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CBC Chair Butterfield Vows to Work with Both Parties

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(NNPA) If you were the new chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), beginning your time tenure when the first Black president of the United States was completing his last two years in office, what would your plan be?

If you were chair at a time when Republicans held a record number of House seats – the most since 1928 – and conditions for Black Americans were getting worse, what would your plan be? If that first Black president on his way out the door wasn’t all that excited about Black agenda items and rarely connects with members of Congress, what would be the plan?

These are the questions that the new Black Caucus chairman, Congressman G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, has to confront over the next two years. Presidential politics have already begun to take the stage at the start of 2015 as a lame-duck president notorious for not connecting with members of his own party in Congress begins to announce policy objectives.

Butterfield got off to an aggressive start on January 6 with his first speech as Black Caucus Chairman.

“America is not working for many African Americans and we, as the Congressional Black Caucus, have an obligation to fight harder and smarter in the next Congress to help repair the damage,” he said. The speech included a devastating rundown of current statistics on where African Americans now stand.

“We are fighting generations of indifference on the part of those in power. The statistics tell the story,” Butterfield said. Then he told the audience at the Capitol:

• Twenty-five percent of Black households live below the poverty line, compared to 8 percent for White households;

• One out of three Black children lives in poverty;

• African Americans are twice as likely as Whites to be unemployed;

• African Americans earn $13,000 less per year than their White counterparts;

• The unemployment rate of African Americans has consistently been twice as high as for Whites over the past 50 years and

• For every $100 in wealth of a White household, the Black household only has $6 in wealth.

“What is this if it’s not an emergency?” the new Black Caucus chairman concluded.

In an interview on January 9, with Crewof42.com, Butterfield addressed legislative strategy.

“I think we can negotiate with the Democratic Caucus or the Republican conference or both, right now. I’m not ruling out working out any bi-partisan deals with the majority. John Boehner’s in charge. And he has 246 members,” he said.

The Black Caucus has a block 42 voting Democrats in the House, the most in history. But of the 48 African Americans who will serve in the 114th Congress over the next two years, 45 of them will be serving in the minority Democratic Party. Though there is talk of being more aggressive, legislative wins will require loads of backdoor negotiation. It will also require President Obama to be more aggressive in his negotiations with the GOP before legislation is brought to Congress for consideration. Unfortunately for Democrats, tough negotiation is not something President Obama is known for.

As Chairman Butterfield deals with the known and the unknown, he’s focused on what he can control.

“He’s indicated that he wants to be the conductor of the orchestra and give each person an individual opportunity to shine. He also wants to connect every Black organization across the country with the CBC,” noted Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.)

“A plan is put in place where the previous chair [Rep. Marcia Fudge] will take some responsibility when dealing with the White House. As is widely known, she takes no prisoners, so that will be a help to him and he can spend time dealing with them on legislation and initiatives that they need us to support,” said Rep Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.).

Joy Reid, host of The Reid Report, was the master of ceremonies at the Congressional Black Caucus’ ceremonial swearing-in event where Butterfield spoke as CBC chair for the first time.

“I though Congressman Butterfield made it really clear that the CBC is going to be really aggressive about pushing their agenda,” Reid said. “They’re definitely not backing down in the face of the larger Republicans majority. He came out swinging.”

What the New CBC Chair said on January 6 was pointed and reflective.

“In my hometown of Wilson, North Carolina, the railroad tracks divided our town; a town where 23 miles of unpaved streets greeted Black citizens every day. They were relegated to second class citizenship. Our mothers and fathers; grandmothers and fathers; our aunts and uncles worked every day to support the Jim Crow economy,” Butterfield said.

“The CBC was formed in 1971 because its founders understood that Black lives matter. Black boys matter. Black girls matter. The Black family matters. The Black church matters. Black America in its totality matters. In 2015, we are still fighting generations of discrimination. We are fighting generations of indifference on the part of those in power.”

Clever said of the new CBC chairman: “He is methodical and does not tend to act impetuously – whether we planned it or not – he’s the right one for the season.”

Lauren Victoria Burke is freelance writer and creator of the blog Crewof42.com, which covers African American members of Congress. She Burke appears regularly on “NewsOneNow with Roland Martin” and on WHUR FM, 900 AM WURD. She worked previously at USA Today and ABC News. She can be reached through her website, laurenvictoriaburke.com, or Twitter @Crewof42 or by e-mail at LBurke007@gmail.com.

