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Iranians Need to be at Peace talks on Syria

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(NNPA) One of the basic rules of thumb when it comes to solving a problem is that anyone who is involved in or with the problem, and especially anyone who can disrupt the outcome of a resolution, needs to be at the table in order to bring a matter to closure. It does not matter, in other words, whether you like someone or not. If a person or group is involved in or with a problem to any significant degree, they need to be involved in its resolution.

For a moment it seemed as if the United Nations and the United States understood that basic notion. In an attempt to bring to an end the Syrian civil war, Iran – the chief ally of the Assad regime in Syria – was invited to participate in the peace talks. Suddenly the U.S. responded with revulsion, suggesting that they would back away from the talks if Iran was sitting there. Elements of the Syrian opposition did likewise. The Iranians were dis-invited.

Iran is a country that has felt corned for decades. Syria has been a key ally in the region, for better or for worse. If Iran believes that they are being cut off from their ally (Syria), it is more than likely that they will do what they can to undermine the outcome of the talks.

Instead of the U.S. reacting with fury at the inclusion of Iran, the Obama administration should have reacted with glee that a major regional power with whom it has had a contentious relationship may be able to be drawn into discussions that would not only end the Syrian civil war but could improve regional relations. Instead we received bluster from this administration and their allies.

The U.S.A. is not in a position to handle an expansion of the Syrian civil war into a full regional conflict. Lebanon, Syria’s neighbor, is already unstable and on the verge of being drawn into the fray. The Arab/Persian Gulf states have been actively arming the Syrian opposition, including the arming of jihadists, in part due to their hatred of the Iranian regime. Added to this is the threat that Israel may either attack or provoke the U.S. to attack Iran as part of the on-going dispute around Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

For these reasons, Iran should be at the table. While they are clearly not an honest broker, neither, for that matter, is the U.S. They both have a dog in this race, as the saying goes. Thus, engaging all the parties and ensuring that all who can disrupt the final outcome have a real stake in a constructive outcome should be the logical path forward. Perhaps that will occur if the Obama administration hears your voice and your lack of interest in a regional conflagration.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is an internationally known racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Goodbye United Auto Workers

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(NNPA) The United Auto Workers union was once a powerful, large, proud and effective organization. It reached its prominence under Walther Reuther (1907 – 1970). His life was full of fire. He was a long-term socialist who dabbled with communism. He even spent some time in the Soviet Union and had praise for its system. His tenure with the UAW was quite positive as he transformed “wage slaves” to a well-paid group of workers with benefits that brought many to envy.

Reuther also was involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He was good friends with Dr. Martin Luther King and would participate in many of King’s events, including the March on Washington in 1963. The legend died in a suspicious plane crash. There were previous attempts on his life and I figure that J. Edgar Hoover may have had something to do with it. It was during the same time the FBI messed with King, Malcolm X and others who wanted true freedom. The FBI has a 200-page investigative report on the plane crash but will not share it with the public.

The demise of Walther Reuther has had a serious impact on the UAW. The union began to flex its power without wisdom. It fought for benefits and salaries that were largesse. I lived in Detroit in the 1970s and it was common to hear auto workers bragging about their big paychecks, lunch at the designated bar, 30 years retirement plan (30 and out). Oh, they were booming.

Then came the 1980s and things started changing for the worse. Foreign auto manufacturers entered the U.S. market and created serious competition for U.S. auto makers. We were stubborn about the changes from the Clean Air Act, which has made an incredible difference for our local environment. That and the cost of gasoline threw our auto makers for an incredible spiral downward in sales and profits. We almost lost Chrysler a few times (Fiat from Italy is the principal owner now). General Motors and Ford have been on the ropes more than once also. Our auto industry has been damaged and the onerous union demands have played a role in that.

Today, the UAW is not what it once was. Since 1979, its membership has shrunk by 75 percent. There has been a boom in plant openings but these plants do not cater to the UAW. They are built in rural areas to meet the Clean Air Act requirements, usually in the South. In communities that were once impoverished gigantic auto plants have become a common thing. With these plants come numerous suppliers feeding the needs of the auto makers. With that comes new housing, restaurants, hotels, retail centers and on and on. Take little Canton, Miss. for an example. That Nissan plant hires 16,000 well paid employees and has stimulated industrial parks and an economic boom to central Mississippi. The workers are happy and they are not going to ruin their good thing.

It is not coincidental that these new plants are in Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, etc. These are right-to-work states. Workers cannot be forced to join a union. The size of each of these plants is absolutely gigantic compared to the standard U.S. plants that are mostly located in the North. They are big and full of workers. These workers will never become union members. Thus, the UAW is up against the wall. One big question is can they afford to keep paying for those big retirement packages they settled on in the 1970s? Probably not.

