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Let's Take Back Our Jobs

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(NNPA) - I hear some folks saying they want to take back their country. I want to take back our jobs. I have just read a study produced by Vice President Joe Biden’s office about the performance of Stimulus funding which shows that it has taken many of the “shovel-ready” projects that were proposed 18 months ago that amount of time to be really ready now. This has led the New York Times to note that there will be an “explosion” of Stimulus funded construction projects this summer. In fact, the White House has dubbed the coming employment opportunity as “Stimulus Summer.”

However, I recently drove by several construction projects in the Washington, DC and Silver Spring, Md. area and noted that the work force is still rich with Hispanics, a few White supervisors and almost no Blacks. So, the coming explosion of construction jobs causes me to ask whose hands will be on these federally funded shovels at a time when the unemployment levels in the Black community, and especially among Black males is now well known to be horrific.

While there has been a great deal of angst that I and others have expressed about the lack of accountability of this administration to the Black community, the fact is that the president has placed a great deal of money on the table for jobs. And while his administration has not done the most effective job of targeting those funds to the Black community, it would appear to me that we should acknowledge that and go after the construction related jobs ourselves instead of waiting for them to be delivered to our doorstep.

Likewise, I recently wrote about the attempt of the Congressional Black Caucus to get legislation out of the House that target job creation to local areas through direct funding. These legislative initiatives are being held up in the House and Senate by politicians who care more about posturing in an election year over how frugal they have been with public money by supporting deficit reduction over the pain people are suffering. The catch here is that the voting public is skewed toward the middle and upper classes, people who need government less and who are more critical about government spending for social programs. They invariably set the tone in politics and public opinion.

So, with many of the avenues to obtaining substantial employment resources in the regular political process blocked the question is what do we do? One example is provided by the Virginia NAACP, whose Executive Director, King Salim Khalfani, supported by the Black Business Alliance of Virginia have vowed to take direct action to blockade federally funded construction sites with trucks. The threat of this action, issued from the steps of Richmond City Hall, called on HUD to shut down construction projects that discriminate against Blacks by not providing fair employment. Khalfani vowed, “There will be no more developments in this town that Black businesses and communities are not involved in the planning or development thereof.” We will see how HUD responds.

But what if this attitude was adopted by Black political and economic leaders across the country? What if they stopped waiting on Obama to deliver jobs and challenged those with the financial resources he provided to distribute them fairly in creating employment? Many firms, such as the Atlanta-based Choate Construction company are practicing out-and-out employment discrimination and they get away with it because HUD approves their “diversity” numbers – a concept that doesn’t have to include Blacks at all. The remedy here may be to bring more law suits.

So, as we see highway construction jobs go from 1,750 last July to over 10,700 this July; home weatherization project reach 82,000, 27 times more than last July; clean-water projects reach 2,828, 20 times more than last July; and 218 federal building under construction this July, it seems that the time-tested tactics of using the courts and direct action should be used with a much greater frequently than they are at the moment.

Ron Walters is a political analyst and Professor Emeritus of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland College Park. His latest book is co-edited with Toni-Michelle Travis, Democracy and Destiny and the District of Columbia (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2010) rwalters@umd.edu

Bring the Power Back to the People

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Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have sent a clear message to the five Commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission regarding new internet regulations: bring the power back to the people.

Recently Congressmen Gene Green and 73 House Democratic colleagues, including a number of members of the Congressional Black Caucus, sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski advocating for congressional input as the Commission considers the Chairman’s “third way” proposal on broadband regulation. The letter encouraged Chairman Genachowski not to take untoward actions that discourage further investment, restrict network management, slow the deployment of broadband, and jeopardize the jobs associated with broadband expansion.

Furthermore, the announcement that Sens. Jay Rockefeller and John Kerry, as well as Reps. Henry Waxman and Rick Boucher plan to pursue an inclusive process to revise the 1996 Telecommunications Act is also encouraging. Members of Congress should create a new path forward that clarifies the FCC’s authority over broadband services while prioritizing the National Broadband Plan’s objective of universal broadband access.

Back to the point of this piece: Bringing the power back to the people. What matters as we move forward on broadband are three critical issues. First, we must settle on implementing a broadband rulemaking process that serves to bridge the digital divide that still exists in many parts of this country. Recent statistics out of the FCC indicate that broadband adoption among African Americans still trails behind the national average. As broadband offers important opportunities for affordable health care, civic participation, online education and economic empowerment, it is unacceptable that members of our community do not have access to these benefits. Members of Congress should stand up for their underserved constituents and help forge a compromise that will encourage affordable access to broadband. Second, legislation would better account for the need for substantial private sector investment in broadband. It is hard to deny the power of private investment, especially when the broadband industry has pumped between $50 and $60 billion annually for the last several years to bring broadband into our neighborhoods, schools and community centers. As staff from the FCC has estimated that it could take up to $350 billion to deploy broadband nationally, current levels of investment must be maintained to ensure that broadband and its benefits are able to reach all Americans.

