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The GOP: Chaos is Their Goal

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(NNPA) Three events occurred in the tight confines of Capitol Hill last week that underscore the Republican Party’s extraordinary institutional decline and its responsibility for the Congress’ fully deserving its “do-nothing” label.

First, early in the week, all but seven Republicans in the GOP – controlled House of Representatives voted to give Speaker of the House John Boehner of Ohio the go-ahead to sue President Obama because they claim his executive orders are in violation of the constitution. The purpose of that “political stunt” – the president’s words for the lawsuit, which he and the Democrats have come to relish for the 2014 campaign – is to keep alive the GOP’s rhetoric about impeaching the president if the November elections give them control of the Senate.

Secondly, later in the week Boehner was forced to give up on a GOP-drafted bill to authorize emergency funds for the government’s efforts to cope with the sudden crisis of undocumented immigrant children massing at the U.S-Mexico border. The first-level reason for that stunning rebuke of a Speaker of the House by his own party members was that GOP hard-line conservatives made it clear they wouldn’t vote for their own party’s bill.

But what made the rebuke to Boehner even more humiliating was the week’s third noteworthy event –which was actually a facet the second. That was that the hard-liners had been urged on by the Tea Party’s favorite U.S. Senator, Ted Cruz of Texas. According to numerous media reports, Cruz had met with a dozen or more of the House hard-liners the night before the scheduled July 31 vote to declare his opposition to it. The next day, Boehner, clearly seeing he didn’t have the votes for passage, pulled the bill from consideration.

Boehner allies in the House pledged to try to get a spending measure enacted before Congress broke for the summer recess. But the real point of the week’s developments had been made – reinforcing what has been evident since President Obama took office.

First, in the midst of a crisis, when America’s national government needs to act swiftly, count on the Republican Party, driven by its reflexive anti-Obama mania, to oppose any positive action. Secondly, the GOP, which still boasts about its adherence to tradition and conservative principles, remains wracked by an internal battle between conservative extremists and establishment regulars only slightly less vicious than its war against the president.

That civil war these past six years has produced the electoral primary defeats of such staunch GOP veterans as former Senators Robert Bennett of Utah and Richard Lugar of Indiana and, in June, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor – all deemed not conservative enough by the GOP’s Tea Party reactionaries.

Cruz, who’s been running for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination since his election in 2012, has waged the war of disruption against the GOP congressional establishment in both the House and the Senate in unprecedented fashion. From the first, he’s been eager to show his disrespect of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, and Boehner. His meddling in House matters last week marks the second time he’s undercut Boehner in order to grab the spotlight and build support among the GOP’s reactionary base. Last year, he was among the loudest voices urging GOP hard-liners to stand fast for a government shutdown.

Cruz’s sabotage last week led New York Republican, Peter T. King, to complain to a New York Times reporter, “I do wish that Ted Cruz would stay in the Senate. Nobody elected him Speaker … it’s really a cheap shot to be coming in from the side. To have some guy come in from the outside like the Pied Piper is wrong.”

And yet, Cruz’s behavior perfectly represents the political game going on on the conservative side of American politics these days – a game whose goal is sowing chaos. Cruz and his Tea Party confederates must disrupt the GOP’s own time-honored political processes and lines of authority –   sow internal party chaos – if they’re to seize power from establishment figures like Boehner and McConnell.

That strategy has both intensified and yet, ironically, also undercut the commitment the GOP leadership itself made at the very beginning of Obama’s first term to reflexively oppose his administration proposals – to sow governmental chaos – in order to re-capture the White House.

Those two dynamics adopted by the conservative movement and the Republican Party are the major reasons why the American politics of this era is so polarized: because, for them, political chaos is

Lee A.Daniels is a longtime New York journalist. His most recent book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.

Crimes against Gaza

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(NNPA) So, let’s be clear about what is transpiring before our eyes in Gaza. It most recently started when the Palestine Authority and Hamas declared that there would be a unity government. This was a significant breakthrough after years of hostility between the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and the Hamas-led government in Gaza. Almost immediately the Israeli government expressed outrage, attacking this agreement and proceeding to take a very threatening posture.

The next big event was the disappearance –  and subsequent murder – of the three Israeli boys. The Netanyahu government, without a shred of evidence, immediately accused Hamas as being behind this. The Israelis then began a rampage throughout the Occupied West Bank allegedly searching for the children and the kidnappers.  Leaders of Hamas were placed in jail and the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of Palestinians were thrown into complete chaos. The Netanyahu government understood precisely what it was doing: It was aiming to provoke a response by Hamas that would then give Israel the opportunity to engage in an armed assault on the largest open-air prison on this planet:  Gaza.

Rockets were fired out of Gaza at Israeli targets and this was enough for the Netanyahu government to justify airstrikes followed by an armed incursion. We now witness the horror of hundreds of Palestinians being murdered as a result of the Israeli aggression.