The UAW is quite desperate right now. They have to find a way to grow membership or risk destruction. Their current president, Bob King, is staking his legacy on organizing these giant plants representing international auto makers in the South. I believe he has a big problem. He wants to change a culture and way of life in a part of this nation where the people are proud and hold a natural work ethic. How he wants to do it is “old school union” and that isn’t going to work in this high tech era. How do you convince a person to shake down his boss simply for the hustle of it and pay a part to the instigator (union dues)? They are doing fine and will not mess that up.

The strategy is two-fold. One is to organize a small group of workers and have them intimidate the other workers to vote on unionizing. This is known as the “card check scheme.” Another and more insulting method is to declare unionizing as part of the Civil Rights Movement. This has nothing to do with race, discrimination or inhumanity. They have even paid Black ministers and local civil rights organizations to protest on their behalf. The public is not going to be fooled. Detroit is officially bankrupt and Michigan is now a right-to-work state. Goodbye UAW.

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

African 'Ghettos' in Israel

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(NNPA) It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon. The streets of South Tel Aviv were teeming with people. We first saw a very large wedding party heading towards a park. We then saw hundreds of young men hanging out, socializing, walking, and sometimes just looking for something to do. The shops were closed on this Jewish Sabbath and this multitude had time on their hands. You would not have believed that this was Tel Aviv, Israel: it looked more like a neighborhood from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia or the Sudan. Yet, here it was, in a city on the Mediterranean, a city that reminded many of my delegation of Miami Beach and Los Angeles.

What my delegation saw was only the tip of a very strange and under-addressed iceberg: significant African migration to Israel. Africans, particularly from the Horn of Africa, have been seeking asylum in Israel as they have attempted to escape wars and crushing poverty. The Israeli establishment, sitting on top of the country that likes to describe itself as the only democracy in the Middle East, has been less than sanguine about the appearance of these migrants. In fact, the migrants are frequently described as “infiltrators,” a term that suggests a military operation rather than individuals seeking asylum.

Israel has been locking up African migrants. It has refused to grant asylum to most migrants, instead interning them for indefinite periods of time. The migrants find themselves, much like migrants in other parts of the world, in a twilight zone existence, living underground in order to avoid arrest, but sought after by Israeli employers who, like so many other employers in other countries – including but not limited to the U.S. – seek low-waged, vulnerable workers.

The African migrants in Israel have been demonized in both the mainstream but most especially by leaders of hard, right-wing organizations, who see them as a threat to the demographics of Israel. With 20 percent of Israel being Palestinian (and growing), the presence of the African migrants both scares and infuriates that segment of Israel that believes that their country must be ethnically pure in order to survive.

Over the last few weeks, African migrants have been engaging in organizing and mobilizing to insist upon their human rights. If the Israeli establishment is going to ignore them, then the migrants are prepared to take their case to the United Nations. Nevertheless, someone needs to quickly address the ghetto-ization of the migrants and the desperate poverty that they are facing. As a friend of mine on our trip noted, this situation is explosive and all that needs to happen for a disaster is one problematic step by the authorities and the lid could come off of Tel Aviv.

Both the presence of the African migrants and the unresolved situation of the Palestinians (who remain oppressed by the Israeli system) challenge Israel in its fundamentals. They challenge those who suggest that a democracy can exist in an environment where efforts are being undertaken to remove an entire population, and in the meantime subject them to apartheid conditions, and where those who migrate to Israel in search of safety are met with a characterization most appropriate to alien invaders.

Truth be told, it sounds a lot less like democracy and more like ancient Greece or Rome.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. He recently visited Israel and Palestine as part of a delegation of African Americans there on a fact-finding visit. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Support our Black Colleges

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(NNPA) There is a critical and long overdue discussion about the fate of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) now finally taking place around the nation. Yes, this is the time of year where annual government allocations and budgets are debated, passed or adjusted to meet both federal and state priorities. The issue of higher education and the adequate funding for all colleges and universities is one of the most important budgetary matters in 2014, given the increasing costs of higher education. But for most HBCUs, the concerns today about annual funding are far beyond routine dialogue and consultation. It is now for HBCUs a matter of survival.

Given the outstanding academic achievements and contributions of the 105 HBCUs and 50 Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs) of higher education, finances should never be an issue. I am, therefore, joining the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) in issuing a national and global urgent call for increased financial support of HBCUs and PBIs.

