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Don’t Wait for Obama to Fight

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(NNPA) Alright team, here we are again approaching the midterm elections. Having won both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, we have to notice that Obama, who is an excellent campaigner, simply does not seem to know how to fight once he has the task of governing. He either concedes ground prematurely, e.g., freezing federal workers’ pay, or becomes oddly passive. In the lead up to the 2010 midterm elections this resulted in the disaster of that November. We are now approaching November 2014 and it feels like more of the same.

Waiting for Obama to stand up and fight is pointless. While he may be forced into a fight, as in the situation of the government shut-down of 2013, we have to be clear that it is simply not his preferred activity. He seems to believe that he can somehow stand above the chaos despite the fact that there are those who, at every turn, seek to cut him off at his knees.

Rather than despair, it is time to take President Obama out of the equation. November 2014 must be about the issues that are of most importance to regular people and about candidates who will fight for them. Let’s start with healthcare. There is little question that the Obama administration bungled the roll-out of healthcare reform. But it is more important to acknowledge that we needed something stronger and more universal than the Affordable Healthcare Act. In fact, we needed Medicare for all.

The Republicans advocate nothing approaching that. They want a return to the past and if they succeed in getting a majority in the Senate, they will aim to do just that. So, here are my questions which you should ask yourself and your friends: What will this mean for seniors? What will this mean for people with pre-existing conditions? What will it mean for young people? You see my point? So, not only do we not need what the Republicans are offering, we need more than what Obama offered. That means candidates who stand for Medicare for all.

Let’s try another. The Republicans were really upset about the Stimulus of 2009. Well, without that, the economy would have remained in freefall. The Republicans had no answer for that. They still don’t have one. Yet, the Obama stimulus was not enough. It was not enough in terms of the total dollar amount but it was also not enough in the manner in which it was utilized. We need to have an economic redevelopment program that promotes new industries that address the environmental crisis. We need economic redevelopment that focuses on the occupants of the dead and dying cities where the private sector will not invest. We need economic development for states like West Virginia that have been losing industry and must change their economy for the sake of the environment and their unemployed. We need a bit of economic planning to get us out of this mess. We need to elect candidates who stand for a different path.

So, as we look towards November 2014 let’s stop the whining and get busy. Waiting for President Obama to raise the flag of fighting back is, at best, wishful thinking. But the results of November 2014 are more important than how we are feeling about Obama at this moment. They need to be grounded in the sort of future we want for our families. Let’s roll.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

‘Gainful Employment’ Rule Throws Black Students for a Loss

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(NNPA) Last week, the Obama Administration declared war on 1 million underserved students pursuing higher education throughout the United States. While the president and first lady launched their campaign to make it easier for low-income minority students to access college, the Department of Education has launched an unprecedented assault on this same community through a new proposal that will cut thousands of college programs that disproportionately serve poor communities, single working mothers, veterans and other at-risk populations. At a time when American employers desperately need an educated, skilled workforce to sustain economic recovery, a confused and conflicted White House is hurting the underserved communities it claims to support.

On March 14, the Department of Education published its new proposed “Gainful Employment” rule. The rule is a rehashed patchwork of regulations concocted several years ago in an attempt to prevent abuse of the federal financial aid system. Rejected through legislative process and shot down in federal court only a few years ago, the administration has nonetheless resurrected the policy and repackaged it in an 841-page proposal that will decimate college programs and career-focused vocational training currently serving one million students.

The proposed regulation, which applies primarily to proprietary (for-profit) colleges and universities, would make academic programs ineligible for federal Title IV financial aid if they fail to meet arbitrary formulas primarily related to student debt and earnings a few years out after graduation. Put more simply, students who don’t command high enough starting salaries relative to their student loans will find their programs eliminated without any solution for continuing their educational career.

If the rule is enacted as proposed, thousands of vocational training and educational programs will disappear, creating an $8 billion shortage in the higher education market and many aspiring students left out in the cold. Students pursuing careers in public service, which often pay lower starting salaries, like teachers, social workers, nurses and other allied health careers will be barred from receiving the same federal aid as their peers seeking high paying jobs. The same is true for those pursuing their passions in culinary training, design, animation and other careers in the arts. This will hurt employers like hospital systems, hotels, restaurants and food service companies who heavily recruit qualified talent from programs threatened by the rule.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the ill-conceived Gainful Employment rule is that it discriminates against programs that are sought primarily by low income minorities and other non-traditional students. From poor working families, to single mothers to veterans and other special needs communities, there are millions of Americans who don’t fit the mold or plainly weren’t accepted for a typical college experience.