The Netanyahu government did not want the Palestinian unity government to succeed. They were well aware that the creation of a unity government would help the Palestinian cause internationally. That is not what the Netanyahu government wishes. They wish for a weak, powerless Palestinian regime to capitulate to the desires of the Israeli government. Carrying out this armed aggression against Gaza is aimed at creating just that situation.

Here in the U.S., members of Congress have stumbled over themselves to support the Israeli aggression.  There is nothing that the Israelis can do that will lead to a condemnation by Congress. The Israeli government can kill any number of civilians and the Congressional majority will applaud it. The Israeli government can starve the Palestinians in Gaza and the Congressional majority will figure out a way to declare it actually humanitarian. The Israeli government can only do this because they see the Palestinians as animals rather than as human beings.

This must stop now and it will only stop when you, along with your friends and family, pick up your phone and call your elected representatives, or when you send them an email telling them that U.S. support for the slaughter in Gaza does not have your support.

Do it now.  There is no time to wait.

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

A Diverse National Urban League Conference

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“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Nelson Mandela

(NNPA) Earlier this month, we announced a diverse list of speakers taking the stage at last week’s National Urban League Annual Conference in Cincinnati. They included Vice President Joe Biden; Republican Senator Rand Paul; Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz; Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus; and eight dynamic mayors from across the country. In response to those who questioned the wisdom of offering a forum to people whose views may depart from ours, I want to share my thoughts on why inclusion is not only the right thing, but the smart thing to do. We cannot preach it without also practicing it.

At the root of recent tragic events unfolding across the globe, as well as the persistent gridlock in our own Congress and even violent confrontations on the streets of our cities, is a lack of respect for other people with different points of view.  From our beginnings 104 years ago, the National Urban League has always believed that the best way to solve problems and get things done is through building bridges of cooperation that cross all boundaries of race, class, culture and ideology.

That is how Lincoln succeeded in ending slavery and passing the 13thAmendment.  It is how Dr. King, John Lewis and Lyndon Johnson led the fight for the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  It is how Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress finally defeated apartheid in South Africa.  It is also how Congress and the White House were recently able to come to agreement to pass the first real jobs bill in the last 10 years, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.  Nonviolent protest, civil discourse and political negotiation may be difficult and slow at times, but they lead to real and lasting success.

The point is, we don’t have to agree with someone’s views to have a meaningful dialogue with them. In fact, it is only by talking, listening and reasoning together, that we build trust, end stalemates and transform conflicts into solutions.  That is why we convened  such a diverse line-up of speakers in Cincinnati.  These include young people, women of power, business executives, educators and political leaders who represent progressive, conservative and other points of view.  We are also expanded  our search for solutions beyond Washington by inviting mayors from seven cities to share their unique perspectives on jobs, education, gun violence, business development and other issues affecting urban America.

No solution or compromise is ever reached in silence. As Dr. King and Nelson Mandela reminded us, those who are motivated by hate and bitterness only imprison themselves in endless cycles of pain and conflict.   We hope our Annual Conference will serve as an example of the kind of civil discourse and diversity of ideas that is essential to ending conflict and solving problems in our country and in our world.  We don’t have to adopt every view that is presented to us, but we should never devolve to a place where we stop listening to – or worse – respecting each other.

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

U.S. Foreign Policy Led to Border Crisis

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(NNPA) I have been increasingly concerned by the near hysteria in connection with the Central American immigrant children who have attempted to enter the USA, fleeing from poverty, crime and violence. The political Right in the USA is trying to make this the defining moment in their attacks on the Obama administration, playing to the worst and most xenophobic sides of the U.S. public. The Obama administration, true to form, has done a very poor job in responding to this insanity. They have particularly avoided saying something that could change the entire tenor of the debate. It goes something like this.

The immigration from Mexico and Central America cannot be understood outside of understanding U.S. foreign policy and, specifically, the relationship of the U.S. towards Mexico and Central America. Continuously, since the 19th century, the USA has interfered in the internal affairs of Latin America and the Caribbean. This has included direct invasions, e.g., the Dominican Republic in 1965; coups, e.g., the 1954 ouster of the Guatemalan President Arbenz; the promotion of insurgencies, e.g., the Contra war against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua; blockades, e.g., Cuba, Haiti (in the 1800s); and colonialism, e.g., Puerto Rico. As a result the entire region has been destabilized for more than a century. Added to that is that there exists a proliferation of U.S.-produced weaponry that has shifted, over time, from political battles to battles among and between various crime families.

To all of this, of course, one must add the economic domination of the region by the U.S. This, most notably, includes NAFTA which destroyed Mexican agriculture and resulted in a mass migration of Mexicans to the USA.

In order to address immigration, we must come to terms with the role of the United States in Latin American and the Caribbean. We cannot continue to act as if there is no correlation. We cannot continue to act as if the USA can avoid responsibility for the depth of the crises in these regions and simply say no to migration.

