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U.S. Debt Talks Mired in Theater

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Medicare cuts, controversial executive powers could be in play as deadline nears

By Charles D. Ellison, Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune –

WASHINGTON — While the White House and Congress clash like JoS. A. Bank-suited gladiators in a tamed scene from “Spartacus,” a rapidly approaching debt ceiling deadline looms on the horizon: Aug. 2.

Fears abound over fiscal “Apocalypse Now” — scenes of bomb runs dropping napalm on economic sanity with House Republican freshmen on the side lines yelling about “loving the smell of default in the morning.” Contrary to some opinions, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) really wants a deal. Yet, there are mixed signals emanating from the House GOP leadership helm. He’s waving his arms about, flashing his tan, and waxed polemic during a recent press conference about “… no agreement in public or in private” regarding the debt ceiling.

“It’s not like there’s some imminent deal about to happen,” goes Boehner in his trademark avuncular style and Cincinnati chest thump. “There are serious disagreements about how to deal with this very serious problem.”

But, that just means he’s instigating for an eventual deal, poking and prodding for the limits in the conversation. He still acknowledges that if the debt ceiling is not raised by Aug. 2, the nation will be in “an awful lot of jeopardy.”

Moments out on the links chuckling over putts and drives probably brought both Boehner and President Barack Obama a bit closer together in these remaining weeks before the nightmare of Greek-like chaos hits stateside. No one can be for certain. But, both of their respective offices remain tight-lipped and wary of confirming unofficial weekend meetings between the two.

“We’re not going to get into specific meetings, or read them out, or preview them, because we believe that is the right approach to increase our chances of reaching an agreement,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney rather dryly last week.

“If you can find people who would rather know the content of an individual meeting the president may or may not have had with a member of Congress than an actual accomplishment from Washington, I’ll buy you lunch,” Carney joked further.

Which annoys many of the Hill’s Democrats — especially progressives — even further upon hearing reports of a president calling all bluffs with plans for an even bigger deal: $4 trillion. While talks have slumbered on for months over $1 trillion in cuts for the short term and $2 trillion just to get by until the 2012 election cycle, the White House pushes a messy mountain of chips on the table with $4 trillion in proposed cuts over the next decade.

An endless loop of reports and grapevine gossip from the White House suggested many of the savings will come out of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. That seemed to align with the timing of a sudden and rather unprecedented enthusiasm in the debt ceiling talks as the president began injecting himself into the conversation out of frustration that Vice President Joe Biden’s cozy-over-tea Blair House talks weren’t going anywhere.

That’s alarming House Democrats — even while they see a political opportunity to reinsert themselves while helping Boehner rally the votes needed to offset insurgent Republican members unwilling to support a debt ceiling package.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), convinced that proposed draconian GOP cuts on Social Security and Medicare will offer vindication and a return to power in 2012, was on fire later in the week when White House budget director Jack Lew attempted to sell wolf tickets. “Don’t insult us,” blasted Pelosi in a comeback-girl pose that pushed Lew back in his committee hearing seat. “You guys don’t know how to count.”

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) was also jumping into the discussion, on talking point with Pelosi, as Democrats — for the first time in a while — seemed disciplined and on message. Edwards, one of many Congressional Black Caucus Members miffed with their former alum-turned-president on a number of fronts, definitely wants to have that discussion “down the line … making sure [entitlements] are stable and solvent.” She’s animate during a brief YouTube interview on Crewof42.com: “But, let’s not conflate the issues. They didn’t cause the deficit and they don’t need to be on the table.”

“The debt ceiling talks are far more than political theatre,” says Lauren Burke, a longtime CBC watcher and chief editor of Crewof42.com. “They are the first step in what may be a major and fundamental change in how the federal government treats low income citizens. That Social Security is a part of the negotiations provides a window into what the GOP is really about: moving money going to the government into private sector hands.”

But while skirmishes on the Hill erupt into uncertainty over whether or not leaders of both parties can come to agreement, there is increasing noise surrounding a nuclear option progressives are eager for the president to engage: the 14th Amendment.

Formerly a long shot, liberals in the fray are now invoking the Constitution as zealously as tea party conservatives, arguing that there shouldn’t even be a discussion or debate on the debt ceiling since it’s “unconstitutional.” Should debt ceiling negotiations fail, argue the talking head class, the President is well within his authority to simply shut the (tea) party down and impose the 14th Amendment.

