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Health Crisis is Real

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(NNPA) My friend is awaiting health insurance. This is not academic. She’s afraid that she might have cancer. Think about what it says about a society that someone concerned about a serious illness has to wait to see whether they have the right insurance to cover a potentially life-threatening crisis. For those who are procrastinating in getting your personal health insurance, I would suggest that you are gambling. And while the ‘cards’ may play out in your favor, they also may not.

My friend has to wait till she gets her health insurance because, like many other workers, she is employed by a company that does not offer health insurance. They do not offer much in the way of time-off either. It is all part of a larger pattern. Each day that passes, workers find that they have to cover more and more of what, at one point, people took for granted. No health insurance; no pension; no sick time; little, if any, vacation. It starts to feel like the days prior to the advent of labor unions.

My friend did not expect a life crisis. Why should she have? She has been in great health. Full of energy. Yet, now she is worried and because of the way that the system works, each moment that goes by may be a moment necessary in diagnosing a potential life crisis. While it may it may turn out to be nothing, she will not know until she gets medical attention. It is not, however, something that would be treated in an emergency room.

Yet society says it is fine for us to go forward this way. Some politicians say that there is no need for any sort of national health insurance. That it costs too much for society. But I have to ask: What is the cost to us all when people play Russian roulette with their health because they do not have the sort of coverage that most advanced societies on the planet possess?

The Affordable Care Act (so-called Obamacare) did not go nearly far enough. Too many concessions to the insurance companies. We need single payer health care (“Medicare for All”) where every individual is guaranteed government-funded health insurance. But for now my friend has the chance of getting some health insurance, but at her own expense since her employer is focused on profit margins rather than a healthy and productive workforce.

So, she keeps waiting and the clock keeps ticking.

One heck of a way for a supposedly civilized society to operate.

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 and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Celebrating the Miracle of Black People

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(NNPA) The African American story is indeed one of the most unique tales of human struggle, uplifting and success. One of my professors at the University of Wisconsin told me, “It is a miracle that as a people, Blacks in America are alive and improving year by year. You went through over 400 years of pure hell and here you are today almost 40 million in number – such resilience!”

Yes, it is and many never wanted the positive story told. I remember all of the negative propaganda about “Negroes” that was in our text books; plus the derogatory films we had to see. It would program young Blacks to believe that our plight was because of our inferiority. The fact is we are some of the greatest group of people on earth. We are truly blessed and the whole world should realize our, collectively speaking, wonderful story.

Our best Christmas gift came on December 16, 2003. That was the day that Public Law 108 – 184 was signed into law. This was The National Museum of African American History and Culture Act. Finally, African Americans will get their museum of history. The law starts off saying: “Since its founding, the United States has grown into a symbol of democracy and freedom around the world, and the legacy of African Americans is rooted in the very fabric of the democracy and freedom of the United States.”

Here are quotes from the key three architects of the Act: 1. “Until we understand the full African American story, we cannot understand ourselves as a nation, as a people,” – Representative John Lewis (D-Ga.). 2. “We have an extraordinary opportunity before us – a chance to learn, understand, and remember together our nation’s history and to honor the significant contributions of African Americans to our history and culture.” – Senator Sam Brownback (R – Kansas). 3. “We all need to learn more about the men and women whose determination and persistent eloquence forced Americans of all races to examine our hearts, revise our Constitution and laws, and make America into the nation it was always supposed to be.” – President George W. Bush

Here is the mission of our museum: “The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established in 2003 as the 19th museum of the Smithsonian Institution, the largest museum complex and research organization in the world. Its mission is to provide for the collection, study, and establishment of programs and exhibitions relating to African American life, art, history, and culture. Enacted through Congressional legislation, this museum represents a national initiative of profound cultural importance, one that will impact this nation for generations to come.

The Museum will bridge a major gap in our national memory by creating exhibitions and programs focusing on a wide arc of history – Slavery, Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Migrations to the North and West, Segregation, the Civil Rights movement and beyond, including issues of the 21st century. It also will celebrate African American creativity and cultural expressions through art, dance, theater, and literature.

The Museum will be located on a five-acre site adjacent to the Washington Monument on the national Mall in Washington, D.C. – home to the world’s largest collection of museums and at the center of one of the most public spaces in the nation, visited by millions annually. Scheduled to open in 2015, the Museum exists today through a vast array of programs nationwide, including special exhibitions, an online presence at its Museum on the Web, and numerous educational programs and workshops for youth and adults alike.”

