizen.

Fortunately, a growing number of Americans are fighting back. On December 10th, the National Urban League joined the NAACP and a coalition of civil rights groups at a “Stand for Freedom” march and rally at the United Nations to protest this blatant attack on voting rights. Attorney General Eric Holder has also expressed concern about the legality of some of these new laws. Recently, the Justice Department struck down a voter ID law in South Carolina and Holder promises to continue to monitor these attempts and stop them when they violate the law. But beating back these efforts will require citizen vigilance and action.

In a recent speech at the LBJ Library and Museum in Austin, Texas, Holder urged Americans to “Speak out. Raise awareness about what’s at stake. Call on our political parties to resist the temptation to suppress certain votes in the hope of attaining electoral success and… urge policymakers at every level to reevaluate our election systems – and to reform them in ways that encourage, not limit, participation.”

We agree. We must not let the hard-won voting rights secured by Dr. King, John Lewis, LBJ and so many others slip away.

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

One Hundred Years Later and it Still Doesn’t Work

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(NNPA) There has been such an enormous amount of attention given to the production of Bio-Diesel, Ethanol and other forms of alternative energy. You can drive out in the Midwest or Texas and see windmills twirling all over the scenery. How much of a difference has this made to our carbon “foot print”? The answer is disappointing. There hasn’t been much of a dent made. In fact, there may have been more harm than good.

Windmills are not rocket science. People have been using windmills for water power since the 16th century. Energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens invested many millions of dollars and reached a firm conclusion: It is not the answer. He has decided not to build another single windmill. Besides that, virtually all of the parts that go into a windmill are made in China. There is no significant impact on American jobs or energy output.

The most interesting alternative is Ethanol or bio fuel. This too is an old technology. The history of it goes back to George Washington Carver, the great scientist of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Dr. Carver did an overwhelming amount of development with peanuts. Much of this was due to a contractual arrangement he had with automobile magnate Henry Ford. The auto industry was booming and the demand for oil was growing at an exponential rate. Ford wanted Dr. Carver to come up with a bio fuel to replace the need for oil. The Rockefeller Family and others had the lock on oil and he didn’t want to become overly dependent on them. After years of experimentation on the Tuskegee campus, Dr. Carver and Henry Ford came to this conclusion: It is not feasible to develop bio fuel.

That was over one hundred years ago. The fact still applies yet, environmentalists and politicians have pushed hard to further the development of bio-fuel. It works but not on an economical basis. The less bio fuel you have the more gasoline you will need. However, there is plenty of oil in the world and we just have to develop a cleaner way of using it. That is the better alternative. Food should be eaten as hunger still prevails in many parts of the world.

The rapid expansion of the bio fuel industry has put a big strain on the supply of food crops such as corn, sugar, palm oil and wheat. Not only are these crops directly consumed by humans they are also key ingredients in feed for livestock such as cattle, sheep, chickens, turkeys, etc. In addition to livestock, nearly thirty percent of edible items found in a supermarket have such ingredients in them. Thus, the increased demand for bio fuels has significantly increased the price of groceries which has a terrible affect on the consumer price index and inflation. We all feel this every time we buy food.

Lobbyists and fiscally liberal politicians have been pushing for subsidies as incentives to those manufacturing these bio fuels. Fortunately, the annual subsidies that were given to producers of the bio fuels have ended. This thirty year ridiculous program has now ended and hopefully our grocery prices will start to decrease. Supplies of bio fuel start to decrease. The largest foreign producer of it, Brazil, has started cutting back on its sugar cane to ethanol program as the margins in the production do not justify much of a future. Another, ethanol giant, China, has also started to decrease its activity for the same reason. Gasoline prices alone should drop about 95 cents per gallon as a result of this stupid program’s demise.

Actually, the future of energy stewardship will rely on the great engineering capacity found in energy giants such as Chevron, Shell, Exxon and others. They have the engineers and have invested many millions of dollars in finding ways to produce energy in a cleaner, safer and more economical fashion. It won’t be environmental groups, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Sierra Club, Greenpeace or any other entity that will provide breakthroughs in the economic efficiency and cleanliness in the energy industry. It will be our corporate giants who will lead the way.

This experiment with ethanol has been nothing but a “flash from the past”. It can work in a limited way to replace oil but it comes at a very expensive price. It is imprudent to go down the same road that Dr. George Washington Carver and Henry Ford journeyed more than a hundred years ago. They showed us that it doesn’t work and nothing has changed. Energy efficiency will come as experimentation and research continues. There is no need to fake it as such folly can bring economic harm to all of us.

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

My Problem Watching Mainstream News

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(NNPA) I grew up listening to the news on radio, watching it on TV, and reading it in the paper (and in magazines). I have found myself increasingly weary of mainstream news, however. It is an odd feeling. My political beliefs have always led me to question the mainstream news sources but I would still make a point of watching network news programs. Over time something happened.

With the exception of Aljazeera, which offers the most interesting in what can be called mainstream news, we are treated to endless stories about what now seems to be endless electoral/political campaigns. We are treated to stories about the economy that tell us so little about the roots of the current economic crisis. We are then treated to inane stories about this or that celebrity (and who they might be involved with) or stories about some horror, such as a mass murder or environmental disaster.

