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A Good Start for Obama, But Much More to do

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After one year in office, America's first Blackberry President has found that in the age of tweeting, texting and daily polling, there is no shortage of those eager to judge his performance based on fragments of information that may not always be accurate. We will resist the urge to join the fray. No grades from me for Mr. Obama. But that does not mean we have no opinion on his first year as President.

Any assessment of President Obama's first year must take into account the big mess he inherited on day one - two wars, a great and growing recession, the imminent collapse of our financial system and auto industry, a dysfunctional Justice Department, an unsustainable health care system and job losses that were being measured in the hundreds of thousands each month.

Clearly, our ship of state was spinning dangerously out of control.

And clearly, President Obama has kept it from sinking.

Our financial system is on the rebound. The auto industry was saved.

The Justice Department, under Attorney General Eric Holder, is now focused more on protecting citizen rights than political privilege. And while solutions to rising unemployment continue to elude us, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, during 2009, monthly job losses moderated substantially. They shrank from an average of 691,000 a month in the first quarter to an average loss of 69,000 a month in the fourth quarter.

So, I suggest we slow down and not judge the President based on one year of emergency course corrections. In my view, he should be judged at the end of his first term by the famous question Ronald Reagan posed during his 1980 campaign: "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" One thing is clear: We won't be better off if we don't all roll up our sleeves and remember that "government of the people," means we all have work to do.

We won't be better off if the minority party in Congress continues to vote strictly down party lines in opposition to everything the President wants to do - from passing a stimulus plan to health care reform. We won't be better off if we don't take decisive steps to reduce rising unemployment which now stands at 10 percent overall and 16.2 percent for African Americans.

We won't be better off unless we heed the words of New York Times columnist Bob Herbert who recently wrote, "Without a dramatic new intervention by the federal government the poverty rate for African American children could eventually approach a heartstopping 50%. . .already a third of Black children are living in poverty."

One year ago, the election of America's first Black President was a symbol of this country's evolving racial maturity. But symbolism is not substance. While we applaud the President for moving the country from the brink of disaster, we have a lot more work to do before he and all of us can claim that we are better off than the day he took office.

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

Help Haiti Now

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My faith in the essential goodness of the American people and our government has been strengthened as I have witnessed the extraordinary mobilization of relief efforts on behalf of the nation of Haiti following the devastating January 12 earthquake that has taken the lives of perhaps as many as 100,000 or more of its citizens. As I watch the screaming, tearstained scenes of death and anguish unfolding on the nightly news, I cannot help but recall that only five years ago, my own hometown of New Orleans might have disappeared into the abyss of forgotten history were it not for the compassionate outreach of millions of people in this country and around the world. As President Obama said, it is times like these that remind us of our common humanity.

But, as governments, the United Nations, and relief organizations scramble to rescue an already distressed nation from a crisis of biblical proportions, there is still a desperate need for all of us to donate whatever dollars, supplies and expertise we can. As in New Orleans, this tragedy also challenges the United States and other countries to change long-standing policies that have contributed to Haiti’s status as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. But, first things first.

As recovery and relief efforts intensify, we recommend the following:

It is clear that right now, cash donations are the best way to help. We are urging everyone to donate to the Haiti Support Project’s Haiti Relief Fund at www. ibw21.org. Headed by noted political scientist and scholar, Dr. Ron Daniels, IBW, or the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, is committed to an enhanced quality of life and the overall development of Black people and the Global Black Community. The group’s Haitian Support Project provides humanitarian and economic assistance to Haitian non-governmental organizations seeking to ameliorate the dire conditions of the Haitian people, most of whom live on less than $2 dollars a day. You can also go t o www.whitehouse.gov/HaitiEarthquake to choose another organization to contribute to.

While we applaud President Obama’s swift response and commitment of $100 million in immediate emergency relief, we urge the government to take further steps to rectify years of U.S. trade and immigration embargoes that have had adverse consequences for the people of Haiti. We are pleased that, in the wake of this disaster, the Obama Administration has halted deportations and has granted Temporary Protected status to 100,000 Haitian nationals who, prior to January 12, 2010, have been living in the United States illegally. This will allow them to continue living and working here for the next 18 months.

For years, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), the IBW and others have been fighting for more aid and engagement with Haiti. CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee has made an impassioned plea that we take this opportunity to bring more of those efforts to fruition. We agree. In our view, the United States has both a moral and political obligation to lead a comprehensive plan for the reconstruction of Haiti, like the Marshall Plan, to ensure that the physical infrastructure and human lives are permanently rebuilt.