Yes, it is a blueprint for success and we should all be grateful. The Museum is a public/private partnership which means the funding comes from the federal government and private citizens like you and I. Donations start at $25. Many have given much more. Some of the notable contributions as of the writing of this paper are: The Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation – over $10 million; Robert L. Johnson – more than $2 million. The following have donated more than a million dollars each: Kenneth I and Kathryn Chenault, Mellody Hobson and George Lucas, The Reginald F. Lewis Foundation, Inc., The Links Foundation, Inc., Colin and Alma Powell and Franklin D. Raines. These African Americans are to be applauded.

Let us all give something. Those contributing between now and the opening will be honored as “Charter Members.” Don’t you want to carry this distinction? It’s a tribute to our forefathers. Simply go to www.AfricanAmerican.si.edu to review the details and levels. Send something in honor of our heritage. Kay and I will be sending something and we feel if it doesn’t hurt a little bit it is not enough (smile). Give and attend the grand opening at the end of 2015. I can’t wait to strut around with pride wearing a contributor’s name tag and ribbon.

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

Now Do You Believe in Climate Change?

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(NNPA) I have started to hear it all over again. The intense and record cold weather has led ideologues on the political Right to proclaim: “You see, there is no global warming! How can there be global warming if we are freezing?”

It is almost tragic that the term “global warming” became the popular means of explaining climate change. While it is absolutely and incontrovertibly confirmed that the temperature of the planet Earth has been increasing, what too many people continue to miss is that it is not happening all at once. Neither is it happening in the same way across the planet. For that reason it is more accurate and useful to discuss “climate change” and “extreme weather.”

What has been unfolding, as the temperature of the planet increases, is that weather patterns are also shifting. California, for instance, suffered an extreme drought leading to near panic. That has been followed by a massive deluge of rain that has resulted in dangerous mudslides. The Midwest and the East Coast have been subject to cold snaps that have taken us way below normal temperatures along with subjecting us to snow storm after snow storm. To this must be added the torrential rains and flooding in southern England and the complete unpredictability of the modern hurricane season that now seems to range from almost nothing to the sorts of intense storms that have hit Cuba, Haiti and Central America, not to mention Hurricane Sandy’s assault on New Jersey and New York.

In other words, the fact that this winter has been cold and snowy – as one would expect in a winter – for the Midwest and East Coast should not be interpreted as a return to normal. There is no return to normal outside of activities that must begin right now on the part of human beings. This starts with taking on fossil fuels and the fossil fuel industry. This is what makes the struggle around the Keystone Pipeline so important. The danger with the pipeline is not mainly the possibility of pipeline rupturing, though that is always a real danger. The danger lies with tapping into the tar sands of Alberta, Canada and the use of fuels that will, more than likely, have a devastating impact on the environment. The problem rests with the amount and type of energy that is needed in order to separate the oil from the sands.

So, let’s put this together. While the climate of this planet has been known to change in various eras, the speed and nature of the current changes are clearly related to human, industrial activity and, specifically, the use of fossil fuels. With such fuels, the planet heats up and this sets in motion climate change on a planetary basis typified by extreme weather. None of this means that each day’s weather becomes more extreme than the last’s. Rather, we start to see irregular and disastrous patterns emerge that make long-term survival a question.

Time to stop engaging in wishful thinking and, instead, take actions to reverse this trend. It not only can be done; it must be done…and now.

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 and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

U.S. Did not 'Reset' Relationship with Russia

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(NNPA) The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is the latest in a series of interaction between this aggressive government and the United States. In 2008, when Russia invaded the nation of Georgia that was flaunting total freedom from Russian influence, we imposed economic and trade sanctions on Russia in retaliation. So, when Obama appointed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, the administration decided to be nice to Russia and hope that things would get better.

Secretary Clinton said they wanted to “reset” with Russia. In a public ceremony, they held a gadget that said “reset.” It was actually a device for a Jacuzzi which they pilfered from their hotel. She exclaimed in Russian “Reset!” They should have checked the actual translation. The Russian Foreign Secretary said that wasn’t reset rather it meant “overcharge.” How amateurish and clumsy. While they ended all the sanctions as a good gesture and new start, Russian President Vladimir Putin must have been smiling and saying to himself, “They are so weak”.

So here we are. Russia has a president who wrestles bears and has a background as a KGB professional (their version of CIA). We have a president whose background is that of a community organizer and wears “mom jeans.” Russia is building up its military as is China, India, Iran and others who might rival us soon. We are proposing to slash our military like never before all the while hot spots are starting to appear right before us. We shrunk our military in like fashion after World War II. It resulted in North Korea, Russia and China figuring we did not have the guts to support South Korea so they invaded. We had to lose a lot of young soldiers in that war because we weren’t ready. Let us recall that hard lesson and not repeat it.