Katrina vanden Heuvel, unapologetic liberal chief editor for The Nation, calls it “Obama’s best option” in a recent Washington Post op-ed. With that backdrop, President Obama may find that there is only one course left to avoid a global economic calamity: Invoke Section 4 of the 14th Amendment, which says that “‘the validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.’ This constitutional option is one that the president alone may exercise.”

University of Baltimore law professor Garrett Epps claims he’s the first to have sparked the public flame on the topic, promoting the idea that even though “Constitutional interpretation is rarely cut and dried … a lot of executive power specialists have looked at it and taken it seriously.”

“It's not a nutty idea, let me put it that way,” contends Epps. “The situation hasn't ever arisen before to my knowledge.”

“There is a very serious argument that the debt ceiling itself is needless, and even unconstitutional,” observes Epps. “Certainly there's nothing in the Constitution providing for or requiring a debt ceiling. Many scholars argue that when Congress appropriates funds it implicitly authorizes the Treasury to borrow to pay the appropriated monies, and that a separate statute can't prevent the funds from being expended unless it explicitly repeals the appropriation.”

But, former Republican Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK), now a Distinguished Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, profoundly disagrees. “No. The 14th Amendment does not give absolute authority to the president regarding the debt. That interpretation certainly conflicts with Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which gives power to Congress to borrow and determine the debt of the United States.”

Istook contends that the initial purpose of the 14th Amendment was related to post-Civil War factors, “… a way to ensure the U.S. was not going to pay the debts of the Confederacy. Not to give anyone authority over the debt. That requires a certain level of selectivity and prioritizing that only the Congress can do.”

Istook points to Sen. Pat Toomey’s (R-PA) proposed Full Faith and Credit Act legislation as a step in that direction. Toomey is looking for a way to service the debt while dramatically reining in spending.

Epps contends that if the President were to call on the Constitution as an impasse-breaker to avoid a meltdown in the global markets, it “would unquestionably be a constitutional crisis” — which could be an even worse situation.

“I would expect the only two mechanisms to solve it would be a) a move to impeach the President and/or b) the 2012 elections, which would allow the people to weigh in,” says Epps. “I don't see a way in which a presidential decision to breach the debt ceiling could make it to federal court. On the other hand, if the U.S. defaults on its obligations there will unquestionably be lawsuits against the U.S., which the U.S. will lose.”

Compton High School Student Inspires Others

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By Tasia Smith, Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel –

What began as a project to get Compton High School seniors excited about college--and to counteract negative stereotypes about the often maligned inner city--became a chance for community-building that even founder Court Crandall could have never imagined.

Crandall, Executive Creative Director at ad firm WDCW and screenwriter from Manhattan Beach, came up with the idea while watching his 16-year-old son, Chase, play club basketball alongside a number of youths from Compton. As he said in a short video clip filmed to help launch the project, "it kinda wasn't lost on him or me that while they were the same age, and playing the same sport, and good friends and all this, [Chase] had certain opportunities and means that they did not." And so, Crandall set out to move beyond the lines that often divide communities and to unite them around a different one: the free-throw line.

He created a charity event aimed at offering high-achieving Compton High seniors the chance to win a $40,000 college scholarship by way of a free-throw shooting competition. All seniors with grade-point averages of 3.0 and higher were invited to apply, and from the 80 students that did so, eight contestants were randomly chosen. On March 25th those eight students, Efren Arellano, Elisabed Cervantes, Donald Dotson, Allan Guei, Omar Guzman, Victory Holley, Arturo Mendez, and Diana Ramirez, shot free-throws in front of their entire school for the chance at the prize--though the pressure was somewhat lessened by the knowledge that the seven runners-up would receive $1,000 scholarships just for participating.

However, as a screenwriter, Crandall also conceived of this project as an opportunity to showcase a more positive side of Compton than is usually presented. The city has suffered for years from pervasive stereotypes of rampant violence and lawlessness, stemming from N.W.A's groundbreaking 1988 album Straight Outta Compton and perpetuated by mass media. Crandall wanted to help retool the public image of a city that, although historically dragged down by gang violence and corruption, has made serious improvements during the past 20 years. From the outset, he raised money not only to fund the scholarship prizes, but also to create a documentary film about the project. And so, after the eight contestants were chosen, he and his film crew delved into their lives, following them as they prepared for the dramatic free-throw shoot.