It is a sad reality that too many people take for granted the legacy and continued importance of these particular colleges and universities. That is why African Americans must insist on proper funding for HBCUs and PBIs. If African Americans are not more vocal in expressing support for these colleges the stage will be set for more reduced funding of these vital institutions of higher learning that have done so much to make the world a much better place.

I am always impressed with the dedication and commitment of NAFEO and its members to represent and defend the interests of our colleges and universities. NAFEO is the nation’s only 501 (c) (3), not-for-profit membership association of the presidents and chancellors of the nation’s richly diverse 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and approximately 50 Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs). NAFEO members are CEOs of 2- and 4-year public, private, land-grant, sectarian and non-sectarian, undergraduate, graduate and professional schools in 35 states, the District of Columbia and Virgin Islands.

HBCUs and PBIs represent 500,000 students, 53,000 faculty, and 5 million alumni worldwide. NAFEO member institutions educate disproportionate percentages of low-income students—in excess of 60 percent of the students enrolled at HBCUs are eligible for income-based Pell Grants. Because HBCUs educate disproportionate percentages of low-income students, they have designed, tested, and perfected a myriad of successful programs that increase the numbers of low-income students prepared for, entering into and graduating from HBCUs and PBIs.

At a recent meeting at the White House Skills and Education Summit, NAFEO President and CEO Lezli Baskerville challenged the summit participants to both increase the funding for HBCUs and PBIs and to see the clear strategic academic priority for strengthening HBCUs and PBIs in order to achieve President Barack Obama’s higher education goals for the nation.

Baskerville emphasized, “The ability of the nation to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of today and tomorrow depends to a great extent on our science, technological, engineering, agricultural, and mathematics (STEAM) enterprises and ability. We must train 100,000 new STEAM teachers over 10 years and create an American workforce and entrepreneurs prepared for a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs. To have an America that is ‘Built to Last,’ President Obama projects that we need to increase the number of college graduates to roughly 60 percent by 2020, which equates to approximately 8 million more Americans with a 2- or 4-year college degree. To realize that goal, the nation must educate at least 2 million more African Americans with college degree by 2020 and many will be graduates of HBCUs and PBIs.”

Unfortunately at a time when there is a clear, demonstrated need for more funding for HBCUs and PBIs, the political will does not appear to be there at the local, state or national level. Therefore, it calls on us to inform all our elected officials that increased funding for our colleges and universities has to be a top priority. This is not an option — our future and the future of our nation depends on it.

Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is President of Education Online Services Corporation and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and can be reached at the following link: http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc

Robots are Replacing 'Redundant' Human Workers

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(NNPA) One of the most fascinating articles I read over the holidays was by Lydia DePillis in the Dec. 29 Washington Post (“8 ways robots stole our jobs in 2013”). The article is not long but was very pointed. Technology is expanding at a more rapid pace than most people have anticipated and with it there has come a significant loss of jobs, ranging from the stuffing of mail to the operation of farm equipment. And now the proposed Amazon flying drone.

For years we have been told that with advances in technology not only will there be the elimination of dirty and dangerous work, but that new and improved opportunities will open for those displaced. Circumstances have not quite worked out that way. Instead, some new and skilled high-tech jobs have emerged; many workers have been rendered “redundant” (un-usable) by the changing economy; and the benefits of the new technology have gone almost exclusively to the rich and the super-rich.

The importance of the DePillis article is that it reminds us that there is no automatic connection between improved technology and benefits to those who work for a living. Our standard of living does not necessarily improve with the spread of robots and other forms of computerization. If there is no direct intervention of working people and those who are supposed to be looking out for them, the cost of producing items will be reduced, and so too will be the opportunities for those who must work.

For those of us who love science fiction, we know that one of the scenarios often raised regarding the future is one where robots and computers take on all or most major tasks, making it easier and more comfortable for humanity. While this is a scenario that I would like to believe will happen, we should not assume that we are on the road toward such a future. Rather, the future seems to look more like the eternal expansion of Walmart, whereby it is easier and cheaper for companies to produce and sell items, but that the rest of us become poorer and poorer.

Rather than despair, however, it is really a moment when we need to start asking questions of government and industry. If workers are losing jobs as a result of changes in technology, and, if such changes benefit the titans of the economy, shouldn’t greater demands be placed on the corporate giants to insist that they provide for those who are displaced? Perhaps we should stop letting corporations get away with dispensing with workers in the name of increasing productivity, only to leave said workers on the side of the road to fend for themselves. The alternative is not the status quo, but rather the expansion of dead cities and abandoned zones where those no longer needed are warehoused.

That is not a future I want to see. There is no reason that it need come about.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, 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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