We didn’t see this Ukraine event coming, although Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney predicted such an event. Russia lined up 150,000 troops along their border with Ukraine and sent in another 15,000 troops into the Crimea region of the nation, an area populated with many people of Russian descent. Putin claimed he was going in to protect those ethnic Russians.

Funny, that is the same reason Adolph Hitler gave when he invaded Czechoslovakia and Romania. The White House called an emergency strategy meeting. They were all there except one person, our president. The next day he put in a round of golf and then headed for a fundraiser. It was like Benghazi when four Americans were killed and he could not be found. The next day he flew to Las Vegas for a fundraiser. I don’t think he understands or responds to pressure.

What should he do now that Russia has thrown down? Europe is intimidated because Russia has a monopoly on supplying coal and natural gas to those nations. This is actually an opportunity for us. We can actually begin selling coal to Europe at a better price. We can also begin exporting natural gas since we have become so productive via the fracking process we have started. The problem is President Obama’s cronies, the environmental movement, will complain as they want to kill coal and stop fracking. We can’t stop because there is too much money to be made in trade and no proof of environmental danger. Nations such as Russia, Brazil, China and India certainly aren’t caring about it as they use this energy like I-40 going east. Our energy is about national security and our economic future. This will also give our allies reason to stand strong and resist the evil ways of Putin.

Our president gave a knee jerk reaction by stating he will not attend the next G8 Summit in protest of the invasion. He should have checked with our allies first. None of them are saying that and will probably attend. Thus, we are going to be the only member absent and will be seen as an outlier. We aren’t going to isolate Russia but isolate ourselves. He should take this back.

One thing we should do is start building the missile shield system we promised Poland and Czechoslovakia. This is justified now that we know Russia is longing for the old Soviet Union days of invading its neighbors and exploiting its power through bullying. This is about having courage and strength. Think of a school yard. Bullies do not choose to fight those who are willing to fight if it is necessary. Only those who are timid, unprepared and without courage will suffer from the bullying. America, let’s be strong once again

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

Israel, Occupied Palestine and the Dred Scott Decision

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(NNPA) I found myself thinking about the notorious Dred Scott decision (1857) by the U.S. Supreme Court while traveling the streets of Occupied Palestine this past January. I was there leading a small delegation of African Americans who were trying to better understand the nature of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

There are many ways that the conditions of Palestinians have been described over time. Most recently the system of Israeli domination of the Palestinians (both internal to the state of Israel and externally through the occupation of Palestinian territories) has been characterized as an “apartheid system,” based on the criteria and analysis of apartheid that the United Nations established in the early 1970s. While I absolutely agree that apartheid describes the system in place, it was the Dred Scott decision that reverberated in my brain as I explored the reality of the conditions facing Palestinians.

As you will remember, the Dred Scott decision concerned the legitimacy of an African American slave’s assertion of freedom once he was in a non-slave state. In this famous decision the Court argued, among other things, that Blacks had no rights that a White person was bound to respect. While walking through Occupied Palestine I found myself confronting the reality that Palestinians have no rights that the Israeli authorities feel bound to respect.

In the interest of time and space, let me provide two examples. The first is land. Since 1948 there has been a systematic seizure of land owned by Palestinians, first in what is now known as the state of Israel, and later in the Occupied Territories. Rationales have ranged from alleging security concerns to the discovery of archaeological relics. Regardless of the rationale, once removed from the land, the Palestinians do not get it back. More than likely it is turned over to an Israeli settler in flagrant violation of international law, and sometimes even Israeli law.

The second example concerns checkpoints and roads. There are roads in the Occupied Territories that Palestinians are forbidden to travel unless they receive special permission. There are checkpoints throughout the Occupied Territories that Palestinians must walk through, in an atmosphere of humiliation, to be inspected, questioned, etc. Additionally, Israeli security personnel can feel free to stop any Palestinian, including in territory nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and interrogate them and/or seize them.

In each case, protests by Palestinians rarely result in anything approaching justice. If Palestinians are attacked by settlers in the Occupied Territories, the Palestinians have come to expect little or no justice from Israeli authorities. If, on the other hand, a Palestinian attacks an Israeli, they can expect retribution from the Israeli authorities and the settlers.

If you have any questions as to why the tide seems to be turning in favor of a rethinking of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and why growing numbers of people recognize the profound injustice in the treatment of the Palestinians, just remember the name “Dred Scott.” At that point it will all come together.

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. For more on his recent trip, see the interview Tavis Smiley held with him at: http://www.tavissmileyradio.com/bill-fletcher-jr-traveling-through-palestine/.

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