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Senate Disarms Weapon of Mass Obstruction

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“For the first time in history, Republicans have routinely used the filibuster to prevent President Obama from appointing his executive team or confirming judges…The change we propose today would ensure executive and judicial nominees get an up or down vote on confirmation – yes or no.” -Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

(NNPA) The United States Senate recently took a highly controversial but much-needed step to end the abuse of the filibuster and ensure that nominees to executive branch appointments and federal judgeships can be confirmed by a simple majority vote. By a 52-48 vote, the Senate limited a longstanding filibuster procedure that has been used to block an unprecedented number of President Obama’s appointments and turned “advise and consent” into “deny and obstruct” over the last five years.

The National Urban League applauds this historic action and hopes that it clears the way for a final vote to allow a number of highly qualified Americans to serve their country. This includes the three judges the president recently picked to fill vacancies on the D.C. Court of Appeals and Rep. Melvin Watt, a 20-year member of the House Financial Services Committee and former Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, who was nominated in May to be Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Prior to the change in Senate rules, Watt was virtually assured of becoming the first sitting Member of Congress since 1843 to be rejected for a Cabinet-level appointment. Mel Watt and several other stellar candidates would also bring much-needed diversity to their roles at a time when people of color and women continue to face obstacles to equal justice and suffer disproportionately from the housing crisis. It is clear; these nominees were being blocked solely on the basis of partisanship and ideology, not their qualifications.

Partisan gridlock and obstructionism have risen to new heights since President Obama first took office almost five years ago. The minority party in the Senate and the majority party in the House have gone to extraordinary lengths to thwart the president’s legislative priorities. And his nominees for executive branch positions and judgeships have been repeatedly stonewalled. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reminded us, “In the history of the Republic, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations. Half of them have occurred during the Obama Administration – during the last four and a half years. These nominees deserve at least an up-or-down vote. But Republican filibusters deny them a fair vote and deny the President his team.”

The outrageous filibuster blockade that has left so many important federal positions vacant in recent months has not only been harmful to the president, it has been a gross disservice to the American people. Well aware of that fact, President Obama responded to the Senate’s action by saying, “It’s no secret that the American people have probably never been more frustrated with Washington. And one of the reasons why that is, is that over the past five years, we’ve seen an unprecedented pattern of obstruction in Congress that’s prevented too much of the American people’s business from getting done…So I support the step the majority of senators today took to change the way that Washington is doing business.”

So do we. Rather than being used as it was originally intended, as a tool of last resort on matters of principle, in recent years, the filibuster has been used for purely political ends. That is why disarming this weapon of mass obstruction was the right thing to do.

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

Mozambique Facing Another Civil War?

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(NNPA) The news out of the southeast African nation of Mozambique has been most disturbing. After a 21 year period of peace, Renamo—the notorious Mozambican National Resistance—has announced that it is breaking its pact with the ruling Frelimo (Mozambican Liberation Front, the movement that led the struggle for independence from Portugal). Skirmishes have commenced with the government and government forces have moved into the traditional headquarters of Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama and seized it.

It remains far from clear whether Mozambique will return to a state of civil war, but the fact that conditions have deteriorated says something both about post-independence Mozambique as well as the rather bizarre and politically conservative Renamo.

In the aftermath of gaining independence from Portugal in 1975, the Frelimo-led government embarked on a major effort at development, as well as equal efforts at solidarity with other progressive movements in Southern Africa. Aligning itself with the USSR and China, Frelimo saw itself as ultimately building a socialist state in Mozambique. It also saw itself as providing support to freedom fighters in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and South Africa.

In a major effort at destabilization, the White minority regime in Rhodesia trained and armed conservative Mozambicans to begin a guerrilla war against Frelimo. The Rhodesian objective was to tie down Frelimo and prevent it from offering any substantial support to the national liberation forces in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. Playing upon various grievances that existed under the post-colonial regime, these armed units, which came to be known as the Mozambican National Resistance (MNR, but more commonly, Renamo), undertook a vicious and terroristic campaign against Frelimo and its supporters. When the Rhodesian regime collapsed and national liberation arrived in Zimbabwe, the apartheid South African government took up supporting Renamo.

One of the most striking features of Renamo was its viciousness. Rather than trying to secure “liberated zones” and demonstrate an alternative to Frelimo, Renamo resorted to a campaign of open terror. There appeared to be no targets that were off limits. Civilians were murdered and/or tortured in an effort aimed at creating nothing short of panic. This situation lasted for more than 15 years, ultimately ending in a peace pact in 1992.

In the period since the peace pact, Renamo—which repositioned itself as an opposition party to Frelimo—has gained little ground. Many observers believe that the myopic orientation of Renamo leader Dhlakama has straight-jacketed the movement, both chasing away some of its most talented cadre plus locking the movement into an “all or nothing” approach in its dealings with Frelimo.

