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NAACP Leader Sees a 'Tidal Wave of Obstructionism' in U.S. Government

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NAACP Leader Shares Thoughts on Present, Future Challenges

By Charlene Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from The Final Call –

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) held its 102nd Annual Convention at the Los Angeles Convention Center, July 23-28. Its theme was “Affirming America's Promise” of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, justice, hope, fair play, equality, change, and opportunity. Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO, sat down with Final Call national correspondent Charlene Muhammad for a brief interview about key issues the NAACP is targeting as it moves into its second century of existence.

Charlene Muhammad, Final Call Newspaper (FCN): By the time of our publishing this issue, you will have ended your 102nd Annual Convention. What do you want people to understand about the NAACP and where it is today?

Benjamin Todd Jealous (BJ): We are strong and growing stronger by the day. In the past three years we've seen our online activists surge from 170,000 to start in 2008 to over a half million today. We've seen our individual donors and people who write checks apart from membership increase from less than $20,000 then to more than $100,000 now. We've seen our membership increase 12 percent to 230,000 today, so we're a family of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of activists who work together, online and in the streets in more than 1,200 communities across the country to ensure that in these tough times, when our voting rights are under attack, when the American dream itself is under attack, that our communities are well organized, well represented and engaged.

FCN: Let's talk about President Barack Obama, who is also under attack. He's considered one of the visible triumphs of the civil rights movement as the first Black president. Those loyal to him see any critique or criticism of him as an attack, and then there are people who are attacking him outright. What do you make of these different debates going on about the president and the impact of the Tea Party on those debates, and the political impact the Tea Party has had and continues to have?

BJ: Dr. (Martin Luther) King talked about southern obstructionists and interposition and nullification. We are living through one of those moments when our civic lessons we learned as children are important to remember. Congress holds the purse. There will be no major jobs program in this country until Congress decides to appropriate funds and we've seen just the opposite. They've continued to cut taxes to actually decrease federal revenues. That has put the president in a box. It is clear the president would like to see the government do more to shore up local governments, do more to create jobs, but because of this tidal wave of obstructionism that has come into the U.S. House of Representatives, the options are very limited. In this moment, our attack in dealing with the administration has been to focus more on eradicating discrimination because that's something that he does have control over. That is the responsibility of the executive branch. So, when Morial (Marc Morial, president and CEO, National Urban League) went in there, we certainly made the case that we're making to leaders in Congress. We also made clear that we understood where the obstruction lies in our government right now, in the House of Representatives, but we encouraged him and he agreed to do everything the administration could to both deal with what you might refer to Employment Discrimination 1.0—gender discrimination, racial discrimination, age discrimination—and Employment Discrimination 2.0.

There are types of discrimination that has cropped up and really all gone through the roof during the recession that tend to reinforce Employment Discrimination 1.0 and that's discrimination based on credit score. People are literally being discriminated against on whether or not they get a job based on having low credit. How does a person improve their credit if they can't get a job? Also, long term unemployment; people are figuring out that they're being turned down for jobs because people say, ‘Well, you've been unemployed too long. 'We've had years now of some of the worst unemployment numbers in the past century and certainly the worst since the Great Depression and again, how are they expected to change their status of being unemployed if we won't give them a job?

And finally, there's discrimination against formerly incarcerated people. We're a country that believes in second chances. We believe work is redemptive, and yet, we ended up trapping literally thousands upon thousands of children in foster care because we won't let their mothers work when they've returned from paying their debt to society in prison. Frankly, often having gone to prison when they shouldn't have because they should have gone to rehab. It is non-violent drug offenders even who are unable to find work when they return and as a result, their kids stay in foster care because you don't get your kids back when you get out of prison. You get your kids back when get out of prison and you find a job.

FCN: The defamation lawsuit of former USDA director Shirley Sherrod against blogger Andrew Breitbart is at trial. The NAACP in some aspects, and yourself personally, as a leader, has been criticized by some people regarding its role. Was it a knee-jerk reaction as some have said and how has the NAACP bounced back, or is bounced back a correct characterization of it?

BJ: We were the last to make the error of the USDA and the White House. We were the first to correct it and we did so in less than 24-hours. We put up the video, which we had to track down in rural Georgia and get to Washington, and get up. That frankly then spurred everybody else to take the actions that they took to apologize and seek to make amends. The true test of leadership is not whether or not you make mistakes, but whether you're quick to recognize them and how quickly you make amends for them. Unfortunately, we're all human. We're not perfect. We're proud that we quickly recognized our mistake. That we made amends for it in the same day and that we were successfully able to push others to do the same thing.