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

Letter to the Editor: D.A. Kamala Harris

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This day is very personal for me. As many of you know, I am a child of the civil rights movement. My mother marched for racial justice and equality when my sister and I were young girls being raised in Oakland. What my mother had, she gave to us in abundance: love, education, inspiration and hope. In the optimism of her struggle, she taught us to fight for what is best about our state and our nation— that though we may stumble and sometimes fall, this is a place where more often than not, we are given the chance to rise again.

Both my sister and I dedicated our lives to work every day for the civil rights of Californians. I made this decision so that I could fight for our essential civil right to live free from crime and fear in every neighborhood. I believe that our children have a right to safe schools and a quality education and that women and seniors have a right to live free from abuse in their homes. Homeowners have a right to protection from predatory lending and mortgage fraud, and workers have a right to organize and to have access to quality health care and safe working conditions.

The brave career of Dr. King ensured that fundamental civil rights were guaranteed by the courts. But while those rights have largely been secured in the law, they have yet to be fully realized. In order to achieve true equality for all, it is up to us to see that those laws are enforced. It is our duty to make sure that Dr. King’s dream is ultimately achieved.

Dr. King’s tireless work also reminds us to never forget those that are suffering across the globe. Please consider helping relief efforts in Haiti by contributing to one of the charities on the White House Haiti Relief Page.

Coretta Scott King once said, “Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.”

Our generation is fearless. We are tireless, and I am confident that we will work not only on this day, but every single day until the full promise of justice and opportunity is secured for our children and our children’s children.

Today we celebrate Dr. King in name, but we must also strive to honor him every day in action.

– Kamala Harris, San Francisco District Attorney

Weasel Moves of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Redlands

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The City of Redlands has a rich history and is affectionately known as the Jewel of the Inland Empire. It is blessed with a myriad of people who are warm and hospitable with the ability to make you feel welcome anytime you enter into their community. Redlands is a safe community filled with people who will seek to help you, not seek to harm you.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Redlands (BGCR) was established in this community in 1967. BGCR’s past leadership did well in emulating the fundamental nature of the city in which it was founded. Since their inception BGCR has expanded their operation into the surrounding communities of Loma Linda and Mentone, effectively bringing programs to communities that were previously underserved.

But, there have been some recent choices made by the present leadership of the BGCR that strays from the roots and values of the city in which it was launched. Also, these choices, I’m certain, are in opposition to the integrity of the organization they supposedly represent, the Boys & Girls Club of America (BGCA).

The present leadership of BGCR embarked on some questionable decisions with little or no regards to the organization that exists directly to the west, the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Bernardino (BGCSB). BGCSB was also founded in 1967 by Jack Brown, C.E.O. of Stater Bros; Patrick Morris, Mayor of San Bernardino; the late Art Townsend, founder of the Precinct Reporter; and Bruce Varner, attorney and member of The Regents of the University of California.

Motivated by their desire to obtain funds at any cost, the BGCR decided to make a few weasel moves.

A weasel move by definition is an action that is treacherous, underhanded or sneaky in manner.

Weasel move #1. Because of the past association with the Housing Authority of the County of San Bernardino (HACSB) through the Brockton site in the Redlands Public Housing area, the BGCR opened up a site in the Waterman Gardens with the assistance of the HACSB.

Why would an organization which serves three communities with a population of around 100,000 including 26,000 kids under 18 want to expand into a city that is already being served by another area club? Why would an organization which serves households with a median income of about $50,000.00 choose to expand into a neighboring locality without notifying the local area club of their intent to set up shop in their city? The answer is simple, greed. Weasel move #2. On the BGCR website homepage they display serving the communities of Loma Linda, Mentone, Redlands, and San Bernardino. If you go to the BGCA website and go to the ‘Find a Club’ page, then enter 92410, the zip code for Waterman Gardens, the nearest site will be the BGCSB. The Waterman Gardens site is not recognized as an official site of the BGCA. Yet they shout it out loud and clear on their homepage – very deceitful.

· Please note: During construction of the BGCSB webpage it mistakenly stated ‘serving the county’ instead of ‘city of San Bernardino’. BGCR was outraged and contacted BGCSB. Shortly thereafter, the word county was corrected to read city.

· Also note: The BGCSB was contacted to expand into the city of Riverside. The organization declined due to the natural county boundaries.

