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Housing Recovery Bypasses Blacks and Latinos

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(NNPA) Scholars from several of the nation’s most-esteemed colleges and universities jointly concluded that the nation’s so-called housing “recovery” is bypassing communities of color and working- class neighborhoods. Underwater America, their new report, analyzed negative equity and foreclosure data using zip codes in metropolitan areas.

According to the report, nearly one in 10 Americans or – 28.7 million – live in the 100 hardest hit cities from the housing crisis. Among the 395 hardest-hit zip codes across the country, Blacks and Latinos represent at least half of that population. And in 57 cities, at least 30 percent of all mortgaged homes are still underwater, defined as owing more on their loans than their homes are now worth.

Published by the Haas Institute for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of California at Berkeley, the report’s authors come from Occidental College, Nathan Cummings Foundation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The New School and George Washington University.

Commenting on Underwater America, john a. powell [Yes, that’s how he writes it], Haas Institute Director and Professor of Law, Ethnic and African-American Studies at UC-Berkeley, said, “The Underwater America report is important because it reveals that a large part of the country is not only not recovering, it is largely being ignored. These are disproportionately Black and Latino communities.”

Today, homeownership represents 92 percent of the net worth for Blacks and 67 percent for Latinos. Whites, by comparison, only have 58 percent of their wealth in their homes. And despite rising home prices in many areas of the country, owner-occupied housing still remains $3.2 trillion below 2006 levels.

By examining trends by zip codes, the new report determined which states had the highest housing hardships. In order of severity they are: Georgia (61), Florida (55), Illinois (47), Michigan (38), Ohio (33), New Jersey (32), Maryland (24), Missouri (21), California (17), Nevada (10) and North Carolina (10).

The zip code analysis also revealed negative housing patterns in specific city neighborhoods. Again, ranked by the rate of severity, the following cities had serious and multiple neighborhood problems: Las Vegas, Atlanta, Jacksonville (Fla), Orlando, Chicago, Tampa, Detroit, Miami, Memphis, Virginia Beach, Riverside (Calif.), Kansas City (Mo.), St. Louis, Cleveland and Milwaukee.

For example, in Atlanta, more than 400,000 consumers remain underwater on their mortgages. Another 5,400 homeowners in 2013 went into either default or foreclosure. Additionally, the market’s home prices are still 27 percent below their peak levels.

“These challenges faced by cities represent opportunities for communities to empower themselves to save their homes, their neighborhoods and restore their community’s wealth,” added powell.

The irony to this still-unfolding saga is that over succeeding generations, buying a home was a reliable gateway to building wealth and financial security. Owning a home ‘free and clear’ was a cause for celebration attested to family financial security.

But as earlier research by the Center for Responsible Lending, which was cited in the Haas report, revealed, the years leading up to the housing crisis found communities of color – Black and Latino – targeted for high-cost, risky loans even when borrowers qualified for lower-cost and more sustainable mortgages. Instead of earning home equity, many borrowers of color lost thousands of dollars in what is often the single largest investment of a lifetime.

Underwater America states, “For African-American and Latinos specifically between 2005 and 2009, they experienced a decline in household wealth of 52 percent and 66 percent, respectively, compared to 16 percent for whites. This reflects, in large part, disparities in foreclosure rates among these groups, since for most Americans, and particularly for people of color, their homes are their largest source of wealth.”

According to powell, “These challenges faced by cities represent opportunities for communities to empower themselves to save their homes, their neighborhoods and restore their community’s wealth.”

The report recommends remedies that include a defined role for nonprofit organizations in addition to efforts by governments and banks. The three stakeholder groups working together could and should reverse the losses of recent years.

According to Saqib Bhatti, one of the report’s authors and a fellow with the Nathan Cummings Foundation, “We believe that if banks are unwilling or unable to write down underwater mortgages to the current market value of the homes, then local officials should take the decision out of their hands.”

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org

What is going on in the Congress of South African Trade Unions?

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(NNPA) The crisis that has rocked the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) over the last year has frequently been portrayed as revolving around a scandal involving the organization’s General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi. The principal leader of the largest labor federation in South Africa, Vavi was accused of conducting an inappropriate relationship with a female employee of the organization. Although Vavi publicly apologized on several occasions, he was suspended for several months, only to have been recently reinstated by an act of a South African court.

The Vavi case, however, is not the main cause of the COSATU crisis. The underlying causes go back to the early days of Nelson Mandela’s administration and the decision of his government to embark on economic policies that were contrary to those originally promised by the African National Congress in its fight with the apartheid regime. The ANC had advanced the need for the nationalization of key industries and the establishment of major social development programs.

In 1996 the government suddenly reversed course and instituted a new economic program called Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR). Despite the name, it was a program that conformed to the sorts of economic biases very common in the 1990s (and today), including privatization, downsizing, and elimination of trade barriers. South African workers were hurt very badly by this change and a struggle began to emerge within COSATU over how the labor unions should respond to anti-worker policies that their allies–the ANC–were advancing.

