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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).

Keeping up Faith and Hope in Times of Struggle

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By Jaleesa Follens-Jones –

Since my years in high school and during my current years in college I have met many students and fellow peers who have expressed aspirations of becoming health professionals. However, during my four years of college I have met many fellow “aspiring medical students” who have decided to rethink their medical career plans-some become wearied by the heavy academic work load, others may not score well on the MCAT, and others may become discouraged by the rigorous and stressful application and interviewing process which is a required step toward becoming a student of medicine. Being that I am a current Biology major at Baylor University I have encountered many struggles during my academic career. I even thought about dismissing my dream of becoming an orthopedic surgeon due to an overwhelming schedule. But in the back of my mind I knew that I did not want to settle for less. I needed to push myself past my comfort zone and past my mistakes in order to elevate my capacity for learning and my capacity for enduring difficult circumstances. I was blessed to be able to receive wise counsel from Joseph A. Bailey, an orthopedic surgeon and advocate for the developing of youth life skills. Doctor Bailey, not only shared helpful information on how to be successful in medical school, but he also made a statement that I will never forget “Never give up” he said, “Never stop- If you get tired GO TO SLEEP, but don’t ever stop!”. This statement continues to encourage me past the late nights of studying and the mornings that I wish I could just stay in bed. As future medical professionals we should expect trials and uncomfortable situations to occur on our journey, but we should also expect to learn, grow, and adapt because of those situations, thus allowing us to be experienced, well-rounded, tested individuals with a conscious awareness of what is necessary to become great health care providers and to impact the lives of people in our communities in the most positive and uplifting ways.

I also believe that if we figure out why we are traveling this journey in medicine and constantly remind ourselves of that reason; it will maintain the drive and perseverance we need to be successful. My reason is my family and the people in my community. Being an African-American woman , I am underrepresented in the medical field especially that of orthopedic surgery. I feel that my journey (tripups included) will help my young nieces and nephews, children at my church home and just the youth that I may come across to help them see that their goals are not set too high and that they can become a surgeon even though no one in their immediate family finished college, or that they can become an astronaut even if their family cannot afford airline tickets at the present time. So you see, for me my success is not just about myself, or the potential large figure salary I may earn, but it is mainly about the passion that I have to help others medically and the desire I have to see other hopeful youth excel and succeed.

What is your passion? What is your motivation? It is clear that we lack an easy to follow guide to assist us in reaching our goals, and most learning comes by trial and error, but the key is that we do learn, grow, and adapt to become the most phenomenal individuals that we can possibly be and impact our communities as such. I pray peace and blessings as you travel your journey.

Things to consider and apply to your daily journey:

• Team up with people who are also goal oriented.
• Be Vocal
• Seek wise counsel
• Be deliberate with your life and your choices
• Most important-“Never give up!”

Follens-Jones is a biology student at Baylor University.

Happy New Decade!

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Marc H. MorialAs we say goodbye to 2009, one thing is clear: The first 10 years of the 21st century have been as tumultuous and noteworthy as any in American history. The decade began with a Presidential election in which the man with the most votes lost, and the horror of 9-11, when nearly 3000 people died in the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil.

The decade ends with the first African-American in the Oval Office, the first Latina on the Supreme Court and the nation in the grips of a Great Recession even as Congress nears a final vote on historic health care reform. And while the goal of “Peace on Earth,” remains as elusive as ever, we are ending a major war in Iraq, setting the stage for the return of our troops from Afghanistan and celebrating Barack Obama’s 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. During the past decade we’ve experienced an almost equal mix of tragedy and triumph. But as the National Urban League prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2010, I share the belief of millions that America’s best days are yet to come.

If September 11, 2001 will be remembered as the day of terror in America, August 29, 2005 will forever be known as the day of Katrina. More than 1800 people in the Gulf Coast and my hometown of New Orleans lost their lives in the storm, hundreds of thousands were displaced, and property damage exceeded more than $100 billion. But while the levees failed, the spirit of New Orleans remains unbroken. The city is rebuilding and with any luck, in a few weeks, you will see our New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl.

The past decade also included a number of breakthrough achievements by African Americans and women. The election of Barack Obama in 2008 tops the list, but there have been other notable “firsts.” In the business world, Dick Parsons, Ken Chenault and Stan O’Neal became the first African American Chairmen and CEOs of Time Warner, American Express and Merrill Lynch respectively.

And in May of this year, Ursula Burns became the first African American woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company when she took over the reins at Xerox.