In the meantime, Frelimo has faced a very different set of challenges. While the economy of Mozambique has, overall, improved and there has been relative stability, Frelimo has dramatically shifted from the orientation that it had during the anti-colonial war and under subsequent leader Samora Machel that emphasized social transformation. In part, as a result of the war with Renamo, along with collapse of the Soviet bloc and the adoption of capitalism by the People’s Republic of China, Frelimo increasingly followed a path of development consistent with the objectives of international financial institutions and global capitalism. One result of this, in addition to a very uneven living standard, has been increased corruption.

There is nothing progressive in the apparent return to warfare by Renamo. It will bring further misery. Renamo has no positive vision for Mozambique but has repeatedly demonstrated its interests in enriching its leadership. Nevertheless, tensions within Mozambican society that have nothing to do with the politics of Renamo, may end up playing a role in any ensuing conflict between Renamo and the Mozambican government. To the extent to which Mozambicans have concluded that their Frelimo-led society is not transforming their lives in an equitable fashion, they may withhold badly needed support from the Mozambican government, thereby prolonging the conflict and, possibly worse: turning Mozambique into a battleground for militias.

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.

Defending the Koch Brothers

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By William Reed
NNPA Columnist

On one hand you hear that the Koch brothers are evil and corrupt, and on the other, they’re depicted as dedicated champions of the free market. In Black communities, the Koch brothers have been accused by politicians, of causing: the government shutdown, voter suppression, global warming and numerous other diabolical and evil plots.

Did you know that the Koch brothers advocate an end to Social Security and welfare? You’re probably not certain, but the Koch brothers’ name has been besmirched among Blacks for quite some time. Writer Robert Parry said: “The Koch brothers and other right-wing billionaires who provoked the government shutdown … see themselves as people who deserve to rule without interference from lesser citizens, especially those with darker-colored skin.”

At a Harlem church, singer, actor and activist Harry Belafonte compared Charles and David Koch to the Ku Klux Klan, branding them “evil men” and “white supremacists.” Most Blacks believe the Koch brothers seek “to undermine government by financing libertarian initiatives and the Tea Party.” The late Manning Marable called capitalism “racist” and “Black Americans’ greatest enemy.”

Modern-day Black Americans have put their faith and endeavors on the electoral franchise, at the expense of organized movements to build wealth through ownership and development of businesses. This mindset has much to do with anti-Koch attitudes and missives among Blacks. The phrase “Koch brothers” refers to the sons of Fred C. Koch. Fred Chase Koch founded the oil refinery firm that later would become the second-largest privately-held company in America, Koch Industries. Today, Koch Industries, Inc. is a multinational corporation based in Wichita, Kan., with annual revenue of about $98 billion and subsidiaries in manufacturing, trading and investments.

Koch Industries own Invista, Georgia-Pacific, Flint Hills Resources, Koch Pipeline, Koch Fertilizer, and Koch Minerals and Matador Cattle Company. The companies are involved in core industries such as manufacturing, refining and distribution of petroleum, chemicals, energy, fiber, and polymers, minerals, fertilizers, pulp and paper, chemical technology equipment, ranching, finance, commodities trading, and other ventures and investments.

Koch Industries employ 50,000 people in the United States and another 20,000 in 59 other countries. The current leaders of the pack are Fred C. Koch’s sons: Charles, chairman of the board and chief executive officer, and David H., executive vice president – they’re the principal owners of the conglomerate. The dynamic duo bought out their two other brothers, Frederick and William “Bill” Koch, for $1.1 billion in 1983.Charles and David H. Koch each own 42 percent of Koch Industries. The brothers have contributed to a variety of free-market adherence. They have donated more than $196 million to free-market individuals and advocacy organizations.

Black political activists insist that the Koch brothers sought to defeat Barack Obama’s re-election, the Democrats and health care reform. But the messengers among us are primarily political operatives taking issue with the Kochs. The Koch brothers are only guilty of strong support of private enterprise. Their family and foundations have financially supported organizations “fostering entrepreneurship, education, at-risk youth, arts and culture, and medical research.”

In case you didn’t know, the “free market” doesn’t mean you get stuff for free. The masses of Black Americans need to develop a culture and proficiency in free-market economics. The Kochs have given to conservative and libertarian policy and advocacy groups, including the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, and Americans for Prosperity. Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is an American conservative political advocacy group.AFP’s stated mission is “educating citizens about economic policy and mobilizing citizens as advocates in the public policy process.” AFP and Freedom Works are organizations with links to both the Kochs and the Tea Party movement.

Because of our propensity toward “big government,” the shutdown has generated much ire from Blacks toward the Tea Party. Many Blacks see the Tea Party movement as racist and against Obama; some others see it as “a political movement” advocating a reduction in the U.S. national debt and federal budget deficit by reducing U.S. government spending and taxes. The movement is partly conservative, libertarian, and populist.