Tortured 'Reasoning' for Using Torture

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(NNPA) I found it quite amazing to hear the reactions by much of the public to the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture. The first was the attempt at denial. The second was a defense of torture.

The attacks on the exhaustive report began with the assertion that the report was under-researched and inaccurate. This attack was very difficult to sustain. The report was based on 6 million internal CIA documents and assorted reports, including reports concerning the relative utility of interrogation techniques. It was also not a document that was produced over night. It took more than five years to complete this. This was not, in other words, a last minute job.

So, the initial attacks, though loud, obnoxious and inflammatory, began to collapse. Next came something more interesting, and actually quite disturbing. Among some in the CIA, and later within the public, there was the defense of torture. Most people in the U.S. were not naïve enough to deny that torture took place. Instead, large numbers of those polled suggested that while, yes, it was torture, at the same time it was acceptable because – supposedly – useful information had been obtained.

There are several sources of concern here. Let’s start with the very fact that we are talking about torture. Supposedly, the U.S. does not engage in torture. Other countries have been accused in the past as having been perpetrators of torture, including Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and the former Soviet Union. The U.S.A was supposedly morally superior. Yet, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, all of that. was thrown out the window and the U.S. joined the list of countries openly conducting torture. And, by the look of some of the polls, a few too many people seem to be quite proud of it.

We cannot stop there, however. Not only are the majority of those polled willing to embrace torture, but they have accepted the fiction that the torture resulted in useful information. What is noteworthy here is that the documentation indicates that very little of use has been obtained by torture. It is all there in black and white, yet much of the public appears unwilling to accept that fact and, instead, substitutes its own imagination for reality. There is a name for this in psychology.

Once a nation embarks on torture, it is forever on a slippery slope. Not only does it lose the right to criticize others, but there is also a question of limits. In other words, who else can be tortured once one has opened the gates of hell? If someone is thought to have terrorist connections, does that justify subjecting them to torture? What sorts of alleged connections justify torture? Can torture be used as a preemptive approach with someone who might, under certain conditions, engage in alleged terrorist activity? Hopefully, you see where this is going.

Torture is not a new instrument in the arsenal of the USA. What is new is the willingness of much of the government – and the population – to quite openly embrace it. And with that step any suggestion of a moral high ground evaporates like a morning mist…and with that, quite probably many of our Constitutional rights.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of The Global African on Telesur-English. He is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Scalise Should be Removed from House Leadership

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(NNPA) After a phenomenal election last November in which Republicans increased their margins in the House and took control of the Senate, the expectation was that congressional Republicans would prove to the country that they could lead like mature adults. But as the adage goes, “they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Specifically, House speaker John Boehner and the rest of his leadership team had a great opportunity to show that they understood the optics of 21st century politics. Two weeks ago, it was reported that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, the No. 3 person in the GOP House leadership, had addressed a group of White supremacists in 2002.

I think Scalise could have survived the fact that he attended this racist gathering simply by being honest about the fact that he attended and it was a huge mistake. He could have asserted that his body of work in public office has proven that his views are not consistent with what the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) represent.

He still would have taken some heat in the media for a few weeks, but it would have gone away. But no, Scalise’s initial response by his spokeswoman, Moira Bagley was, “he [Scalise] was unaware at the time of the group’s ideology and its association with racists and neo-Nazi activists…throughout his career in public service Mr. Scalise has spoken to hundreds of different groups with a broad range of viewpoints…In every case, he was building support for his policies, not the other way around…In 2002, he made himself available to anyone who wanted to hear his proposal to eliminate slush funds that wasted millions of taxpayer dollars as well as his opposition to a proposed tax increase on middle-class families…He has never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question…The hate-fueled ignorance and intolerance that group projects is in stark contradiction to what Mr. Scalise believes and practices as a father, a husband, and a devoted Catholic.”

In politics it is said that the cover-up is worse than the original sin. The Scalise affair is Exhibit A.

As one who has spent his entire adult life working on political campaigns, I know that no politician speaks at an event without knowing all the particulars surrounding the event: who is the convener, the purpose, the audience, etc. Because Scalise and his staff tried to feign ignorance, he should be forced to step down from his leadership position. His response is an insult to anyone with a brain – and any sense of morality.