Blacks Bearing Brunt of Economic Woes

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By Larry Miller, Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune –

While Republican and Democratic lawmakers inched their way through raising the nation’s debt ceiling - a seemingly never-ending series of arguments, which proved to be a last minute cliff-hanger - the numbers of the nation’s poor and unemployed also rose.

And those numbers show African Americans are bearing the brunt of the country’s financial woes. Basically, even as there are signs of economic recovery, the financial divide between Black and white is widening – sentiments that were loudly and vehemently expressed during a recent rally in Chicago by Tavis Smiley, Minister Louis Farrakhan and Dr. Cornel West.

The three sharply criticized President Barack Obama on his handling of the nation’s economic crisis and what they perceive as his lack of action for America’s poor during a rally in Chicago – the first stop on the three leaders’ 16 city Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience.

“President Obama should acknowledge the poor and come back home to his base, even if it means being a one-term president,” said Farrakhan, in a published report.

According to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment figures for the nation are at 9.1 percent. Those numbers for African American are 15.9 percent – figures that are double the 8.1 percent for white Americans.

The latest research by the Pew Charitable Trust shows that more than 4.2 million Americans have been unemployed for a year or longer – the highest numbers since the Second World War – figures that reflect the total population of the state of Kentucky. Another report from the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative for last April revealed even as the economy has shown signs of recovery, unemployment has risen.

Research by the Pew Charitable Trust shows that while long term unemployment is hitting all Americans of every age, older workers are the most likely segment of the population to be out of work longest. The report indicated more than 40 percent of unemployed age 55 or older have been out of work for a year or longer.

“The number of Americans who have been out of work for a year or longer is roughly equal to the population of Connecticut,” said Ingrid Schroeder, project director of the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative, which produced the report, in a press release. “Their unemployment has a significant impact on their families, their communities, and our government’s bottom line.”

And while the numbers of America’s unemployed rises, poverty rates are not far behind. A recent snapshot of the poverty rate in Philadelphia revealed 25 percent of the city’s residents are living in poverty.

The economic report released by the City Controller’s office for September 2010 shows nationally the country’s poverty rate has risen to 14.3 percent, or 43.6 million Americans – the highest figures in 15 years.

“Right now the figures stand at 25 percent,” said Harvey Rice, spokesman for the Philadelphia Controller’s Office. That rate of 25 percent pushes Philadelphia well above other cities in the United States. In 2000 the city’s poverty rate was at 15.2 percent. “We’re going to look at the figures again this September, but right now nothing has changed that we know of.”

What is the federal government going to do about turning these figures around? That question takes on new significance with impending spending cuts in the 2012 budget.

West has characterized Obama as the “Black mascot of Wall Street Oligarchs” and Smiley has said the president has forgotten the poor. But the White House has responded to these sentiments by saying that Obama is focused on those suffering because of the weakened economy every day.

“Every economic measure that he has proposed and every one that has become law because of his leadership has been geared towards helping those folks who are in the greatest distress because of the recession that we were in, the great recession, worst since the Great Depression, and those who are struggling as we emerge from it,” said Obama Administration spokesman Jay Carney during a White House press briefing.

“His focus on the most vulnerable communities was evidenced when he negotiated with congressional leaders late last year on the tax cut extension deal by insisting that, in addition to the payroll tax cut that he insisted be in it so that every American family – working American family would have on average an extra thousand dollars this year, he insisted on an extension of the earned income tax credit, an extension of the child tax credit, which disproportionately helps those who are disproportionately in need. It is why he insisted in the recent debt ceiling deal that Pell Grant funding be protected because those who deserve and qualify for quality higher education but are struggling to be able to pay for it because of their economic circumstances need the assistance that those Pell grants supply. So this President is very focused on every American who is suffering during these turbulent economic times, and the policies that he’s espoused and that he’s pushed take into account very seriously those who are most affected.”

Is Criticism of President Obama by Blacks a Betrayal?

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Professor Cornel West and talk show host Tavis Smiley do seem to think so; they have embarked on a nationwide tour to showcase what they see as Obama not doing enough for Black folks.

By Yussuf J. Simmonds, Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel –

As they embark on a nationwide tour, Professor Cornel West and Tavis Smiley have said that they will highlight hardships in communities across the nation, especially the Black and poor communities. The bus tour, which is drawing large crowds and media attention, is focused on the President's policies that West and Smiley believes are not inclusive of Blacks. Furthermore, they believe that the President does not have a Black agenda, and the question is should he? After all, supporters say that President Obama is not the president of Black America; he is the president of all of America.

