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Elections Matter: Don't Sit On Your Hands This Fall

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By Julian Bond, NNPA Columnist –

“If the teachers sit on their hands this fall, it would be a disaster for Obama and the Democrats,” said a scholar who follows educational politics last week.

And it would be a gift to an opposition which has said no to a tax on big banks, apologized to big oil, and encouraged bigotry and fanaticism at its fringes.

Teachers have a right to express disappointment in Obama– they spent millions helping to elect him in 2008.

The administration has angered teachers in a dispute over whether funds intended for them can be diverted into an educational program. This dispute may or may not be solved in a few weeks, but the teachers’ anger echoes other segments of the progressive coalition – angered that the change they hoped for hasn’t come to pass, angered that Obama seems to be just a regular politician.

That perception of the Obama Administration ignores its many accomplishments to date. In spite of an opposition marching in lockstep and pledging to make it fail, the Administration’s record to date is quite impressive.

Anyone who contributes to the defeat of Democratic members of Congress this fall will weaken Obama’s chances of adding to this record. If you want Obama to do more, you have to give him more to do it with, not less.

If progressive voters stay at home in November – as young voters have done in every election since they turned out in record numbers for Obama in 2008, we will get whacked by right-wing whackos, and the country will suffer immeasurably as a result.

In his brief tenure as President, Obama has brought us back from Bush’s precipice with a $100 billion stimulus that has begun to revive our infrastructure and transportation system and which contained tax incentives for clean energy and $60 billion for energy development, engineered passage of revolutionary health reform, and is about to get a hefty financial reform bill.

He succeeded in urging Congress to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which insures equal pay for equal work. He did the same with the “Matthew Sheppard Act”, adding extra penalties for hate crimes.

He stopped banks from profiting from student loans which the government provided. He has urged Congress to repeal George Bush’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and has made great progress in removing discrimination against gays and lesbians by Executive Orders.

Despite having inherited the burden of two wars, one a war of choice, he kept to his promise to begin drawing down troop levels in Iraq and faced down an impertinent General in Afghanistan.

He negotiated a nuclear pact with Russia, which calls for a dramatic decrease in nuclear weapons, increasing world security. He created an initiative that would help keep nuclear weapons away from terrorists.

He won the Nobel Peace Prize! Some Senators considering whether to confirm Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court said, “Elections matter”. The election that chose Obama certainly mattered. But it will matter less if the mid-term elections this November result in a Congress --as opposed to a minority -- that just says no.

If you sit on your hands and don’t pull that voting lever down, you’re letting others who may be hostile to your interests decide what your future will be.

I resent that – because it is my future too.

(Julian Bond stepped down as Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors after 11 terms in February 2010. He is a Distinguished Scholar in the School of Government at American University in Washington, DC, and a Professor in the Department History at the University of Virginia.)

Obama's Speech on Immigration Reform, A High Moment of Vision

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(NNPA) In the wake of divisive and ill-conceived actions by states, President Obama delivered a much needed policy statement on immigration reform. It is my hope that it will bring light to dark places and place this important debate on a clear, objective footing, beyond the ideological rhetoric and partisan politics of the day.

The President’s address on comprehensive immigration reform is a high moment of vision, in the tradition of Roosevelt’s fireside chats--passionate, compassionate, clear, comprehensive and challenging. It challenged those who want rational change, challenged the undocumented, challenged corporate employers, challenged the frightened and the frustrated to lift their vision above our fear and pain. President Obama laid out a pathway to citizenship, not just for the southern boarder, but for Canada, Haitians, Cubans and those on student visas. He outlined a pathway to dignity based on fairness and stability-- a pathway based on redemption, not punishment. He put the moral burden on the blessed of us to help the rest of us. America’s past and future must drive us forward by hope and not backwards by fear.

Comprehensive immigration reform is a test of our character; a test that measures the best in us. America must pass this test and make Lady Liberty smile and keep the flame burning.

Clearly, the system is broken, but also central to the future of a democratic United States, and our relations with Mexico and nations around the globe. Are we the United States of America, the land of immigrants who came, and come, to live in a society with a yearning to breath free?

The President answered with strength and optimism, “We celebrate the spirit of possibility -- an ethic that says if you’re willing to put your shoulder to the wheel and apply your God-given talents, if you believe in yourself and you play by the rules, then there is a place for you in the United States of America--no matter where you come from and no matter what you look like.”

In these times of economic recession, immigrants should not be made scapegoats and targeted for harassment and discrimination.

They serve in our armed forces and fight America’s wars abroad with honor.

Immigrants care for our children. They pick our fruit and vegetables that make their way to our dining tables. They clean our hotel rooms and serve us at restaurants. They are doctors, lawyers, nurses, software designers and engineers.

One fact is indisputable. Immigrants are an integral and inseparable part of America’s economic fabric. Immigrants are not criminals and should not be criminalized.

Consider this: the technology industry has lobbied vigorously for hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers to “legally” come to the U.S. (the H-1b program) to work in Silicon Valley and tech companies throughout the nation.

Why shouldn’t Congress pass legislation – and why shouldn’t America embrace – policies to enable immigrant workers to come to the U.S. and work legally in America’s hotel, restaurant and agricultural industries.

There must be an even playing field for Immigrants – whether in the high tech companies of Silicon Valley or in the farms and fields of California’s Central Valley. There must be one set of rules that apply to all.

Comprehensive immigration reform is needed now more than ever before.

The federal government must quickly move to enact legislation, and stem the trend of individual states setting misguided immigration policies that should be under the purview of the federal government. There is no time to waste.

I commend the direction of our President, who said today, “That’s the promise of America. That is the spirit that all of you are renewing here today.”

Rev. Jackson is president and CEO of The Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Rainbow/PUSH is a progressive organization protecting, defending and expanding civil rights to improve economic and educational opportunity. The organization is headquartered at 930 E. 50th St. in Chicago. For more information about the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, please visit www.rainbowpush.org or call (773) 373- 3366.

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.

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