The organizer of the event was none other than David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The national Republican Party has been playing footsie with Duke and the likes in the early 1990s and thus were intimately familiar with who Duke was.

Without the likes of Duke, Newt Gingrich would have never become speaker of the House in 1995. So, for Gingrich, House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, etc. to try to explain Scalise’s attendance before this group as a mistake is an outright lie – it was done with full knowledge of who the group was and what it stood for.

This scandal has nothing to do with “racism” or whether Scalise is a racist. This is about telling the truth, which he has not done.
I am deeply offended as a Black Republican who has worked very hard to get more Blacks involved in my party to see people such as Gingrich, Boehner, McCarthy and others attempt to defend the indefensible.

On matters of race, I have come to expect absolutely no leadership from Republicans in Congress – and they never disappoint me in this regards.
So, let me publically pose a few questions to Scalise and the House leadership – and I use the term “leadership” very loosely. Does Scalise have any Blacks on his official or political staff? Did he reach out to any credible Black Republicans, not the usual Blacks they go to who will say anything they are told to say, before accepting the invitation? Speaking of staff, does Boehner or McCarthy have any Blacks on their staffs? If so, who are they and what do they do?

It has long been said that the most segregated hour in America is at 11 a.m. on Sundays, when Blacks and Whites go to separate churches. A corollary to this could be that the most segregated place in Congress is the staff of Republican leadership.

Where are the voices of the so-called Black Republicans/conservatives who will miss their own mother’s funeral to denounce Al Sharpton when he does something stupid, but will never publically criticize Scalise and Boehner when they are wrong for fear of not being invited to go on FOX News to praise all things Republican.

As Eric Erickson asks, “How do you show up at a David Duke event and not know what it’s about?” GOP operative, John Weaver said, “Scalise cannot serve in leadership.”

I have not read about any Black Republicans calling for Scalise’s resignation from leadership. So let me do so publicly: Steve Scalise must go!

Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a Washington, D.C.-based public relations/government affairs firm. He can be reached through his Web site, www.raynardjackson.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at raynard1223.

Republicans 2015: A Trip into the Past

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(NNPA) At this time of the year everyone is making predictions about the coming year and/or reflections on the past. Let me add a quick note, by way of a warning. The November 2014 elections, at the national and state levels, brought together some very conservative forces who, according to most opinion polls, do not represent the point of view of the majority of the population. They do, however, represent the views of about 15-20 percent of the population that voted for them on Election Day 2014.

The vast majority of the Republican Party has suggested, for many years, that their objective is to overturn the 20th century, that is, to reverse the various gains made by the average person in the 20th century. This means everything from the victories of the New Deal to the increase in voting rights in the 1960s. With majorities in the House and Senate, we should expect that these conservative forces will go all out, with no interest in compromising, to advance their agenda.

Added to this, of course, is the conservative hatred for President Obama even when they agree with him on matters of policy. As soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made clear in 2009, the objective of the Republicans was to make Obama a one-term president. Well, they did not succeed at that, but they have continued in their efforts to undermine all of his major efforts.

What we should expect to see, in 2015, is not about President Obama. It really is more about conflicting visions of the future of the U.S. That is what we should appreciate. As I am fond of saying, conservative forces in the U.S. are attempting to block the future. They are hoping to gerrymander our politics in such a way that despite a popular majority to the contrary, rich and conservative forces will continue to dominate society (this is what makes the census and who controls state legislatures so important).

Next year will be another year of struggle but with what we have seen in the upsurge of youthful, Black action in response to police lynchings, there are good reasons to be believe that passivity will have little place in our future. The activism and energy that emerged in response to police violence must be translated into fights for voting rights, healthcare, housing, education and jobs.  It must be translated into a recognition that the battle for justice in so-called post-racial USA is a battle to establish consistent democracy rather than any acceptance of a political and economic establishment that looks a lot like a 21st century Jim Crow or apartheid regime.

Happy New Year!

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of The Global African on Telesur-English.  He is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer.  Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

'Selma' is More than a Movie

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(NNPA) The movie Selma, which debuted on Christmas Day, is an eerily timely film detailing a history not taught in American schools on a regular basis. There’s the obvious truth we already knew:  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is in another stratosphere of leadership compared to the Who’s Who on the scene today.