In order to gain the skills, training and credentials needed to secure and maintain a job, many of these individuals enroll in proprietary vocational programs. President Obama’s Gainful Employment rule penalizes these programs almost exclusively while applying completely different standards for private non-profit schools with the exact same curriculum. At the same time, the schools who serve more affluent populations of traditional suburban teenagers are protected from the president’s biased standards.

Not only is the Department of Education proposing an unprecedented program that discriminates against certain types of schools, the Obama administration has not produced any plan to compensate for the loss of 6 million students who will be displaced and dejected before the decade is over. No regulation of this type and this complexity has ever been enacted in higher education. The collateral damage of this proposed rule is great and the risk to these communities and to our fragile economy is very real.

Another reality is the plight of ex-felons. Finding full time employment is a very difficult thing to accomplish when you have a record. The only professional license an ex-offender can earn is that of a barber or beauty license. With this a person can find work or even become an entrepreneur by way of owning his/her own establishment. It can be a lifetime of progress. But no, this rule will end any chance of that happening anymore.

As the United States continues its slow economic recovery, it’s critical that the public and private sectors collaborate closely to provide all individuals with the resources they need to get the education and training required to participate in our modern workforce. As we have seen time and again, aggressive, ambitious policies designed to improve social programs for the underserved should be applied fairly and pursued carefully after thorough due diligence.

The Obama administration’s current rule will immediately and unfairly targets 1 million underserved, at-risk college students throughout the nation, and ultimately discriminates against the communities it proposes to serve. This will hurt employers, vulnerable students and our economy. If the president truly seeks to protect and expand low income access to college while addressing the issue of student debt, he needs to start by rethinking his misguided Gainful Employment crusade.

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Website: www.nationalbcc.org Email: halford@nationalbcc.org

Health Crisis is Real

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(NNPA) My friend is awaiting health insurance. This is not academic. She’s afraid that she might have cancer. Think about what it says about a society that someone concerned about a serious illness has to wait to see whether they have the right insurance to cover a potentially life-threatening crisis. For those who are procrastinating in getting your personal health insurance, I would suggest that you are gambling. And while the ‘cards’ may play out in your favor, they also may not.

My friend has to wait till she gets her health insurance because, like many other workers, she is employed by a company that does not offer health insurance. They do not offer much in the way of time-off either. It is all part of a larger pattern. Each day that passes, workers find that they have to cover more and more of what, at one point, people took for granted. No health insurance; no pension; no sick time; little, if any, vacation. It starts to feel like the days prior to the advent of labor unions.

My friend did not expect a life crisis. Why should she have? She has been in great health. Full of energy. Yet, now she is worried and because of the way that the system works, each moment that goes by may be a moment necessary in diagnosing a potential life crisis. While it may it may turn out to be nothing, she will not know until she gets medical attention. It is not, however, something that would be treated in an emergency room.

Yet society says it is fine for us to go forward this way. Some politicians say that there is no need for any sort of national health insurance. That it costs too much for society. But I have to ask: What is the cost to us all when people play Russian roulette with their health because they do not have the sort of coverage that most advanced societies on the planet possess?

The Affordable Care Act (so-called Obamacare) did not go nearly far enough. Too many concessions to the insurance companies. We need single payer health care (“Medicare for All”) where every individual is guaranteed government-funded health insurance. But for now my friend has the chance of getting some health insurance, but at her own expense since her employer is focused on profit margins rather than a healthy and productive workforce.

So, she keeps waiting and the clock keeps ticking.

One heck of a way for a supposedly civilized society to operate.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Celebrating the Miracle of Black People

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(NNPA) The African American story is indeed one of the most unique tales of human struggle, uplifting and success. One of my professors at the University of Wisconsin told me, “It is a miracle that as a people, Blacks in America are alive and improving year by year. You went through over 400 years of pure hell and here you are today almost 40 million in number – such resilience!”

Yes, it is and many never wanted the positive story told. I remember all of the negative propaganda about “Negroes” that was in our text books; plus the derogatory films we had to see. It would program young Blacks to believe that our plight was because of our inferiority. The fact is we are some of the greatest group of people on earth. We are truly blessed and the whole world should realize our, collectively speaking, wonderful story.

Our best Christmas gift came on December 16, 2003. That was the day that Public Law 108 – 184 was signed into law. This was The National Museum of African American History and Culture Act. Finally, African Americans will get their museum of history. The law starts off saying: “Since its founding, the United States has grown into a symbol of democracy and freedom around the world, and the legacy of African Americans is rooted in the very fabric of the democracy and freedom of the United States.”