In politics, Colin Powell was appointed the first African-American Secretary of State in 2001. Deval Patrick became only the second elected African-American governor when he took office as Massachusetts’ chief executive in 2006. David Paterson was sworn-in as New York’s first African- American governor in 2008. Nancy Pelosi made history as the first woman Speaker of the House in 2007. And in 2009, Eric Holder became the nation’s first African American Attorney General.

During the past decade words like Facebook, YouTube and IPod became a part of our everyday lexicon. But one simple word - Hope—has defined the American spirit since our beginning, 234 years ago. As we begin the New Year, it is my fervent hope that we will find the courage to build on our successes, meet our many challenges and create an even better tomorrow. Happy New Decade!

Marc Morial is president and CEO of the Black Leadership Forum.

The Curse of High Expectations

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Julianne Malveaux, NNPA ColumnistI went to Copenhagen as part of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Commission to Engage African-Americans in Climate Control. 

The Commission – led by Carolyn Green formerly of Sonoco - included environmental justice guru Robert Bullard, Dillard University professor and environmental justice leader Beverly Wright, Frank Steward of the Association of Black in Energy, Leslie Fields of the Sierra Club, and me. 

We spent a week alternating between exhilaration and frustration, exhilaration at connections and opportunity, frustration at long lines (6 hours for me on Monday to get a credential that soon proved worthless), the marginalization of NGOs (nongovernmental organizations like the Joint Center), and further frustration at the way negotiations were progressing. All of us waited with bated breath to hear President Obama speak to the issues. We were heartened that he had come to present the United States position, and excited that he not only spoke, but was actively involved in negotiations for several hours.

Part of the Joint Center group gathered at Klimaforum09, which is described as “the people’s climate summit”. It’s a large, sprawling space with dozens of meeting rooms, and on Friday, a big screen television where hundreds of people gather to watch the Obama speech. The space has flava, too, as a group of folk rehearse for entertainment that they will present in the early afternoon, and another television screen shows a panel of leaders who are meeting even as President Obama speaks.

We have gone to Klimaforum 2009 because we want to hear our President in the company of others. Some of our group are part of other groups and some have been asked to sign statements or letters condemning the United States' position, even as we see a President who has gone further than anyone else has on this issue of climate change. He has not gone far enough for some, and I suppose this is the cufrese of the high expectations that President Barack Obama has brought to the international stage. 

He is so much better than our leadership of the past. He is not, however, the progressive icon, nor should he be expected to be.

My sense of the Obama speech is that our President is frustrated, maybe even angry. There is none of his lofty rhetoric in this speech. He is straight up, firm, almost biting. He says it is time to stop talking and move to action. 

He has gone out on a limb, but he can go no further without Senate approval. We live in a democracy, not a dictatorship. He wants to move the process of a climate change agreement along, and so he makes promises that he can keep, and ignores the ones he cannot keep. He says that we will commit to help raise $100 billion a year to help developing countries with climate change, but he doesn’t say how much the US will give, or exactly where the money will come from. The $100 billion falls short of numbers I’ve heard developing countries request – as much as $400 billion. This tepid agreement is an imperfect one, but it is a step forward.

The group at Klimaforum09 receives the Obama message differently. There is mild applause, and there are boos. We from the Joint Center are sitting in the front row in a section, and immediately behind us there are three White activists from California booing. We ask them why, and one says that Obama is “no better than Bush”. 

Would Bush have been here, in Copenhagen, with no results guaranteed, but fighting for what is right? Hardly. The California group consists of two men and one woman, a lawyer whose mouth is drawn into a taut line. She doesn’t even bother to engage with our group, grabbing her backpack and rushing out, her two colleagues following and shaking their heads. As I walk out of the hall, I talk with a British woman who shares that she had also booed. She says President Obama has not met her expectations. She thought he would flex his muscles and push G20 countries closer to what the developing world needs. We speak for an intense 10 minutes, and I explain that our President cannot override the Senate, which is why the agreement is nonbinding. She nods and says she understands, but she stands by her booing.

Daily, the Copenhagen Post distributes the COP15 Post, the Daily Climate Conference news. For the last three days of the conference, an ad appears from the Advocates from Environmental Human Rights in New Orleans (www.ehumanrights.org). 

They urge our president to take 10 key steps to protect our human right to live in a healthy environment. Rooted in the reality of New Orleans dislocation, this is a message that supports President Obama and reminds why a climate change treaty is important. We know that President Obama knows how and why to do the right thing. And we know, all too well, that his ratings have plummeted because he is not superman. He can’t do everything, not given the political realities. He moves the agenda forward, and he deserves applause for that.

Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina. She attended COP15 as an NGO observer, as did Bennett sophomore Hershelle Gaffney.