Yet, this is what most of the Republican Party and many Democrats seem to want to do. None of this is to suggest that the immigration crisis lends itself to easy solutions. What it is to suggest, however, is that people would rather stay in their own countries as opposed to migrating. That means that the U.S. can and should provide the necessary support to countries that are attempting to stabilize and grow. It should not be promoting or endorsing coups, as it did as recently as 2009 in the case of Honduras, or as it implies in its relationship to the Venezuelan opposition. It needs to be cooperating with the governments of Latin American and the Caribbean on the basis of mutual respect rather than imposing what it sees as solutions, a factor that has contributed to the near civil war situation involving criminal gangs in Mexico.

While the U.S. political elite, and much of our population, would rather forget history and ignore the role of the USA in the crimes against the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, if we want solutions, we need to bite the bullet, so to speak, and come to terms with our own role.

There actually is no alternative.

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. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Payday Lender ACE Cash Express Fined $10 Million

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(NNPA) For the second time in as many years, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has fined a major payday lender. On July 10, Director Richard Cordray announced that one of the nation’s largest payday lenders, ACE Cash Express,  will pay $10 million in restitution and penalties for directing its employees to “create a sense of urgency” when contacting delinquent borrowers. This abusive tactic was used to perpetuate the payday loan debt trap.

CFPB has ordered ACE Cash Express to provide consumers with $5 million in refunds and the same amount in penalties for its violations. The firm operates in 36 states and in the District of Columbia with 1,500 storefronts, 5,000 associates and online loans.

“We believe that ACE’s aggressive tactics were part of a culture of coercion aimed at pressuring payday borrowers into debt traps,” said Cordray.  “Our investigation uncovered a graphic in ACE’s training manual that lays out a step-by-step loan and collection process that can ensnare consumers in a cycle of debt. When borrowers could not pay back their loans, ACE would subject them to illegal debt collection threats and harassment.”

Commenting on CFPB’s actions, Mike Calhoun, president of the Center for Responsible  Lending, said, “This enforcement action also confirms what our research found long ago: payday lenders depend on keeping vulnerable consumers trapped in an endless cycle of debt of 300-400 percent interest loans. . . .It’s real, it’s abusive and it’s time to stop.”

CRL research shows that payday loans drain $3.4 billion a year from consumers.  Further, CRL has long held that the payday industry preys on customers who cannot repay their loans.

Now, with CFPB releasing an item from ACE Cash Express’ training manual, that contention is proven to be true. The ACE graphic shows how the business model intends to create a debt cycle that becomes increasingly difficult to break and urges its associates to be aggressive.

Across the country, the South has the highest concentration of payday loan stores and accounts for 60 percent of total payday lending fees. Missouri is the only state outside of the South with a comparable concentration of payday stores.

Last year, another large payday lender, the Fort Worth-based Cash America International, faced similar enforcement actions when CFPB ordered it to pay $5 million in fines for robo-signing court documents submitted in debt collection lawsuits. Cash America also paid $14 million to consumers through one of its more than 900 locations throughout the United States, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

On the same day that the CFPB’s enforcement action occurred, another key payday- related development occurred.

Missouri Gov. “Jay” Nixon vetoed a bill that purported to be payday reform. In part, Gov. Nixon’s veto letter states, “allowing payday lenders to charge 912.5 percent for a 14-day loan is not true reform. . . Supporters point to the prohibition of loan rollovers; but missing from the legislation is anything to address the unfortunately all-too-common situation where someone living paycheck-to-paycheck is offered multiple loans by multiple lenders at the same time or is encouraged to take out back-to-back loans from the same lender. . . .This bill cannot be called meaningful reform and does not receive my approval.”

Speaking in support of Gov. Nixon’s veto, Pastor Lloyd Fields of Kansas City added, “The faith community applauds Governor Nixon’s moral leadership in holding lawmakers to a higher standard on payday lending reform. Missourians deserve nothing less.”

On the following day, July 11, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined a Florida-based payday loan ‘broker’ $6.2 million in ill-gotten gains. According to FTC, the firm falsely promised to help consumers get payday loans. After promising consumers to assist them in securing a loan in as little as an hour, consumers shared their personal financial data. However that information was instead used to take money from consumers’ bank accounts and without their consent.

Speaking on behalf of the FTC, Jessica Rich, director of FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said, “These defendants deceived consumers to get their sensitive financial data and used it to take their money. The FTC will continue putting a stop to these kinds of illegal practices.”

Looking forward, CFPB’s Cordray also sees a need to remain watchful of payday developments.

“Debt collection tactics such as harassment and bullying take a profound toll on people – both financially and emotionally”, said Cordray. “The Consumer Bureau bears an important responsibility to stand up for those who are being wronged in this process.”

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

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