On that fateful Friday in March, Compton High students gathered to watch as Allan Guei, captain of Compton High's basketball team, beat a trembling but talented Diana Ramirez for the prize by one basket. Guei was soundly congratulated on his win, and the crowd roared even louder when Compton High principal Jesse Jones announced that due to very successful fundraising, the seven runners-up would not just be receiving $1,000 scholarships--instead, each would receive one year paid tuition at his or her intended college. The students, for whom paying for college looked to be a huge strain on family finances, were stunned and elated.

But, the real twist in the narrative Crandall helped start came last weekend, when Guei, who recently received a full basketball scholarship to Cal State Northridge, announced that he would be splitting his $40,000 free-throw prize evenly between the other seven contestants. Despite his basketball prowess, Guei had been allowed to compete in the free-throw contest to reward his academic achievements. Because of that talent, and Guei's superb character, the contest morphed into a testament to the kind of students who really come out of Compton: intelligent, talented, driven, and, above all, compassionate.

Crandall had hoped that this competition would build collaboration and a sense of community among the students of Compton High. Now, Crandall says, the students have gone above and beyond what he ever imagined when he was pondering on inequalities within his son's basketball team.

Crandall plans to submit the full-length documentary to Utah's Sundance Film Festival in September.

Obama, Republicans in Race for Fundraising Dollars

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By Stephon Johnson, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

With their eyes squarely on 2012, President Barack Obama and the Republicans are looking to raise money by any means necessary as they get ready to battle for the White House and other elected offices across the county.

While the Democratic National Committee hasn't released their half-year haul yet-it will come by the end of the week-Obama's camp has said its goal is to raise $60 million between the beginning of April and the end of June.

According to campaign manager Jim Messina, the Obama camp set up a target goal of 450,000 individual donors by the end of June. As of press time, a meter on the campaign website read 495,458 "strong."

"Of course we have a budget and financial goals, but we believe that the true strength of our campaign is in the number of everyday people working on it," said Messina in an email blast to Obama supporters a week ago. "A lot of people out there are wondering whether this campaign can inspire the kind of grassroots support that has been the foundation of our success. A lot of people out there are already saying we can't, so we've got something to prove."

In the second quarter of 2003, then-President George W. Bush raised $35 million. Dubya's total fundraising numbers from that year were $132.5 million. Various political prognosticators expect Obama to surpass that number by the end of this year.

"If you're planning on donating to this campaign at any point in the next 16 months...do it now," wrote Messina.

On the Republican front, reports have former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney slated to raise close to $20 million for his run at the GOP nomination for president. No official numbers have been released by Romney's camp.

An official from the Republican Governors Association told the website Politico that the organization had raised $22.1 million for the first six months of the year, eclipsing GOP six-month totals from 2007 to 2009 and helping the GOP erase its debts from the 2010 election. GOP-affiliated governors now have a $16.2 million stash to work with.

"Republican governors across the country are promoting job creation initiatives, balancing budgets, reforming education and leading with a focus on the next generation," said Phil Cox, executive director of the RGA, in a statement. "Because of their leadership and our reputation as an effective, well-managed committee, our financial supporters continue to view RGA as a smart investment in our nation's future."

Cox started running the RGA this year.

Black Colleges Key to Reviving U.S. Education

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By Stan Washington, Special to the NNPA from The Atlanta Voice –

ATLANTA – If the United States is going to regain its global leadership position in higher education, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) will need to play a major role, says a White House official on education.

Just how the nation's predominately Black institutions will participate in that objective was the main topic at a recent Southern Education Fund conference of HBCU presidents, held in Atlanta.

HBCUs are a critical component in President Obama's national education initiative to restore the U.S. to its former ranking as the world's leader in higher education, said John S. Wilson, Jr., executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

"We have not been number one since 1995," Wilson said during a media briefing with six HBCU presidents. "We need somewhere around eight million more graduates. Almost two million of them need to be African American, with roughly 200,000 coming from HBCUs.

"That is a big challenge," he said. "That means we have to go from around 36,000 a year of graduates from HBCUs to somewhere north of 50,000 a year by 2020."

Presidents in attendance at the media briefing included: Carlton Brown of Clark- Atlanta University, Beverly Hogan, of Tougaloo College, Walter Kimbrough, of Philander Smith College, Charlie Nelms, of North Carolina Central University, Mary Evans Silas, of Kentucky State University, and David Wilson, of Morgan State University.

