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SEIU To Congress: Mark Labor Day With Pledge To Bring Affordable Healthcare, Labor Reform

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As Congress looks ahead to the first Labor Day without the guiding hand of Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) called on Congress to mark the holiday with a renewed pledge to bring affordable healthcare and meaningful labor law reform to working families.

“This Labor Day, nothing is more critical to working families—and we could do no greater honor to Senator Kennedy’s memory—than passing the sort of health insurance reform that would make him proud. The bottom line is simple: we cannot restore economic balance and bring prosperity to all Americans without drastically bringing down healthcare costs and ensuring that all Americans are guaranteed quality, affordable healthcare,” said SEIU International President Andy Stern. “And we cannot do it without Congress’s leadership.”

On Labor Day weekend, SEIU will participate in large-scale events across the country to call for healthcare reform, including this Saturday, Sept 5, when thousands will gather in Indianapolis, and on Monday, when SEIU will join with President Obama in Cincinnati.

The events are merely the latest actions from the nation’s largest healthcare union, whose 2.1 million members have played a leading role in bringing healthcare to the forefront of the Congressional agenda and the national debate. Since recess began, SEIU members and activists have participated in more than 300 town halls and hundreds of other events—from candlelight vigils to neighborhood canvasses.

“If we don’t solve our national healthcare crisis, we will put the American Dream permanently out of reach for millions of Americans,” said SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger. “Working with President Obama and leadership in Congress, we have made great strides for working families. But the skyrocketing costs of healthcare, if not addressed immediately, threaten to virtually eliminate the other gains we’ve made.”

SEIU’s leadership in the healthcare debate can be traced back to the early days of the 2008 election, when SEIU hosted the first presidential forum on healthcare—ensuring that every serious Democratic primary candidate had a serious healthcare reform proposal. Post-election, SEIU’s Change that Works campaign has mobilized thousands of people across 35 states to keep the pressure on lawmakers to keep their campaign promises to reform our healthcare system.

SEIU is also continuing its fight for meaningful labor law reform. On September 10, nearly 300 progressive activists from across the country will fly to Washington to lobby on the Employee Free Choice Act. The law would allow workers to bargain with their employers for job security, better healthcare and retirement benefits. Since President Obama took office, SEIU members have made great strides towards restoring the American Dream for working families, including.

Helping President Obama pass the historic State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) legislation, covering nearly 11 million children; Passing the Act Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and executive orders that leveled the playing field for all workers;  Shedding light on corporate irresponsibility by continuously revealing just how big banks helped drive our economy into the ground with failed financial models that make CEOs richer at the expense of shareholders, workers, and our economy.

Urging the White House and Congress to quickly pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Stepping Back from the Brink of a Deadly Injustice

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Benjamin Todd Jealous, NNPA Guest Columnist

After years of heartbreak and disappointment, Troy Davis is finally getting a chance to have evidence heard in his case after being denied a fair trial since he was arrested almost two decades ago.

It should never have taken the American justice system this long to act.

Troy Davis was unjustly convicted and sentenced to die in 1991 for the murder of Mark MacPhail, an off-duty policeman who was shot while working a second job as a security guard at a Burger King in Savannah, Ga.

There was no physical evidence linking Troy to the crime and seven of the nine witnesses recanted or contradicted their testimony, citing police coercion. One witness, a 16-year-old, said police threatened to hold him as an accessory to murder, warning that he would “go to jail for a long time and I would be lucky if I ever got out because a police officer got killed.’’ Of the two eyewitnesses who stuck to their stories, Sylvester “Redd’’ Coles was himself considered a suspect in the killing. The other initially told police he could not identify the shooter. Brenda Forrest, one of the jurors, summed it up: “If I knew then what I know now, Troy Davis would not be on death row. The verdict would be not guilty.’’

Yet the courts stubbornly refused to hear Troy’s claims of innocence. After numerous legal rounds the U.S. Supreme Court on Aug. 17, in a 3-2 decision, finally took the extraordinary step of ordering the U.S. District Court in Georgia to consider and rule on Troy’s claim of innocence – a directive the high court hasn’t issued in almost 50 years. But it’s not justice yet.

The standard of proof in the evidentiary hearing turns our criminal justice system on his head. Troy will be expected to prove his innocence rather than for the state to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. We hope that this unfair burden of proof does not once again deny Troy the fair hearing all Americans deserve.

Hundreds of thousands of people have rallied to Troy’s cause. There were the well known like former President Jimmy Carter and actor Danny Glover.

There were the unexpected like former FBI director William Sessions and conservative Congressman Bob Barr. And there were the people all over the world galvanized by organizations like ours and Amnesty International who signed petitions and raised the visibility of the injustice of Troy Davis. Our Georgia branch tirelessly fought in the trenches, knocking on doors, holding marches, preaching in Georgia’s churches to bring the travesty to the light .

Earlier this year, I met Troy. I left the meeting convinced of his innocence. During my visit, I couldn’t help but notice the faces of several of the guards who for noticeable moments dropped their stony countenance, clearly moved by Troy’s plight.