Finally, and most importantly, through its more rigorous and diverse fact-finding and rulemaking process Congress will recognize what we have known all along, that broadband internet is a job creator. Not only does broadband build-out directly create jobs, but it also has spillover benefits, allowing displaced workers to retrain and seek out new job opportunities. Job creation is no small matter given our current economic climate, as it leads to greater wealth creation, community building, and overall prosperity for all Americans.

Chairman Genachowski must heed the calls of the bipartisan group of legislators who have implored him not to regulate broadband internet services. Instead this matter should be resolved by members of Congress. Congressional intervention will provide an effective avenue for minorities and underserved communities to express our concerns, while narrowing the digital divide, promoting continued investment, and creating jobs.

Congressional action on broadband is the only true way to bring the power back to the people. We thank the members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other key elected officials for pressing this important matter before the Federal Communications Commission.

World Cup in South Africa

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By Nicole C. Lee –

I turned the television on one day this week and watched the news. The World Cup in South Africa was the 5th story. Amazing how a sports story crept in right behind the BP spill in the Gulf. I turned to a sports network and the World Cup was the only story. Each story was filled with joy and laughter and great anticipation of the coming games. The World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world. It is like the NFL’s Super Bowl but much, bigger and on a larger global scale. Futbol has taken the world by storm and all eyes are now on South Africa.

This marks the first time the games are being played on the African continent. This marks a remarkable opportunity for Africa in general and South Africa in particular to show the power and the beauty of the African people and what is possible there. Vendors from all over South Africa have converged on the convening cities. Entrepreneurs hope the games will bring big profit to them and their communities.

South Africa has the same hope. Like most countries in the world South Africa is struggling financially. Poverty, high unemployment, troubles with neighboring countries, and the affects of the global economic downturn has crippled South Africa as it has nations all over the world. The World Cup is seen as a potential economic boom for the country. But history proves that great countries and cities in the past have been saddled with enormous debt after hosting great sporting events and not buoyed by the potential cash flow left behind after the games.

Economists are now saying that the 2004 Olympics in Greece contributed to the complete economic meltdown the country is suffering today. The cost to the tiny nation was $1.2 billion dollars. Stadiums and sports venues were built that now sit idle. The government of Greece says the economic short fall is too big to be blamed on the Olympics but others claim the Olympics were just the beginning of very poor spending and financing trend for Greece. In the United States, Los Angeles and Atlanta hosted Olympic Games. When all of the costs were tallied both cities lost money and no lasting jobs were created.

So why did South Africa want the World Cup? Prestige. World recognition. And the hope of a continent. The slogan for the games is “It’s Possible”. There is a hope that a world sporting event will create a public relations campaign that will lift the country out of despair. The images of Africans in power and rejoicing can be a great counter balance to the constant barrage of images of death and starvation. South Africa has been that shining beacon of hope as it defeated apartheid and grew into a strong democracy. The universal joy that is felt around the world as Africa hosts the world’s biggest sport is infectious.

With all sincerity and support, I am keeping my fingers crossed for South Africa and the continent. I hold open the hope for a huge profit for the nation after the games—monetarily and good will. . I am hoping that the public relations rewards after the games will generate millions of dollars and years of good will that will lift the continent out of poverty and dismay. I am wishing that the thrill of Futbol will garner support for the treatment of AIDS and the ending of continental wide war. I am in support of sports being the factor that brings people together for a lasting peace. The World Cup is in South Africa. Viva the World Cup. Viva South Africa and the continent.

Nicole C. Lee is the president of TransAfrica Forum.

Rand Paul is on the Wrong Side of History

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(NNPA) "I am, therefore, asking the Congress to enact legislation giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public -- hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments. This seems to me to be an elementary right."

President John F. Kennedy, June 11, 1963 On Memorial Day the nation paused to remember the hundreds of thousands of American soldiers who have fought and died in wars so that all of us could live free. One of the saddest ironies of American history is the fact that in spite of slavery and racism, African-Americans have given the last full measure of their devotion in every armed conflict since the Revolutionary War. That extraordinary patriotism, coupled with the civil rights leadership of Dr. King and others, was a major force in the movement to abolish legalized segregation culminating in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Since its passage, hardly anyone, much less a candidate for the United States Senate has questioned the legal and moral soundness of that law, until now.