In terms of results, no one has come close to Dr. King before or since. Anyone attempting to define themselves as a leader in the movement around the Black agenda today needs to check themselves after watching this movie. The film provides a unintended indictment of the non-strategies that yield no positive results often seen in today’s so-called leadership.

Director Ava DuVernay’s depiction of the lead up to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act leaves behind huge lessons – many unintentional. The first would be that without constant pressure on those in power nothing will change. Even within the genre of a history we already know on a man we’ve over-studied, there’s that powerful truth.

Selma reminds us of what is required to win results for African Americans with 300 years of history stacked against them.  Even with the predictable restrictions brought on by the money-grabbing King kids who forbade the director to use their father’s actual words for the film –   screenwriter Paul Webb tells us that Dr. King remains one of few people in American life to speak brutal honesty on racism and make a difference.

The film reaffirms that Dr. King worked in service of a mission. In the case of the Selma campaign, it was voting rights.  King did not get up in the morning to focus on TV interviews, news conferences or participate on panels.  His was a results driven movement.  Understanding the domino effects of certain actions in Selma and how those actions would win results and move the needle on voting rights is featured.

It’s jarring to consider how unthinkable it was for Blacks voting in the South 50 years ago just as it was unthinkable to imagine a Black president in the White House.  Now, even with both those realities realized, current Black leadership still hasn’t found a way to win.

The post-King era of civil rights groups is more fixated on corporate sponsorships, endless roundtables and sprawling conferences.  It also features meetings with people in power that yield no results and endless re-statements of unsolved problems. The pattern typically ends with a behind-the-scenes deal to keep modern civil rights leaders quiet.

All this comes at a time when any glance at economic data on poverty, unemployment and economic status would tell you something is seriously wrong with Black leadership. That Dr. King was operating during a much more perilous time punctuated with murder makes it even more of an indictment of today’s “leaders.”

In the wake of Ferguson, Mo. and the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner by state actors, there is the realization that much of what King confronted and improved remains unconquered.  We still have unarmed Black men being shot dead and their killers going unpunished after telling tales that blame the dead for their demise.

At first glance,  a viewer could look at Selma as a completely different era. The failure of the state to punish those who killed Black people is featured in the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson by a Alabama State Trooper who was never punished.  Given recent events the film prompts a scary question: What’s different now?

Maybe Dr. King appears larger because the stakes were higher.  Or, maybe it’s because in the 1960s era of law enforcement featured beatings that were routine. But the fact is that still happens.

With no smart phones, Facebook, Twitter, or laptops, you ask: What was it that the group of leaders had 50 years ago that is missing today?  King visited the White House in person fewer than six times from 1961 to 1968.  According to movement historian Taylor Branch, Dr. King informed President Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, that he would attend no further social functions at the White House until they dealt with his request for an executive order ending segregation.

The thought of any current civil rights leader doing anything close to that now is unfathomable.

Selma also covers internal rivalries within the movement and tactical mistakes. The fact is any movement in the midst of failing to reach a stated goals should be actively questioning itself.  Show me a movement with no results and no infighting and I’ll show you a bunch of idiots.   Internal criticism in the wake of failure is not a “distraction” as it is defined today.

Disagreements between groups in the days of Dr. King’s prominence became the moments when leadership re-adjusted failed strategy. There’s a reason you don’t see leaders from NRA, AIPAC and LaRaza fighting publicly.  It’s because so many of their goals have already been reached.

Selma in theaters this holiday season becomes a time to push idiot movies about assassinating foreign leaders to the side.  Off in Hollywood, where people can waste $90 million on trivia, the movie Selma is worth far more than that. And Selma will have far more longevity because it details neglected history. It also gives us a much needed whiplash when we compare civil rights activism now and civil rights activism then.

Lauren Victoria Burke is freelance writer and creator of the blog Crewof42.com, which covers African American members of Congress. She Burke appears regularly on “NewsOneNow with Roland Martin” and on WHUR FM, 900 AM WURD. She worked previously at USA Today and ABC News. She can be reached through her website, laurenvictoriaburke.com, or Twitter @Crewof42 or by e-mail at LBurke007@gmail.com

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