Each college president agreed that HBCUs have a daunting task ahead of them, if those graduation goals are to be met.

According to the Council of Higher Education, 60 percent of all Black students attend a four-year college.

Of that number, HBCUs graduate about 17 percent of all Black students in the U.S.

"A segment that educates 17 percent of any group is pretty significant," Kimbrough said. "We represent a significant portion of the higher education landscape. I am hoping… that we play a leadership role and become more aggressive in the agenda of completion rate of African American students because we're the segment to do it."

Black colleges need to be less defensive and show more what we are doing, Kimbrough added. Black colleges have not done the best job in telling their success stories, the college presidents agreed, arguing that HBCU graduates have gone on to contribute significantly to this nation.

"They contribute to society immensely as outstanding leaders and responsible citizens," said Hogan, president of Tougaloo College in Mississippi. "America will not be able to maintain global competitiveness or even maintain national security without the products that we are turning out in our institutions."

The presidents said they are beyond having the age-old, post-integration debate about whether or not HBCUs are still relevant. HBCUs are not one monolithic institution, they explained.

"We come to the table from different places," Hogan said. "We don't all look alike, but we all do one thing extraordinarily well – we provide access to opportunity for a broad array of students. We give them a chance to succeed."

If HBCUs are going to be considered a serious partner in the Obama initiative, however, they must make some critical changes, said North Carolina Central University Chancellor Charlie Nelms said.

"We have to raise our standards, not just for students but for faculty, staff, presidents, chancellors and trustees," Nelms said. "We have to hold ourselves to a higher level of accountability. We have to reform gateway courses. We have too many students who are not making it through their basic courses and they are not able to go on to their majors."

Returning the U.S. to its premier educational status also is going to be tough, too, if a number of components of the educational process – including the nation's troubled K-12 school system – are not re-evaluated, said Brown of Clark Atlanta.

"What we (HBCUs) do must be taken into context with a whole other set of national issues," Brown said. "We are being beaten as a nation in producing scientists on the PhD level. We are being beaten in the way we position our scientists to innovate and translate those inventions into products and into businesses."

"So in one sense, it is sheer folly to be talking about increasing the number of bachelor degree recipients," he added, "without simultaneously talking about the rest of the agenda." The college presidents also vowed to become more proactive in fighting efforts to eliminate or reduce funding for higher education on the state and federal levels.

They also applauded the Obama administration for fighting to defeat a Republican-led effort to cut funding for the Pell Grant program. Had that effort succeeded, thousands of Black college students would have been adversely affected, they said.

Casey Anthony Judge Belvin Perry: Next Judge Mathis?

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

Throughout the media circus that surrounded the murder trial of Casey Anthony, Judge Belvin Perry is the one person that many claim brought dignity to the proceedings. Now, the Tuskegee University grad is thought of as a star in the legal field.

Several gossip websites are reporting that Perry is in line for his own TV court show in the mold of “Judge Mathis,” a reality show broadcast nationally.

“He's been on the bench since the late 80's and has presided over several high profile cases so his résumé is TV cred-ready,” “Cult of Celebrity” author, Cooper Lawrence told PopEater.com of Perry. “But the real draw is that he doesn't like shenanigans going on in his courtroom, like when he let [lead defense attorney Anthony] Baez have it with, 'We're not stopping anymore for you to get a file!’”

Perry was praised for how he handled many things in the case, including the attorneys, whose bickering in the closing arguments caused him to clear the courtroom.

When the recess was concluded, reports say Perry told the attorneys; “if it happens again, the remedy will be exclusion of that attorney from further representation at these proceedings. Enough is enough.”

Perry, who got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Tuskegee, has the distinction of being one of Orlando’s first Black police officers. Perry resigned from the police force in 1976 and a year later obtained his law degree from Texas Southern University.

In 1989, Perry was named Circuit Judge in Osceola County, Fla. and was elevated to Administrative Circuit Court Judge two years later. In 1992, he became Circuit Judge for Orange County, Florida’s criminal court and served in that position for three years. Since 1995, Perry has been the chief judge for Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit, which includes Osceola and Orange counties, except for two years between 1999-2001 when he was Circuit Judge in Orange County.

Perry currently is a member of the Texas, Florida, and Orange County Bar Associations as well as a member of the Trial Court Budget

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