Some Black lawmakers are said to be beginning a campaign to address the staggering unemployment rate among African Americans, an issue that has become a growing source of tension between members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Obama administration. Lack of jobs for Blacks has created tension between Black lawmakers and President Obama.

Smiley and West will be kicking off the bus tour right in the heart of Chicago's Black community, the President's 'front yard.' And although West states, "it is not an anti-Obama tour," it does appear to highlight what they say is lack of effort by both the President and Congress to address the needs of the Americans who have been hardest hit by the recession. West has received criticism for speaking out against Obama.

Not too long ago, a colleague of Smiley, Tom Joyner, called those who criticize the President "haters" and that they needed to be quiet because he (President Obama) doesn't need the Black vote to be split.

Also, Rev. Al Sharpton had sharply criticized the motivations and integrity of those who questioned President Obama's willingness to meet with the CBC to discuss targeted jobs legislation.

Then former Princeton Professor Melissa Harris-Perry recently referred to Professor West's critique of the Obama administration as, "a self-aggrandizing, victimology sermon deceptively wrapped in the discourse of prophetic witness..."

It appears that a very troubling pattern has developed within certain segments of the Black community. There's a concerted effort by some to silence those who are offering honest, sincere, and well thought through analysis and criticism of the Obama administration particularly as it relates to the conditions of Black and poor masses. Especially, as they say that statistics show 97 percent of Black people voted for Obama.

The following is a BET.com interview with West prior to the tour.

BET.com: Why are you embarking on the poverty tour and whose idea was it?

West: Tavis Smiley and I had been talking for a year about how to dramatize the poverty and humanize our perception of poor people in America. This is especially so for the Black poor. Poverty has been criminalized, poor people demonized and what we want to do is dramatize poverty and humanize our perception of poor people to overturn what has been in place for so long. When he came up with this idea for the tour I thought it was a magnificent idea.

BET.com: What are some of the stops on the tour?

West: We're going to an Indian reservation in Wisconsin, we're going to hit the brown barrios, the Asian poor communities, White poor communities, the Black hoods and we're ending in Memphis to keep alive the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.'s fundamental commitment to sanitation workers there, and of course his assassination.

BET.com: How are you going to share your observations and some of the things you'll see while on the tour?

West: We've got an embedded reporter from The Washington Post, camera people who'll be keeping track and of course, you'll be able to follow most every second of it on the Internet on the tavistalks.com and smileyandwest.com. And there will be documentary filmmakers so we can keep the story going after. I think we're going to see great dignity, great suffering and great resiliency.

What may be getting lost in the conversation is that honest criticism is not betrayal; it is part of the democratic process. It is democracy at its best ... or worst ... depending on who is criticizing whom.

Democrats Clyburn, Becerra Only Minorities on U.S. Debt Committee

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Republicans Have No Minority or Woman Appointees—All White Males

Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

During her last round of picks for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (“Debt Supercommittee”) intended to help solve the nation’s debt crisis, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi appointed Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C) and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), adding diversity to the important panel. The Democrats are also represented by the only woman on the committee, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).

The 12-member bipartisan panel will have until November to decide how the country should save $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.

Pelosi (D-CA) said the debt super committee would have three main goals: To focus economic growth and job creation to reduce debt; make financial decisions regarding investments, cuts and revenues; and offer recommendations to help reduce the country’s dependence credit.

“Because the work of this committee will affect all Americans, I called last week for its deliberations to be transparent; the committee should conduct its proceedings in the open,” Pelosi said in an Aug. 11 press release.

While the 12-member panel is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, seven votes must be made to send a final recommendation to Congress for consideration—which means at least one lawmaker must back the plan of the opposing party.

“It's not going to be simple to come to a deal,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Clyburn is currently the third-ranking member of the House Democratic Leadership, with experience on the Appropriations Committee. Pelosi in a statement called Clyburn a “vigorous spokesperson for jobs and economic development.”

Fresh Threats in Zimbabwe Aimed at Foreign-Owned Companies

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By Fungai Maboreke, Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

As the country marked Heroes Day on Aug. 8, President Robert Mugabe renewed threats against companies from Western countries that have imposed targeted sanctions on him and key ZANU PF officials.

The U.S. and European Union slapped sanctions on Mugabe and his supporters because of human rights abuses.

According to Reuters, Mugabe told thousands who attended the commemoration of liberation heroes: "We can't continue to receive the battering of sanctions without hitting back. We have to hit back."

"We will have to discriminate against countries that have imposed sanctions against us. Why do we need companies like Rio Tinto? If they are to continue mining, then the sanctions must go," he said.

He has previously called for a boycott of products from foreign countries who back the sanctions, which he says have hurt the country's shaky economy

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