Weasel move #3. The Inland Empire is made up of numerous Boys & Girls Clubs in a multitude of cities. Yet if you go to www.bgcie.org, www.bgcie.net or www.bgcie.com all of these sites will refer you to the BGCR webpage. Some call this a shrewd move. In light of all the other weasel moves, I call it very underhanded. Weasel move #4. Boys & Girls Clubs count on the generosity of foundations, corporations, businesses, individuals and the community for their support. They also receive grants from various sources. The BGCR has the audacity to apply for a Community Development Block Grant from the City of San Bernardino. Where are they going to use this money? Not in San Bernardino! Waterman Gardens is wholly funded by HACSB!

The true reason the BGCR is in Waterman Gardens is to use the median income numbers from the low housing development to strengthen grant proposals that they intend to write. This is nothing but exploitation in its worst form.

The Boys & Girls Clubs mission is “To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.” What kind of example is the BGCR setting to its young people by seeking to obtain the all mighty dollar through any means necessary, no matter what person or group they use, step-on or abuse to get it?

Rikke Van Johnson
Chairman of the Board
Boys & Girls Club of San Bernardino

Criticism, Criticism, Criticism

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I think that the pundits and the public should face up to one fact. The mess that President Barack Obama inherited will not be fixed in one year, or two or possibly even during his entire term. That makes it exceedingly difficult to determine, in this time framework, especially through the screen of the constant criticism of him and his policies what the real nature of his presidential contribution will be.

The media works on a timeframe of instant results. While grudgingly admitting that the George Bush administration presided over the wars, the sorry state of the economy and the home foreclosure crisis, and passed it on to Obama, they nonetheless, constantly criticize Obama’s personal actions and proposals in his attempt to fix these problems. Those who come to his defense in the welter of attacks are rare, since it appears from surveying many media outlets that most of those who are allowed the privilege of participating in the public interpretation of events are opponents of this White House. The frequency of Republican and conservative Democratic voices invited to comment on every action of the White House has been overwhelming, something the Democratic party did not experience under George Bush.

So, what are we to make of the fact that Obama inherited the worst situation going into office of perhaps any president in American history and that his poll numbers are just below 50% at the end of one year in office? Are these good considering the problems, or do the pundits and the American people realistically expect that he would have resolved the problems they face in one year? Or is this merely a symbol of American discontent with the personal situation that that they impute to the president as the custodian of the problems? I think it is the latter.

Somewhere, reality must trump symbolism and it is my belief that this is not only the task of historians, but it is the responsibility of serious media as events occur.

Too often, unjustified criticisms of this Administration have been uttered on the talk shows, the internet and in other forums without opposition by hosts, commentators and other persons who influence public opinion. This means that the media has been influential in driving down Obama’s favorable ratings by doing things like trying to make him responsible for the high unemployment rate and the response by the “Tea Party” phenomenon as a legitimate sense of the American people, when it is little more than a carefully crafted and funded Right Wing mobilization.

Too often media commentators have not corrected or given balance to the criticisms such as: George Bush kept us safe during his tenure when no one knows whether that is true; or that Obama promised to put everything on C-SPAN; or that he waited too long to respond to the Detroit airline bomber; or that he hasn’t focused on job creation; and that the Stimulus Package has not worked at all.

If George Bush had been as criticized and interrogated as much as Obama, perhaps the edifice of problems that now challenge the very viability of America might have been stopped. In fact, in the context of the problems his administration faces, the personality and actions of Obama exist in a war of interpretation but I do not see them positioning their troops to fight it.

Besides the concrete accomplishments of any president, its legacy will often be determined by who wins the war over the interpretation of the actions of his administration at the time it is in office. Those interpretations will often exist for a long time because historians use media interpretations as well.

My sense of this was heightened by remarks by Richard Cohen of the Washington Post who recently wrote that given his low favorable numbers Obama has “failed” as president. How do you fail in one year and is that an accurate interpretation of how to read the polls?

Nevertheless, by stating that Obama has failed, Cohen has influenced the judgment of many people in that regard. The lack of reality that resides in such judgments is one of the reasons why some of us believe that the interpretations of Obama’s actions have much to do with race, at base a belief in the inferiority of black leadership (even if he doesn’t profess to be a black leader). Indeed, a new study by Stanford University researchers strongly correlates racial bias with negative attitudes toward Obama. That aside, I believe that the nature of the skewed interpretations of Obama’s administration have much more to do with the times, the severity of the crisis, the hegemonic power of the Right to influence opinion and the lack of a forceful set of voices to right the balance of opinion. Despite the criticisms, the reality is that the Obama administration has made a dent in the problems America faces. Someone must answer why has he not been given the credit he deserves?

Ron Walters is Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland and a Political Analysts. His latest book is, The Price of Racial Reconciliation (University of Michigan Press).

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