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Don't Let the Corporations Steal Our Voice

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By James Rucker, NNPA Guest Commentary –

Throughout the Black struggle for justice and equality, few things have meant more than the ability to speak out and to speak forcefully.

Whether it was David Walker’s Appeal for action against the horrors of slavery published in 1829, the cause of Cinque and the Amistad slave ship revolt in 1841, the words of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the oratory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or the fiery rhetoric of Malcolm X—the power to speak, to challenge, to rally, to defend, and to define have been crucial for us as a people.

Today, the battle to have our voices heard isn’t about access to a newspaper, a TV show or a radio program. Through the “open” Internet, modern technology has opened the door for Black America to speak truth to power in direct and unfiltered ways. We can speak loudly enough on the Internet that our points of view make their way into traditional media outlets – our participation in the marketplace of ideas can’t be ignored. That’s what I mean by an “open Internet”: our voices can compete on a level playing field with the biggest corporations, and we don’t need a lot of money to do it. This is the reason the Internet is so diverse, and it’s why thousands of Black blogs, online businesses, and news sites have flourished in recent years.

But our newfound voice is now in jeopardy.

In an effort to make even more money, corporations that provide highspeed Internet service (such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon) are trying to fundamentally change the way the Internet works by acting as gatekeepers over what you see or do online. The fight is over “net neutrality,” a principle that has guided the Internet since it began, and which means that Internet service providers can’t decide which websites load fast, slow, or not at all. Sounds simple and logical right? After all, why would you want At&T to be able to block, filter, or slow down what you or anyone else puts online? Well, these corporations see it differently.

They are fighting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for the right to create a new system where they can charge large fees to speed up some websites, while leaving those who can’t afford to pay in the slow lane. For these companies, the ability to discriminate online would amount to billions of dollars of new revenue. But such a system would end the Internet as we know it — giving wealthier voices online a much bigger megaphone than poorer voices. It would mean an Internet with far less potential for our communities.

Sadly, these corporations have enlisted trusted civil rights groups like the NAACP, National Urban League, and others — groups to whom they’ve donated millions of dollars — to oppose or question net neutrality policies. These groups argue that net neutrality could limit minority access to the Internet. They say that unless we allow Internet service providers to make bigger profits by acting as gatekeepers online, they won’t make high-speed Internet access more affordable in underserved communities. In other words, if Comcast — whose broadband Internet business is already earning 80 percent profit margins — can increase its profits under a system without net neutrality, then it will all of a sudden invest in expanding Internet access in our communities.

The argument is bogus, and the FCC knows it. Businesses invest where they can maximize their profits, period.

Internet service providers are already making huge profits, and if they believed that investing in low-income communities made good business sense, they would already be doing it. The idea that making even more money is suddenly going to make them care about our communities is ridiculous.

Expanding high-speed Internet access in poor and minority communities is an important goal and we must fight to make sure it becomes a reality. But there are no reliable data or plausible arguments that suggest preserving net neutrality is at odds with this goal. Still, civil rights groups are creating the false impression that our communities stand firmly against net neutrality policies, giving cover to the broadband providers, and making it difficult for the FCC to protect the open Internet against corporate attempts to control it.

Network neutrality is a civil rights issue for the 21st century, and like the last great civil rights generation, we have a choice to make. We can stand up to the corporations that want to control the means by which we organize and speak truth to power, or we can allow the Internet to go the way of television, radio, and print media — where we have virtually no control over the production and distribution of ideas, and where our voices are ghettoized and limited. I’m hoping that we make the former choice, and I appeal to you to join me in making it a reality. You can help by writing the Federal Communications Commission and telling them that you support net neutrality, or by visiting our website at www.colorofchange.org/opennet.

James Rucker is co-founder of ColorOfChange.org, an online citizens' lobby, and he serves as its executive director.