William Reed is head of the Business Exchange Network and available for speaking/seminar projects through the Bailey Group.org.

Fans are Complicit in the Injuries of Tony Dorsett and Others

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(NNPA) The recent news about NFL Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett was more than unsettling. Having been diagnosed with the early stages of chronic encephalopathy (CTE), an illness directly related to head traumas, he feels his life slipping away from him. At the age of 59 he faces an uncertain future, yet it is a future that has confronted many football players, past and present.

Dorsett was part of the group of former football players who settled with the NFL recently for $765 million in connection with conditions such as CTE that have resulted from their football years. The settlement itself was highly controversial since it underestimates the extent of damage done to football players and, in effect, let’s the NFL off the hook. Nevertheless, many former players were desperate for a settlement in order to address their on-going medical problems.

Dorsett was a star among stars, someone who seemed nearly invincible in his greatness. Nevertheless, careers end and the physical damage inflicted on the players over the years takes its toll, resulting in conditions such as CTE and a shortened life-span for these modern-day gladiators.

When we hear the news about former players, such as Dorsett, most of us shake our heads in both sadness and frustration…and then we turn on the next football game. We create a peculiar sort of disconnect between the reality of the injuries faced by these players, and the activity that so many of us watch on any given Sunday. We do not stop and think about the sorts of demands that we, the fans of professional football, need to place on the football industry in its entirety. The issue of safety is not one exclusive to the NFL. It really is a matter that must be addressed when high schoolers start playing and then when they work their way to college. The injuries start early and there is no scientific certainty as to how many injuries ultimately result in conditions such as CTE, not to mention countless other challenges, such as injuries to bones and joints.

There comes a time when shaking our heads, as those watching the gladiators competing on Sundays, makes us complicit in the misery that many of these players face upon the end of their careers. Perhaps it is time to join with the NFL Players Association in demanding greater steps to address safety, but also appropriate medical care and long-term assistance for the players when they have moved on. To do otherwise feels no different than the equivalent of watching the gladiators do battle in the ancient Roman coliseums. The only difference seems to be that death was quicker in the coliseum. Today, we allow our modern day gladiators to end their lives slowly in misery and absent dignity.

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.

Is America Becoming a Nation of Bullies?

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“Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words or more subtle actions.” -American Psychological Association

(NNPA) When 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick jumped to her death from an abandoned concrete plant tower on September 9 because of bullying from her classmates, the world stood up and took notice. While some teen-on-teen bullying was once accepted as a rite of passage, we now know it can have deadly consequences and is being taken more seriously today. The same cannot be said about adult-on-adult bullying, which though possibly just as harmful, is a much less highlighted and much more complex story. Consider the current case of alleged bullying by White Miami Dolphins lineman, Richie Incognito against his Black teammate Jonathan Martin.

First, it must be said that a certain amount of hazing is part of football locker room culture. Playful teasing, mild insults and innocent pranks are commonplace among both White and Black football players at all levels, from high school to the pros. For the most part, this has been viewed as acceptable and even beneficial team-building behavior in the high testosterone world of male competitive sports. But every person and every football player is different. Not all are comfortable with locker room roughhousing and crude language, especially when it crosses the line into racial slurs, including Incognito’s alleged use of the N-word.

Incognito’s words and actions caused Martin to abruptly leave the team and seek counseling. Incognito has been indefinitely suspended by the Miami Dolphins and the NFL is conducting an investigation of the matter.

Attitudes on the team and within the football fraternity are split, with many of the team’s Black players even defending Incognito and criticizing Martin for breaking a code of silence. Some of this may be because as a Stanford grad and the son of Harvard-educated parents, Martin does not fit the traditional tough football player mold.

As Jason Reid wrote recently in the Washington Post, “To African Americans on the Dolphins, Martin was a 6-foot-5, 312 pound oddball because his life experience was radically different from theirs. It’s an old story among African Americans. Too often, instead of celebrating what makes us different and learning from each other, we criticize more educated or affluent African Americans for not keeping it real.”

How this turns out is anybody’s guess, but what concerns me more than the particulars of this incident is the larger message it sends about setting and honoring racial and other boundaries of respect in the schoolyard, at the workplace and in public discourse.

Nearly every state has mandated measures to prevent bullying in our schools and more attention is being paid to cyber bullying. But, name-calling still too often takes the place of civil discourse in public debates, “attack ads” have become a staple of political campaigns and the “comments” section on many newspapers and blogs are filled with hateful speech. In addition, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute, about 35 percent of U.S. workers say they are bullied on their jobs. As the NFL and the Miami Dolphins decide the fates of Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, we must all ask ourselves: Is America becoming a nation of bullies?

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

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