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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/.

It’s Time to Reduce Tensions and Create Possibility

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(NNPA) The escalating crisis in the Ukraine has set off unseemly missile-rattling and muscle flexing in this country. Prominent neo-con Charles Krauthammer sees this as a Cold War faceoff, calling for the U.S. to ante up $15 billion for the Ukrainian rebels and send a fleet to the Black Sea. Sunday’s Washington Post headlined that the crisis “tests Obama’s focus on diplomacy over force,” quoting Andrew C. Kuchins of the Center for Strategic and International Studies decrying Obama for “taking the stick option off the table.” The right has been even more bellicose.

The Obama administration has responded to the crisis by flexing its own rhetorical muscles. When Putin ignored Obama’s warning that a “price would be paid” if he sent troops into the Crimea, Secretary of State John Kerry denounced the “brazen act of aggression,” vowing that “Russia is going to lose, the Russian people are going to lose,” suggesting “asset freezes, isolation with respect to trade, investment…” the rubble going down…economic isolation of Russia” while promising economic assistance of a “major sort” for whatever government emerges in Kiev.

OK, folks, take a deep breath. Shelve the Cold War textbooks. Let’s take a sober look before we commit treasure and prestige to an unknown and still unsettled coup in a country on Russia’s border, harbor to its fleet, that has had a fragile independent existence for barely 20 years.

Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was an unpopular, corrupt, compromised, but democratically elected leader of Ukraine. He was leading the country toward membership in the European Union, when under enormous pressure from Putin, he reversed course. That led to street demonstrations, clearly spurred on by the United States, and eventually to the coup that sent him packing.

The nature of the new government is far from clear. The country itself is deeply divided. As David C. Speedie, director of U.S. Global Engagement at the Carnegie Council of Ethics in International Affairs says, “In simple terms, half of the people in Ukraine look to Russia and the other half look to the West.” The new leaders in Kiev include ultra-nationalists who have already banned the use of Russian language in some areas. Not surprisingly, the coup is very unpopular in semi-autonomous Crimea, populated largely by Russian speaking people.

Yanukovych’s decision to postpone consideration of joining the European Union wasn’t irrational. The EU was forcing Yanukovych to decide between Russia and the EU, flatly rejecting Putin’s offer of a tripartite arrangement that would allow Ukraine to sustain its ties with Russia. In December, Putin then offered to rescue the bankrupt Ukraine. The Ukraine is totally dependent on Russia economically. The EU and the U.S. are not about to replace that with Western aid and trade. Americans will be less than supportive of sending billions to Kiev on the other side of the world, while we are starving investment in education, Head Start and other vital investments here at home. The EU, dominated by Germany, has inflicted a brutal austerity on members like Greece, Spain and Portugal. The Ukraine might get promises of aid in the crisis, but any sober government would be worried about how much support would be sustained over the next years.

Putin, of course, is the villain in the piece. The Ukraine only went independent when the Soviet Union imploded, but it remains central to Russian security. The Russian fear is far less about economic relations with the EU (Russia itself is a major source of energy for the Europeans), than the further extension of NATO to its borders. A hostile Ukraine might displace Russian bases in the Black Sea, harbor the American fleet, and provide a home to NATO bases. This isn’t an irrational fear. Despite U.S. promises by George Bush not to extend NATO when Germany was united, the reality is that nine former Warsaw Pact nations and three former Soviet Republics have been incorporated into NATO, with the U.S.-NATO even setting up a military outpost in Georgia. And the European pact, advertised as offering access to free trade and a free access, in fact called for integrating Ukraine into the EU defense structure, including cooperation on “civilian and military crisis management operations” and “relevant exercises” concerning them. No one should be surprised that Putin reacted negatively to that prospect. No U.S. administration would put up with Putin cutting a deal with Mexico to join a military alliance with Russia.

Some minimal hold on reality is needed. Obama hasn’t “taken the stick off the table,” for there is no “stick” in relation to the Ukraine. Americans have no desire and no reason to go to war with Russia over what happens in Crimea. The EU and the U.S. are not going to supplant Russia’s economic influence in the Ukraine. We’re not going to provide the aid, the trade or the subsidized energy — and the EU austerity regime doesn’t offer an expansive growing region to join. The new Ukrainian government is neither elected nor legitimate nor settled. An unpopular leader has been unseated. But before this new, fragile and bitterly divided country breaks apart, the international community should be pushing hard for new elections and compromise.

The neo-cons like Krauthammer, the frustrated cold warriors filling armchairs in the outdated “strategic” think tanks that litter Washington will continue to howl at the moon. But American policy should be run by the sober and the adult. The president would be well advised to probe now whether the EU, Russia and the U.S. can join together to preserve the Ukraine’s territorial unity, to support new and free elections, agreeing to allow the Ukraine to be part of both the EU and the Russian customs union, while reaffirming the pledge that NATO will not extend itself into the Ukraine. It is time to reduce tensions and create possibility, not draw lines, flex rhetorical muscles and fan the flames of folly.

“He’s going to lose on the international stage,” Kerry said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” referring to Putin. “Russia is going to lose, the Russian people are going to lose, and he’s going to lose all of the glow that came out of the Olympics, his $60 billion extravaganza.”

Economic sanctions and travel restrictions on individual Russians are one possibility, as is a U.S. and European boycott of planning meetings this week for the upcoming summit of the Group of Eight leading industrial nations in Russia.

The United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia are members of the G-8.

“There are visa bans, asset freezes, isolation with respect to trade, investment,” Kerry said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “American businesses may well want to start thinking twice about whether they want to do business with a country that behaves like this. These are serious implications.”

Kerry also said that the administration was ready to provide economic assistance “of a major sort” to Ukraine.

Jesse Jackson, Sr. is founder and president of Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

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