Later, as I was leaving, I encountered a woman in the prison parking lot who told me that a neighbor, a former Georgia prison guard, quit rather than be forced to march Troy to the death chamber.

This victory is a testimony to the best of our country: Troy’s individual perseverance and humble courage through an excruciating ordeal, the selfless dedication of his sister who despite breast cancer waged a relentless struggle to save her brother and the grassroots activism and the voices of hundreds of thousands of people who lifted up his cause. Finally it was the Supreme Court where enough justices decided to step back from the brink of insanity and say no to executing a man who is probably innocent despite Justice Scalia and Thomas’s insistence to the contrary. It’s almost as if there was a realization that the very soul of America is at stake when we have a criminal justice system where innocence is irrelevant even when a man’s life is at stake. It was also an implicit rebuke to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 that has deleteriously cut back on the rights of death row inmates to challenge their execution despite new evidence of innocence. More than 3,300 people continue to wither on our nation’s death rows, men and women who are almost universally poor, disproportionately African-American and frequently innocent. Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1973, 135 people in 26 states have been released from death row based on claims of innocence. And there simply is no way to discern how many of the more than 1,100 inmates executed since 1977 were not guilty of the crimes they were accused of committing. The Death Penalty Information Center lists several reasons for the appallingly large number of innocents on death row – eyewitness error, government misconduct by both the police and prosecution and the eliciting of false confessions, often from suspects with mental disabilities, sometimes resulting from police torture. It should come as no surprise to those familiar with the American justice system that a significant percentage of those languishing on death row are, like Troy, are African-American – 41.7 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Black folks make up less than 14 percent of the population.

It is a national disgrace. And it’s a reminder of the cruel consequences of racism.

There is a victory to celebrate in the Troy Davis case. After years of anguish he will finally have an opportunity to convince the courts of his innocence. But other men and women who are equally innocent are being robbed of any chance. Many of them will be executed by the state in our names. Our nation must be better than that. Let’s hope that the Supreme Court decision augurs a growing realization that we have to change.

Benjamin Todd Jealous is president and CEO of the NAACP.

"What is the Good Life?"

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In the early 1960’s, crooner Tony Bennett popularized a song called “The Good Life.” It is a very harmonious ballad, but after researching the lyrics, I did not get any help in defining the good life. What is the good life? Is it wealth, fame or fortune?

Unfortunately, if you have watched the recent news, it seems a number of the “rich and famous” end up in reputably tragic situations---Michael Jackson, Steve McNair, Bernie Madoff and etc. Perhaps the good life can be better described by our spirit, our relationships and our general well being.

Below are my thoughts on the good life, but I would be interested in hearing from you and getting your thoughts.

Faith and Hope

Faith, hope, heart, soul, and courage are all words to describe having a resolute spirit. Having the conviction and belief that you can find a way, when there is no way. It means having the ability to confront seemingly overwhelming circumstances.

When your world has been shaken by traumatic events such as the loss of a loved or a serious illness, sometimes the only thing you have to stand on is your faith. Faith and hope is the invisible magic that moves people, to think, to act, and ultimately to survive. Faith and hope are not a given and have to be nourished and fed regularly.

How do you nourish your faith and hope on a regular basis?

Family and Relationships

Our family and relationships define who we are.

A few years ago, I attended a funeral that had more than a thousand people in attendance. The deceased was not a celebrity or public official; however he had touched the lives of many through several community roles that he had performed. The program was fairly normal, with the exception of tributes by several of his nieces, nephews and close friends. All expressed their gratitude for his positive attitude, his ability to share and the care that he expressed for them as individuals. Conspicuously absent from the funeral were his manager, banker and broker. Who will be at your funeral and what will they say about you and your life?

Mental and Physical Fitness Your body is your living temple. What you read, listen to and watch will significantly impact your success or failure. The subconscious mind feeds upon random thoughts. The choice is yours, you can think your way into failure or success to a large part depending on what you allow into your mind. Likewise, our bodies will respond to what we eat, drink or otherwise injest. Like our minds, our bodies, if not exercised regularly will operate at less than peak efficiency. No amount of money or fame can compensate for poor mental or physical health. How do you care for your living temple?

Career and Finances

A large portion of our adult life will be spent on a job. If the job is one that you enjoy and you are good at, it will be a successful experience. However, if it is one that you don’t enjoy, you will only go through the motions until the end of each day. Is your job one that you are excited to go to each day? If not, how can you change it to be more exciting or do you have to move on to something more in line with you motivations?

Your finances allow you to provide for your family’s security and well being. Have you established personal financial goals? If so, are you on a track to achieve them? If not, what will you do to provide for your family’s long-term security and wellbeing? Life is a journey, not a destination. We must live each day to its fullest, for tomorrow is not promised. We cannot take life or the people in our lives for granted. Are you living the “good life” or what do you have to change to get on that path? I would like to hear from you, so please email me your thoughts.