Hardy Brown: What's On My Mind

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Dear Hardy:

I write to express my surprise at the piece entitled “Joe Baca: What’s On Your Agenda?” which appeared recently in the Black Voice News. Through the year long debate on healthcare, I have consistently been supportive of President Obama and served as a strong advocate in Congress for reform that lowers costs, increases coverage to more Americans, and ends denial of coverage for Americans with preexisting medical conditions.

Any assertions to the contrary are simply not true.

As you may remember, when the current healthcare debate first began in earnest last summer, early on I expressed my support for the inclusion of a public option in any substantial health reform bill. In fact, I hosted a health forum right here in the 43rd District, at which I expressed my views on health reform and heard valuable feedback from the community. In November of 2009, I was proud to stand with the President and other supporters of insurance reform to pass the Affordable Healthcare for America Act – healthcare legislation that included a public option on state run insurance exchanges. If you doubt the sincerity of my support for this legislation, I urge you to view the Congressional Record online at www.congress.gov. If you do view these records, you will find that I spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives numerous times in support of healthcare reform in the last few weeks leading up to the vote on the Affordable Healthcare for America Act. The online video of these floor speeches can also be found at http://www.c-span-video.org/videoLibrary/congress.php.

As the debate continued in to 2010, President Obama released his final healthcare proposal on February 22. While some of my colleagues in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus initially remained neutral on this proposal, I immediately made my voice clear as a strong supporter of the President’s plan. Just as in 2009, I expressed my support of healthcare reform early and often. In the months leading up to the final vote on the historic legislation, I spoke on the House floor on seven different occasions in support of healthcare reform. Again, I urge you to research my words in the Congressional Record at www.congress.gov; and view the video of my floor speeches at http://www.c-spanvideo.org/videoLibrary/congress.php.

Make no mistake, outside of my vote against the Iraq war; I consider my vote cast in support of healthcare reform late on the evening of March 21 to be the single most important vote in my time in Congress.

I am well aware of the positive impact this historic healthcare reform will have on our communities in the Inland Empire.

In my Congressional District alone this reform will give health coverage to 119,000 people who previously lacked any insurance, and improve coverage for 362,000 residents who currently have insurance. It will also give tax credits and other assistance to up to 146,000 families and 10,000 small businesses to help them afford coverage. And by creating state-run small business health option exchanges, increases the number of quality, affordable coverage options to business owners and employees.

Thanks to the President’s leadership and my vote in Congress 22,600 of my constituents with pre-existing conditions will now obtain coverage, over 1,500 Inland families will now be protected from bankruptcy due to unaffordable health care costs, and staring in September of this year, over 75,000 students and young adults in my District will now be able to obtain coverage on their parents’ insurance plans, and be guaranteed insurance security until at least the age of 26. And healthcare reform provides important benefits to America’s seniors, extending Medicare’s solvency and fixing the ‘donut hole’, so 5,200 seniors in my District will never again have to choose between putting food on the table or buying medicine.

Hardy, given our personal history together, I am confused as to why you would doubt my support for healthcare reform? Affordable health care is a basic civil right for all Americans. I have worked closely with you to bring greater awareness to PLS, through the introduction of legislation that passed the House of Representatives calling for February to be known as PLS awareness month. I have always stood with those who suffer from preexisting conditions, whether it is PLS, cancer, diabetes, or any other illness, and fought for fair treatment and affordable coverage from insurance companies. And I have always stood with those whose civil rights are in jeopardy. In Congress, I continue to serve as an advocate for African American, Hispanic, and Native American farmers in their fight for justice against the discriminations of the USDA.

In the days and weeks leading up to the final contentious vote on healthcare reform, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) sent important reminders to its supporters, urging them to contact Members of Congress. I am certain this is the communication you received that you reference in your editorial piece. I am disappointed that you would use one such blanket reminder as a reason to write an attack piece that blatantly misrepresents my position on healthcare. If you had simply stopped to ask me my position, call my office, or done even the most basic level of research - whether through the Congressional Record, the other media outlets here in the Inland Empire, or through my own website (www.house.gov/baca) - it would have been obvious to you that I have stood with President Obama from the very beginning on this critical issue.