Think about it: how often do you get a sense as to why anything is actually happening? Instead we are exposed to what feels like a ticker tape of disasters, which has the net effect of making you want to run away and hide. When there are so-called experts speaking, they are more than likely white men, as if there is no one else on planet Earth capable of interpreting reality. But added to that, the spectrum of opinions is so terribly narrow so as to make distinctions difficult to ascertain.

The reality of the bias and intellectual desert that is mainstream news is why it is so critical that two things happen. One, legislative action will need to be taken to break up the oligopoly that has emerged in mainstream news. We need more news channels and we need a variety of opinions. Two, we need to support good alternative media, including but not limited to African American media. With regard to alternative media, as greater attention turns to the Web, we, the consumers of information must realize that we will need to provide support. Good news necessitates more than just opinion but the hiring of capable journalists who have the courage and expertise to investigate and write about the global developments that should be brought to our attention.

I feel embarrassed ignoring the mainstream media, even though I am often relieved that I do not need to hear the nonsense. But I cannot hide; nor can you. My experience is that when you actually speak with regular people about WHY things are happening, or when you hear news programs that treat the viewer/reader as if they are intelligent rather than a moron, the lights go on…and someone is, in fact, home.

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

Century of Struggle: ANC and NAACP

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(NNPA) During the past 100 years, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the African National Congress (ANC) have directly shared in contributing to the attainment of some of the most important milestones in the history of African people, as well as making indelible contributions to the progressive uplift and transformation of all humanity throughout the world. In other words, just to be clear, whenever Black people in Africa or in America, or anywhere in world, have stood up and have fought for freedom, justice and equality, it has inured irrepressible benefits to all people who have also cried out and struggle for freedom and equal justice.

This year marks the 100 anniversary of the African National Congress. We celebrate and take due notice of the historic accomplishments of the ANC in overcoming the racist apartheid regime in South Africa and for leading the way to the continued transformation of South African society into a non racial democracy and economy. We salute the ANC for outstanding achievements in the long struggle of humanity to overcome and overthrow the painful brutality and miseries of slavery, oppression and economic imperialism.

Similarly three years ago in 2009, we observed and celebrated the 100 anniversary of the NAACP. It is so important that we remind ourselves, and in particular our youth, that freedom and equality has required great sacrifice and struggle for decades and centuries. The NAACP is the world’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. We should never take for granted the progress that has been secured as a result of the work, struggle, sacrifice and leadership of the NAACP and the ANC.

We still have much work to do in 2012 and into the future both in America and in South Africa, and throughout the world where Black people and others are still valiantly yearning for freedom and standing up against the so-called post-modern institutionalized systems of racial and socioeconomic oppression and exploitation. This is no time to engage in any historical myths about a “post-civil rights” or a “post-freedom-fighting” era of life. I believe we have not only today a “right” to struggle, but also a “responsibility” to struggle and continue to fight for equality and empowerment.

Today across the United States, various states are attempting to undermine the Voting Rights Act, in particular in those states where Blacks and Latinos have a large percent of the potential statewide vote. 2012 is one of most important election years in our lifetime. Yet it is most unfortunate that some of us have forgotten about the sacrifice of NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers and many others in the NAACP that gave their lives so that we can have the fundamental right to vote. For Black Americans and others the right to vote is blood-soaked with a moral and historical responsibility that should never be taken for granted.

Millions of South Africans and millions of others throughout the world celebrated the first century of the ANC, Africa’s oldest liberation movement and the current ruling party in South Africa. The ANC is the party of John Dube, Oliver R. Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Albert John Lutuli, Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, and President Jacob Zuma and millions of freedom fighters who were victorious against apartheid in South Africa. We salute the ANC for all that it has done and continues to do to cause and sustain the liberation and development of Africa. President Zuma stated, “”Our freedom was definitely not free. It was achieved through the blood, sweat and tears of many selfless leaders and cadres of the movement……… As we mark the ANC centenary, this is the right moment to pause and ponder the future of South Africa and of the ANC over the next 100 years.”

ANC spokesperson, Jackson Mthembu, affirmed, ““We have been able to reach 100 years because of the leadership quality that we have had in the ANC………..Members of the ANC, despite the serious onslaught against them and their families — being in prison, in exile, maimed and killed — remained loyal to this organization after over years of struggle.” The future of South African has many promising opportunities under the continued leadership of the ANC.

During the tenure of WEB Dubois and James Weldon Johnson at the NAACP, there was an ongoing mutual and supportive dialogue that transpired between the ANC and the NAACP. We need that same type of dialogue and joint planning today for the future mission for the continued advancement, progress and liberation of African people all over the world. We are all beneficiaries of the successful struggles of the past. The question now before us is how can we build a stronger alliance with our sisters and brothers of the ANC? The struggle for freedom, justice and equality is a global struggle and thus our civil rights organizations need to expand and to build on an international plane in order to meet the global challenges. Long live the spirit of the ANC and the NAACP!

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

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).

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