Here are quotes from the key three architects of the Act: 1. “Until we understand the full African American story, we cannot understand ourselves as a nation, as a people,” – Representative John Lewis (D-Ga.). 2. “We have an extraordinary opportunity before us – a chance to learn, understand, and remember together our nation’s history and to honor the significant contributions of African Americans to our history and culture.” – Senator Sam Brownback (R – Kansas). 3. “We all need to learn more about the men and women whose determination and persistent eloquence forced Americans of all races to examine our hearts, revise our Constitution and laws, and make America into the nation it was always supposed to be.” – President George W. Bush

Here is the mission of our museum: “The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established in 2003 as the 19th museum of the Smithsonian Institution, the largest museum complex and research organization in the world. Its mission is to provide for the collection, study, and establishment of programs and exhibitions relating to African American life, art, history, and culture. Enacted through Congressional legislation, this museum represents a national initiative of profound cultural importance, one that will impact this nation for generations to come.

The Museum will bridge a major gap in our national memory by creating exhibitions and programs focusing on a wide arc of history – Slavery, Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Migrations to the North and West, Segregation, the Civil Rights movement and beyond, including issues of the 21st century. It also will celebrate African American creativity and cultural expressions through art, dance, theater, and literature.

The Museum will be located on a five-acre site adjacent to the Washington Monument on the national Mall in Washington, D.C. – home to the world’s largest collection of museums and at the center of one of the most public spaces in the nation, visited by millions annually. Scheduled to open in 2015, the Museum exists today through a vast array of programs nationwide, including special exhibitions, an online presence at its Museum on the Web, and numerous educational programs and workshops for youth and adults alike.”

Yes, it is a blueprint for success and we should all be grateful. The Museum is a public/private partnership which means the funding comes from the federal government and private citizens like you and I. Donations start at $25. Many have given much more. Some of the notable contributions as of the writing of this paper are: The Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation – over $10 million; Robert L. Johnson – more than $2 million. The following have donated more than a million dollars each: Kenneth I and Kathryn Chenault, Mellody Hobson and George Lucas, The Reginald F. Lewis Foundation, Inc., The Links Foundation, Inc., Colin and Alma Powell and Franklin D. Raines. These African Americans are to be applauded.

Let us all give something. Those contributing between now and the opening will be honored as “Charter Members.” Don’t you want to carry this distinction? It’s a tribute to our forefathers. Simply go to www.AfricanAmerican.si.edu to review the details and levels. Send something in honor of our heritage. Kay and I will be sending something and we feel if it doesn’t hurt a little bit it is not enough (smile). Give and attend the grand opening at the end of 2015. I can’t wait to strut around with pride wearing a contributor’s name tag and ribbon.

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

Now Do You Believe in Climate Change?

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(NNPA) I have started to hear it all over again. The intense and record cold weather has led ideologues on the political Right to proclaim: “You see, there is no global warming! How can there be global warming if we are freezing?”

It is almost tragic that the term “global warming” became the popular means of explaining climate change. While it is absolutely and incontrovertibly confirmed that the temperature of the planet Earth has been increasing, what too many people continue to miss is that it is not happening all at once. Neither is it happening in the same way across the planet. For that reason it is more accurate and useful to discuss “climate change” and “extreme weather.”

What has been unfolding, as the temperature of the planet increases, is that weather patterns are also shifting. California, for instance, suffered an extreme drought leading to near panic. That has been followed by a massive deluge of rain that has resulted in dangerous mudslides. The Midwest and the East Coast have been subject to cold snaps that have taken us way below normal temperatures along with subjecting us to snow storm after snow storm. To this must be added the torrential rains and flooding in southern England and the complete unpredictability of the modern hurricane season that now seems to range from almost nothing to the sorts of intense storms that have hit Cuba, Haiti and Central America, not to mention Hurricane Sandy’s assault on New Jersey and New York.

In other words, the fact that this winter has been cold and snowy – as one would expect in a winter – for the Midwest and East Coast should not be interpreted as a return to normal. There is no return to normal outside of activities that must begin right now on the part of human beings. This starts with taking on fossil fuels and the fossil fuel industry. This is what makes the struggle around the Keystone Pipeline so important. The danger with the pipeline is not mainly the possibility of pipeline rupturing, though that is always a real danger. The danger lies with tapping into the tar sands of Alberta, Canada and the use of fuels that will, more than likely, have a devastating impact on the environment. The problem rests with the amount and type of energy that is needed in order to separate the oil from the sands.

So, let’s put this together. While the climate of this planet has been known to change in various eras, the speed and nature of the current changes are clearly related to human, industrial activity and, specifically, the use of fossil fuels. With such fuels, the planet heats up and this sets in motion climate change on a planetary basis typified by extreme weather. None of this means that each day’s weather becomes more extreme than the last’s. Rather, we start to see irregular and disastrous patterns emerge that make long-term survival a question.

Time to stop engaging in wishful thinking and, instead, take actions to reverse this trend. It not only can be done; it must be done…and now.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

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