As for my agenda moving forward: I will continue to support President Obama, and work in Congress to improve our communities by creating more new jobs, improving our struggling schools, better regulating our financial markets, increasing opportunities for affordable housing, improving nutrition in America’s schools, fighting against childhood obesity, and reforming America’s broken immigration system. Again, if you ever have future questions on any of my legislative positions, I urge you to please ask me, feel free to call my office at 202-225-6161, before you print something that simply isn’t true.

JOE BACA, Congressman
43rd Congressional District

The Night The Trust Went Out In Riverside

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We are members of the Eastside Think Tank, an organization created in 2002 following a particularly violent period in the history of the Eastside community.

We had just experienced the killing of two young men and the countless shootings of several others due to gang violence.

Chief Leach at the time brought in the United States Department of Justice “Community Policing Consortium” to conduct their successful “Community Engagement” model. We, the Eastside Think Tank are a product of that community engagement. This engagement model brought together the stakeholders in the Eastside community to identify the issues facing the Eastside violence and to also bring resolution of those needs to the community. To this end, we experienced an unprecedented and unique partnership between the Eastside Think Tank and the Riverside Police bDepartment, much of it attributed to the vision and leadership of Chief Russ Leach.

Now with Russ Leach having been charged and pleading guilty for his actions in the bearly morning hours of February 8th, the attention must turn to what we deem as the greater tragedy of that night: the attempted cover-up of the Chief’s actions.

We have waited once again, like we did in the days after the shooting of Tyisha Miller, for the established leaders of this city to come forward with some “leadership” to guide our community toward understanding and the subsequent healing process that will lie ahead. We do not want City Hall to hide behind the implication of a confidential investigation. The community requires full disclosure and transparency in knowing what actually happened that night.

We as a community should know and we are entitled to know; WHO actually made the fateful decision that morning to handle the Chief differently than any other community member who might have been pulled over under the same circumstances; who knew and who was involved in the decision; who was warned or alerted to the fact that a “coverup” was in process; at what time did they find out and what did they do about it when they were notified!

We however, have been told by the City Manager Brad Hudson that the Peace Officer Bill of Rights prevents the community from being made privy to what will happen to those individuals, who were involved in the attempted “coverup”.

Yet, the privilege of confidentiality under the Peace Officer Bill of Rights is held by the officer and may be waived.

(Davis v. City of Sacramento (1994) 24 Cal.App.4th 393.) In the interest of justice and the needs of our community, THAT would be the right thing to do.

We as a community do not want to see the patrol officers, the Sgt or the Lt. be the ones totally held with the responsibility for this cover-up. To believe that the patrol officers alone could have orchestrated such a conspiracy, defies reason. What we do know is that the ones at the lowest level of responsibility are always the most vulnerable.

Discretionary decision making has been alluded to in the handling of Chief Leach on February 8th. However, by its very definition, the handling of the Chief by his own subordinates seems to contradict the concept of discretionary.

Additionally, when discretionary decision making finds its way into law enforcement use, those that have suffered the most behind its use are often the every day hard working men and women who have the least resources and the least options. Case in point: the Eastside community has been subjected to DUI checkpoints, time after time. Staged with the use of grant funding for DUI enforcement, the individual predominately apprehended has not been the DUI driver. These individuals have seen their one source of family possession band only avenue toward accessible work income, taken away and impounded, many times costing them more than the value of the vehicle itself. Yet, their harm was not driving under the influence, rather discretionary decision making never considered them worthy enough or deserving enough of preferential treatment.

We applaud local news media for following through on the “public request for information” on the phone records of those involved. It is indeed unfortunate that the public request does not allow for disclosure for the private phones these individuals also possess. To have done so, might have brought forth another aspect to the scenario.

However, the question now turns to why are individuals who are implicated in the “cover-up”, placed or remain in leadership positions instead of relieved of duty and placed on Administrative Leave?