The Importance of Education in the African American Community

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The saying is cliché but it is undeniably true: knowledge is power. This holds true especially in our modern capitalistic society of the United States. In order to get a decent job that pays well, the minimum requirement is a bachelor’s degree. African Americans have certain fields that we have excelled in such as music, entertainment, and sports but the common African American will not be a professional basketball player or the next great movie star. These African Americans must have another plan in order to reach their goals, which must be accompanied by education. Through time, African Americans have gained so much through the access to education, but the road to get here as a people has been a long one.

African Americans have come from literally the very depths of American society to become one of the most respected groups in American history. African Americans sadly started out in the United States as slaves. In American society we were viewed as nothing more than property and were treated as such. This sad revelation helps to explain why African Americans education in America started out so rough. It was illegal to teach a slave to read and write during the time of slavery so many African Americans were completely illiterate. Some slaves found ways to learn how to read, but there were not many places that could be called institutions for them to learn. Not only were there not many ways to learn how to read and write, but many slave masters would punish their slaves severely if they found that they had acquired the ability to read or write. Slaves were kept ignorant to the fact that there were ways in which they could be freed because they didn’t have the resources they needed educationally. The nation of the United States looked at Blacks as inferior because they were not educated and because they only viewed them as property. Though the constitution proclaimed all men are created equal, this phrase excluded Blacks from the equation. Many of the founding fathers of our nation were slave owners and some viewed Blacks as intellectually inferior to whites such as Thomas Jefferson. All these factors helped to perpetuate the view that Blacks were ignorant and incapable of being educated citizens. This is not a justification for the rights that were denied to Blacks but a view of how Blacks were viewed during the time of slavery.

After the Civil War, slavery finally ended in the United States. Even though slavery was over in the United States, education for Blacks was still very hard to come by. Education in the South was very poor, especially when compared to the North. The education that whites received was not as accessible to Blacks as it was to whites. This made it very hard for Blacks to go find jobs. The era after the Civil War was marked by the great educator Booker T. Washington. Washington did what no one had done before him; he helped create an educational system for Blacks in the South. He helped to found the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute and was the main voice of the Black community until his death in 1915. The Tuskegee Institute helped to create many teachers and skilled craftsman who could hand down their skills to younger generations. Booker T. Washington’s vision for the future was very brilliant in seeing that the main way for Blacks to gain more freedom was by obtaining more education in their community. By creating the Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington helped African Americans become stronger and more powerful in the United States economically. Not only did African Americans grow more economically stronger, but the Tuskegee Institute helped to sow the seeds of change. A new generation of activists for change grew to become more educated and helped to inspire change after Booker T. Washington such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and W.E.B. Dubois. These men would have never had the opportunities they had if it were not for the things that Booker T. Washington did for the African American community’s education. This new generation eventually became the civil rights movement, which turned the entire United States segregationist movement on its back and changed America forever. This new America became an America where Blacks had the same opportunities as whites to go to just about whatever school they wished to go to. With this came the creation of affirmative action. Affirmative action was the creation of opportunities in employment, health programs, and education for all minorities. This furthered the ability for African Americans to reach their goals through education, especially when it came to higher education in colleges. The place that education is at now for African Americans in education is the best that it has ever been in history.

When Barack Obama was elected the president of the United States it did great things for African Americans in many different ways. Educationally Barack Obama has become the nail in the coffin for those who wanted to prevent African American achievement. He has also given many people hope because his story is that of the American dream. He has reached where he has gotten because of the great education he has received at the several institutions, including Harvard, which he has attended. His education would never have been possible without all the things that his predecessors did to get African Americans where we are today. Obama has also shown America what an African American can do when he or she gets a great education. Barack Obama has also eliminated the excuses that some African Americans use to explain why they don’t succeed in America. Many people use excuses that because they are Black; they are never given the opportunities that others receive. This idea has been completely destroyed because Barack has shown that anyone can be what they want to be with a good education and the drive to match History has proved that the acquisition of education has changed the fortunes of African Americans in the United States. My name is Jehrid Mosley and I am a sophomore at Cal State Northridge. Luckily for me, I learned that education is the key to success during high school. I did not do well in high school my first two years because I didn’t have the drive to be a great student. My big turning point was during my junior year when I started working at McDonalds. When I was working there, I kept asking myself, “Why do I work so hard and get paid so little?” I also noticed that the managers did far less work then I did, but got paid much more than I did as well. I thought why this was and discovered that the only difference between me and them was that they were more educated then I was. At this point, I decided that the only way I would ever get what I wanted was by getting an education and that not going to college was not an option. From then on, I worked hard in school and graduated with honors. I was accepted into many Cal states and decided to go to Cal State Northridge. Thankfully for me I discovered the ultimate truth early: knowledge is truly power.

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