Michael G. Shinn, CFP, is a registered Representative and Investment Adviser Representative of the Financial Network Investment Corporation, member SIPC. Visit www.shinnfinancial.com for more information or to send your comments or questions to  hinnm@financialnetwork .com. ©

Michael G. Shinn 2009.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters Speaks Out in Defense of Public Option

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Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA)

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) today responded to news from over the weekend that the public option - a government-run health insurance plan to expand consumer choice and compete with private health insurance companies - has all but been removed from ongoing health care reform negotiations:

“I am very troubled to hear that after months of negotiations – supposedly moving toward meaningful health care reform - the public option may in fact be off the table,” said Congresswoman Maxine Waters. “As I have said before, particularly in conjunction with my colleagues in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, I will not be able to support a health care reform bill that does not guarantee the creation of a public option that will provide an alternative for the 47 million uninsured Americans and millions more who face rising premiums, deductibles and co-pays.

“The American people are strongly in favor of a public option as an alternative competitor to private insurance companies. How can we expect these insurance companies to expand access and make health care insurance more affordable without increased competition?

“The pressure on Congress from lobbyists who represent health care reform opponents is immense: recent reports suggest there may be as many as 6 lobbyists for each Member of Congress working to defeat meaningful health care reform. I cannot and will not sit by and quietly allow outside opposition to dismantle a program meant to provide the American people with an option so that they and their families can access quality, affordable health care.

“As part of National Health Center Week I recently attended several events in my district where nonprofit organizations such as RAM-LA and community clinics such as the South Bay Family Healthcare Center and the Venice Family Clinic offered free health screenings and other necessary medical treatments to thousands of Angelenos who simply cannot afford them. After seeing firsthand the overwhelming demand for these services - compounded by the 14,000 Americans losing their health insurance each day and by persistently high national unemployment and foreclosure rates- I have never been more convinced of the immediate need to reform our health insurance system.

“I strongly urge my colleagues involved in health care reform negotiations to join me in standing up in support of the public option and not caving in to insurance company opposition - we’ve played their game before and the losers are millions of working Americans and their families who either spend a disproportionate amount of their income on health insurance or who simply cannot afford health insurance in the first place.”

Awareness Of African Ancestry

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By Gary L. Flowers, NNPA Columnist

Many African-Americans, including this writer, have wondered exactly where in Africa our roots can be traced.

I had a heritage honor last week. That was to present to my mother’s side of our family DNA results, indicating our origin on the Motherland. Words cannot express my feelings in learning the most probable basis of our family’s lineage. In 1976, as a 13-year-old I watched with fascination Alex Haley’s Roots. I remember entire families — of all ethnicities—collectively musing about their family origins. For African-Americans, Roots began, in earnest, a nationwide discussion of exactly where on the Continent of Africa we originated. My paternal uncle used “property” records, church records, and Census data to proceed on the avenue of ancestry.

However, Roots symbolized the on ramp the genetic highway of heritage. I began my DNA journey by researching companies offering DNA testing. I found that most of the DNA companies began to test in 2003. I remember viewing television shows on which celebrities were tested and their results aired publicly.

Among the several options of DNA companies I selected one that focuses on mitochondrial DNA (tracing DNA of the mother’s side of the family). My rationale was that since European men raped an untold number of African women during the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade the most reliable predictor for African origin would be found in the DNA of African-American women.

As a good researcher I also probed in to doubts of companies’ methodology.

For example, mitochondrial DNA is widely thought to be reliable for identifying a region of origin and not necessarily a specific people (tribe). However, most scholars find that DNA research combined with genealogical tools such as historical records, archeology, and folklore provides families with the best chance of identifying their ethnic origin.

As the second part of our ancestor recognition at my maternal family reunion in Richmond, Va., my cousin and I unsealed the results: our matrilineal (mother’s side) roots are most probably connected to the Balanta people of the nation of Guinea-Bissau, and to the Mende people of the country Sierra Leone. Our patrilineal (father’s side) people of origin are most likely the Bamileke people of Cameroon. A sacred silence permeated the family gathering upon learning one more piece to the puzzle of our people’s past. Relatives were provided research material that pulled demographic information form African countries genetically connected to our family. However, one of my cousins wanted to know: How are the genetic results read? Not being a scientist I explained that DNA is read in sequences.

Because most humans have similar sequences (i.e. TGTACG an TCTACA) the DNA symbol that is different is considered a mutation. DNA mutation place in the sequence is then matched with a mutation in the same place of the DNA sequence found in African countries, and among specific regions and ethnic groups.

Whew, that is as simple as I can make it!Therefore, I recommend that ALL African-American families purchase a test from some DNA company and dig deeper into their roots in African countries. As my cousin stated, “I was always wanted to know how to answer the ‘ancestor’ question without merely saying my people were ‘from Africa’. Now I can not only answer with a Continent but a country and a community.”

Awareness of African Ancestry is awesome!

Gary Flowers is executive director and CEO of the Black Leadership Forum.

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