Over the last several years, General Secretary Vavi has become an outspoken critic of the ANC-led government of Jacob Zuma, particularly on matters of economic policy. Events became more intense when striking miners from a union that was not affiliated with COSATU, were gunned down at the Marikana mines in 2012. The horror of this act sent shock waves throughout South Africa, including but not limited to COSATU. Several unions that have been affiliated with COSATU began to raise questions about not only what had happened, but also the role of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM, a COSATU affiliate) in the tragedy.

As criticisms of the Zuma administration heightened, and as Vavi seemed to be a leading critic, a lineup within COSATU emerged that included unions that saw themselves as defenders of the ANC and the alliance that has existed between the ANC and COSATU. In that context, the allegations against Vavi have little to do with the actual facts of the incident. Vavi apologized repeatedly for inappropriate conduct, yet the anti-Vavi forces in COSATU saw this as their chance to remove him from the scene and to consolidate COSATU as an uncritical ally of the Zuma administration and the ANC.

While it is the case that Vavi has been, at least for now, restored to office and the ANC is helping to facilitate discussions between Vavi and his detractors, the focus on the individual misses the larger situation. To what extent will COSATU see itself as reaching out to the growing chorus of social movements critical of the ANC’s economic policies, or will COSATU reject such critics and hold fast to its relationship to the ANC? This will not be answered through one action or decision but we shall see it play out over the coming months of struggle.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the former president of TransAfrica Forum. He is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Boko Haram's Crime against the Future

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(NNPA) Will the parents of at least 276 Nigerian girls kidnapped more than a month ago by the terrorist gang, Boko Haram, ever see their daughters alive again?

That agonizing question has provoked intense diplomatic efforts involving the governments of the United States and several European and African countries, and an international, social-media-driven campaign to rescue the girls that include demands from some for the U.S. to, if necessary, take military action to get the girls back to their families.

There is a great deal to be said about what this terrible crime reveals about, and what it could mean for, Nigeria. But, first, it’s important – even though it offers no comfort—to put this horror in its global context: as yet more evidence that even amid the technological advancements of the 21st century, human beings’ capacity for brutality seems to be as great as ever.

Despite the conventional wisdom, this failing isn’t to be found just in Black Africa. Just last week, for example, the United Nations-appointed official seeking to end the civil war in Syria quit out of frustration, underscoring that the war there, which has cost the lives of 150,000 men, women and children, will continue. Statements from French and U.S. officials left little doubt that, despite agreeing last year to stop waging chemical warfare against his own people, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has continued to do so in his campaign against rebel forces.

Further, a report issued last week stated that the worldwide conflicts of the last two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union ended the Cold War have forced more than 33 million people to become refugees—and that last year the number of those displaced rose to record levels. Four million of the eight million people displaced by war in 2013 lived in Syria, according to the report of the Norwegian Refugee Council. The report also determined that nearly 500,000 people in Nigeria were displaced by conflict last year, largely the result of attacks by Boko Haram, which effectively controls the country’s northeastern region.

Considering that global context is important, even as the Nigerian parents’ agony and the concern of millions around the world grows with each passing day, because it forces us to consider that the girls may never be rescued.

Even if the Obama administration, Great Britain and France, the lead non-African actors in this, and Nigeria were so inclined, all the military and diplomatic public statements made thus far have ruled out a military rescue: because it’s not clear if all the girls are being kept in the same place; and because the Nigerian military, weakened by the country’s pervasive governmental corruption, would likely be untrustworthy in battle.

Boko Haram’s threat to Nigeria is also furthered by the fact that its neighbors—Benin, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad—have themselves not tried to stop Boko Haram from using their border areas as a refuge from the sporadic Nigerian attempts to hunt them. Trying to forge the countries into a military pact against Boko Haram—to prevent it from threatening to destabilize any one of them—is the reason they, along with officials from the U.S., the European Union, France, and Great Britain, met in Paris at the end of last week.

All this diplomatic maneuvering sounds very far away from doing anything that will end the terror those young Nigerian girls and their parents have been enduring these past five weeks. But the fact is, barring a surprise and unlikely military raid, the diplomatic option is the girls’ only chance of rescue.

But there is good that can come out of this terrible situation that the world’s governments and the social-media community can commit to right now. That is, as my colleague Julianne Malveaux recently suggested, to intensify governmental and private-sector efforts to “free” girls and women throughout Black Africa and the rest of the developing world; to put muscle and money behind the idea that education for girls and women is a human right as well as a necessity for the world’s future progress.

For Boko Haram’s crime has dramatized the fact that, especially in developing countries, the rights of girls and women to seek education is a crucial component not only to their individual and their countries’ futures but also of the future of progress in the 21st century. In that regard, Boko Haram’s kidnapping of these girls (as its recent massacre of male and female students at a school is a crime against the future of all the world.