What City Hall must understand, is that the community will no longer stand by and “trust” that they are going to handle the investigation appropriately. City Hall can no longer maintain that they have the best interest of the community in their handling of this matter. They have proven a lack of impartiality and fairness, not only in the current process, but historically in the micro-management and interference with the police department.

For years the community has suspected that the police department has been controlled, not by the Chief’s office, but by the 7th Floor at City Hall. Once the State Attorney General’s Stipulated Agreement ended, so did the demonstrated support toward the concept of “Community Oriented Policing”. Police personnel for years now, have been directed to terminate contact, interaction and participation with the community to which they serve. Partnerships which were established and had proven successful were abandoned or limited.

Individuals in the police department, who did not fall in line with the new concept, were either pushed out of the department all together, or simply denied promotion.

We acknowledge that a City Charter Amendment would be necessary to remove responsibility from the City Manager into the final decision of selecting the next Chief of Police. We acknowledge that based on the time limitations of the upcoming decision, the removal of that responsibility is not going to happen. However, we will go on record as making this a formal request for such consideration. The City Manager has not demonstrated to this community that he has the best interest of its members. The City Council and Mayor have not held the City Manager accountable for those actions and as such, the City Council and the Mayor have also contributed to the current crisis in Riverside.

An independent outside investigation is required, that would bring its results to the community: a community to which City Hall remains accountable. While the highly regarded integrity and reputation of Grover Trask is acknowledged, the implication has already been established that the community will not be the receiver of the information in that investigation.

City Hall can not investigate and remedy the recent and past issues involving the police department, especially when City Hall itself is implicated in the micro-management and interference with the only department authorized with the ability to protect and take a person’s freedom. At this time, nothing short of an independent outside investigation into what really happened the night the “trust” went out in Riverside will do.

EASTSIDE THINK TANK

The State of Black America 2010: Responding to the Jobs Crisis

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(NNPA) This week, the National Urban League releases the 34th edition of the State of Black America, our annual assessment of the economic and social progress, or lack thereof, within the African American community.

The highlight of the 2010 report is our yearly Equality Index, measuring the status of African Americans, and for the first time, Hispanics, relative to Whites in five key areas: economics, health, education, social justice, and civic engagement.

While this year's report appropriately focuses on the job crisis that has been especially devastating to communities of color, I want to first take a few moments to applaud the passage of the most important health care legislation since the creation of Medicare in 1965.

Because of Sunday's historic "Yes" vote in the House of Representatives, 32 million Americans will be added to the ranks of those who will finally have the protection and dignity afforded by health insurance.

That includes 1 in 5 African Americans, 1 in 3 Hispanics and 1 in 10 Whites who don't have health insurance today.

But health care reform cannot be viewed in a vacuum. Most Americans will continue to get their health insurance at work and with 15 million people unemployed, African American unemployment at 15.8 percent and the Hispanic jobless rate at 12.4 percent, tackling the jobs crisis requires as much focus, commitment and courage as health care reform. That is why we have made it the cover story of this year's State of Black America.

This year's overall Equality Index for the black-white comparison stands at 71.8 percent, compared to the revised 2009 index of 71.2 percent. The overall Hispanic Equality Index calculates at 75.5 percent.

The 2010 Equality Index comparing the economic status of Blacks and Whites is considerably lower at 57.4 percent. This reflects an unemployment rate for Blacks that is double that for Whites, a widening of the median household income gap, and the sobering facts that less than half of African-American families own a home compared to three quarters of white families and that Blacks and Hispanics are more than three times as likely as whites to live below the poverty line.

Our 2010 report reiterates our call for more attention to the deepening unemployment crisis in urban America, the centerpiece of which is our six point plan for Putting Americans Back to Work. Our plan proposes targeted investments now for direct job creation, job training for the chronically unemployed, greater access to credit for small businesses, additional counseling relief for those caught in the backlog of the foreclosure process, and tax incentives for clean energy companies who employ individuals in the targeted communities.