Rand Paul, the Tea Party Republican Senate nominee from Kentucky, recently made it clear in a series of media interviews that he disagrees with the public accommodations provision in the Civil Rights Act on the grounds that it intrudes on the rights of private business owners. In other words, if he had been around to vote for the Act, he would have joined openly racist southern conservatives in arguing that hotel, restaurant and retail store owners should have the right to bar African Americans from their establishments. That is a bizarre and retrogressive view, more suited to a political campaign in 1910 than in 2010. It reveals Paul's constitutional illiteracy, but even more troubling, coming on the heels of the Arizona immigration law, it is the latest example of an insidious rise in racist thought pervading much of today's right-wing politics. I am quite frankly shocked to hear of anyone openly endorsing racial discrimination - whether directly or indirectly - in this day and age. Paul's view is rooted in his libertarian philosophy which holds that individuals and the free market should be virtually free of government interference, regardless of the consequences. That view flies in the face of the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution which extended equal protections and voting rights to former slaves. It took decades of struggle and sacrifice as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to guarantee enforcement of those amendments. No right thinking American can seriously argue that our nation is not better because of those actions.

Rand Paul can claim that his position is rooted not in racism, but in the worship of individual rights and the free market. But, society's role has always been to protect against abuses from the free market. What other atrocities would he allow in the name of private enterprise?

And how does Paul's disdain for government interference square with his support for a Constitutional ban on a woman's right to choose?

Rand Paul may have won a primary a few weeks ago, but in my view he has lost HIS moral authority. Clearly, he is on the wrong side of history.

The Power and Force of Black Music Month

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By Nicole C. Lee, NNPA Columnist –

Music has been an important piece of my life. As a political activist I have used music to motivate myself and inspire others.

I have seen the power of the lyrics move people to great heights. Melodies backed by instruments have been a source of continuous encouragement and a vehicle which crystallizes ideas. Apart from humming to myself to a favorite tune or tapping on desk to a wonderful melody, music has also given me food for thought. This is why I join people all over the country in celebration of June as African American Music Appreciation Month a.k.a. Black Music Month.

Music has inspired African-Americans for centuries. From the daily drums on the African continent to James Brown shouting, “Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud.”

Over 30 years ago Stevie Wonder emphasized to us what was in our hearts that songs are “in the key of life.” His masterpiece album gave us a history lesson, inspired us to treat each other with love and challenged us to liberate our minds.

Wonder commences his musical journey by stating that “Love’s In Need of Love Today.” Although this was in 1976 he could be talking about today as we deal various forms of intolerance: from racist immigration policies to worldwide policies that discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation. The song “Black Man” is a history lesson of the contributions of various peoples that make up the United States. Wonder recounts the contributions of people such as Crispus Attucks, Benjamin Banneker, Caesar Chavez and Thomas Edison. Stevie Wonder challenges us as he says in “Pastime Paradise”:

Let’s start living our lives
Living for the future paradise
Praise to our lives
Living for the future paradise
Shame to anyone’s lives
Living in a pastime paradise
African-American musicians have consistently used music to challenge us to confront the truth. This was clearly evident in Billie Holiday’s rendition of “Strange Fruit”, with vivid lyrics and pain in her voice she laments the horrors of lynching without using the word but you knew all too well she means:

Southern trees bear strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South, The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth, Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh, Then the sudden smell of burning flesh! Here is fruit for the crows to pluck, For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,

For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop, Here is a strange and bitter crop. The heritage of challenging the status quo is conveyed in Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” At the height of the Vietnam War Gaye eloquently provides us a peace song as he says:

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying.

You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today—ya
Father, father, father we don’t to escalate
You see war is not the answer

Music played an important educational and mobilizing tool to support the liberation movement in South Africa. During the movement against apartheid in his song “Johannesburg,” Gil Scott-Heron asked us:

What's the word?
Tell me brother, have you heard from Johannesburg?
What's the word?
Sister/woman have you heard from Johannesburg?
They tell me that our brothers over there
are defyin' the Man
We don't know for sure because the news
we get is unreliable, man
Well I hate it when the blood starts
flowin' but I'm glad to see resistance growin'
Somebody tell me what's the word?
Tell me brother, have you heard from Johannesburg?

As we celebrate African American Music Month let’s embrace the total power of this cultural instrument. Through music we are taught history and challenged to make a better world.

Nicole C. Lee is president of TransAfrica Forum.

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