This is a crime the world must put an end to. So: what’s the #hashtag that will bring that movement into being?

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

A Fight Within the Congress of South African Trade Unions

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(NNPA) The crisis that has rocked the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) over the last year has frequently been portrayed as revolving around a scandal involving the organization’s General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi. The principal leader of the largest labor federation in South Africa, Vavi was accused of conducting an inappropriate relationship with a female employee of the organization. Although Vavi publicly apologized on several occasions, he was suspended for several months, only to have been recently reinstated by an act of a South African court.

The Vavi case, however, is not the main cause of the COSATU crisis. The underlying causes go back to the early days of Nelson Mandela’s administration and the decision of his government to embark on economic policies that were contrary to those originally promised by the African National Congress in its fight with the apartheid regime. The ANC had advanced the need for the nationalization of key industries and the establishment of major social development programs.

.In 1996 the government suddenly reversed course and instituted a new economic program called Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR). Despite the name, it was a program that conformed to the sorts of economic biases very common in the 1990s (and today), including privatization, downsizing, and elimination of trade barriers. South African workers were hurt very badly by this change and a struggle began to emerge within COSATU over how the labor unions should respond to anti-worker policies that their allies–the ANC–were advancing.

Over the last several years, General Secretary Vavi has become an outspoken critic of the ANC-led government of Jacob Zuma, particularly on matters of economic policy. Events became more intense when striking miners from a union that was not affiliated with COSATU, were gunned down at the Marikana mines in 2012. The horror of this act sent shock waves throughout South Africa, including but not limited to COSATU. Several unions that have been affiliated with COSATU began to raise questions about not only what had happened, but also the role of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM, a COSATU affiliate) in the tragedy.

As criticisms of the Zuma administration heightened, and as Vavi seemed to be a leading critic, a lineup within COSATU emerged that included unions that saw themselves as defenders of the ANC and the alliance that has existed between the ANC and COSATU. In that context, the allegations against Vavi have little to do with the actual facts of the incident. Vavi apologized repeatedly for inappropriate conduct, yet the anti-Vavi forces in COSATU saw this as their chance to remove him from the scene and to consolidate COSATU as an uncritical ally of the Zuma administration and the ANC.

While it is the case that Vavi has been, at least for now, restored to office and the ANC is helping to facilitate discussions between Vavi and his detractors, the focus on the individual misses the larger situation. To what extent will COSATU see itself as reaching out to the growing chorus of social movements critical of the ANC’s economic policies, or will COSATU reject such critics and hold fast to its relationship to the ANC? This will not be answered through one action or decision but we shall see it play out over the coming months of struggle.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the former president of TransAfrica Forum. He is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Yes, "Apartheid" Describes Israel

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I was struck by how quickly Secretary of State John Kerry backed down when he was chastised by anti-Palestinian critics for suggesting that Israel might be on the road to becoming an apartheid state. What was so unusual about such a statement? Israeli media commentators, including some political officials, use that term to either describe the current situation or to warn of impending disaster. Here in the U.S, however, we have to fret over using such a term because it, allegedly, might offend someone.

If I am critical of anything, it is precisely that Kerry did back down, added to the fact that Israel is not on the road to becoming an apartheid state: it is already such a state.Apartheid is a term that was both used by the White South Africans to describe their system of racial separation and oppression from 1948-1994, as well as an officially recognized term by the United Nations that describes the broader system of racial suppression that can exist in any country and is not restricted to South Africa. As a result, the term “apartheid,” describing a system of racial categorization and suppression, can and should be applied to what we have seen unfold in Israel since its founding, quite ironically, in 1948.

Palestinian land has been seized, allegedly for security reasons, never to be returned. Palestinian refugees have been refused the internationally right of return to the homes and land that they left in the midst of the 1948-49 war. An educational system exists in Israel in which there is a differential in the resources available for Jewish Israelis vs. Palestinian citizens of Israel. And, of course, the Israelis continue an illegal occupation of Palestinian territory that commenced in 1967 whereby the Palestinians have only nominal control of a portion of their own land.

​ Secretary of State Kerry, out of apparent frustration with the antics of the Israeli side in negotiations, correctly noted that if/when negotiations break down, the permanent occupation of the West Bank along with Israel’s policies towards its own Palestinian citizens, will shatter any idea that Israel exists as an alleged democratic state. Kerry was, more than likely, trying to appeal to the Israeli establishment to awaken and smell the coffee. Instead, opponents of Palestinian justice threw the coffee in Kerry’s face.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. This past January he led an African American fact-finding delegation to Israel and Palestine. Subsequent to the trip he wrote “Traveling through Palestine While Black” athttp://www.alternet.org/world/traveling-through-palestine-while-black-firsthand-look-slow-moving-annexation.

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