We are taking that message directly to Capitol Hill this week during our annual Legislative Policy Conference. Now that historic health care reform legislation has finally passed, it is time to turn our full attention to the health of our economy and jobs, jobs, jobs. To order a copy of the 2010 State of Black America, go to our website at www.nul.org. And remember to take the I AM EMPOWERED pledge at www.iamempowered.com.

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

The Hate Spasm in American Politics

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(NNPA) Speaking at the recent conference of the Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement in Jackson, Mississippi, I constantly ran into questions and comments drawing comparisons to the racial harassment faced by civil workers in the 1960s and what is occurring today. Most said there was very little comparison to the intensity of the racism faced by those who attempted to vote or eat at a lunch counter, and we know that many sacrificed their lives.

Yet it was ironic that these were Congressman John Lewis’ colleagues and he and other Black members of Congress were spit at and called the N… word as they passed by some Tea Baggers on Capitol Hill recently.

The spate of hate crimes that came as President Barack Obama signed the Health Bill into law that has featured shots being fired at Democratic campaign offices and bricks thrown through their windows and other things have a familiar ring to me.

Not the 1960s, but in the Reagan era of the 1980s, and ‘90s the rise of the militia movement found White males arming themselves and practicing in the woods on weekends for some kind of mythical confrontation.

The Branch Davidian cult shoot-out with Treasury Department agents in 1993 at Waco, Texas became their rallying cry against government oppression and interference.

Oddly, the handling of this incident put the government on the defensive and allowed the militia movement to draw Republican member of Congress into the incident on their side. Then the Justice Department backed off.

What we saw then was the creation of unity between native White nationalist operating at the neighborhood level being reflected in their representatives in Congress who opposed government intervention, using this to elevate the right to bear arms as the signal issue in the case.

This union between native White nationalists and public officials and political leaders is still going on and the danger is that they are giving legitimacy to the madness occurring at the base of society.

That is what happens when a Republican member of Congress, Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, shouts out to the President, “you lie” or when another, Rep. Randy Neugebauger from Texas, shouts “baby killer” as he did at Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan right in the Congress.

Then comes Sara Palin, former Republican Vice Presidential candidate, telling her crowd “don’t retreat reload” as her website features members of congress she wanted to defeat sited on a map in rifle cross-hairs. Words are powerful and these tell the base of the Republican party that it is ok to oppose Democrats by any means necessary.

In this debate, the media shuns the truth because it wants to practice a “both sides do it” theory which absolves them from saying clearly where the hateful rhetoric and thus, the violence, is coming from.

As it was in the Reagan era this is clearly a feature of the radical conservative movement, the base of the Republican party. Yet, the media – and the Richmond Police - - have allowed conservative Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, who just happens to be a party a Republican spokesman, to pretend that his office was also shot at in order to keep alive the “both sides” theory.

The fact that bringing those to justice who perpetrated crimes against Blacks in the 1960s is still going on through the “Cold Case” unit of the justice Department means that law enforcement was either lax or non-existent then. Today there is a popular concept that police forces around the country use “Zero Tolerance” policies which they say has been responsible for the reduction of crime in various periods of history.

They believe ”Zero Tolerance” for small infractions of law suppress larger problems.

This Justice Department needs to practice Zero Tolerance against political violence just as it does against neighborhood violence that has locked up to many of our youth. To continue to tolerate such speech and acts of violence only makes it more legitimate.

The major media wants us to believe that this is a “fringe” phenomenon or that it is all about health care. But the death threats and vandalism moving across the country shows us it is more than that. I agree with Frank Rich of the New York Times that it may be about the conjunction of factors such as immigration (read Hispanics), the presence of a Black man in the White House, a female Speaker of the House, a powerful gay man Barney Frank regulating the capitalist system. So, for those whose anger is directed at “taking their country back” it ain’t going to happen, the demographics are against it.

So, buckle up. We may be in for a very bumpy ride as a nation.

Dr. Ron Walters is a Political Analyst and Professor Emeritus of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland. One of his latest books is: White Nationalism, Black Interests (Wayne State Univ. Press) rwalters@umd.edu

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