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Obama's Job's Speech to Congress: Get it Done Right Away!

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By C Stone Brown, NNPA Contributing Writer –

In a joint session to congress last night, President Obama gave his much anticipated speech on his prescription to resuscitate the ailing American economy.

The president’s plan is an ambitious $447 billion stimulus package that would include small business payroll tax cuts, tax credits for businesses that hire new workers, and new construction jobs to repair bridges, build public schools, roads and highways.

If there was a theme in the presidents’ address last night it was the urgency of getting his bill passed “right away,” which he repeated eight times.

“I am sending this Congress a plan that you should pass right away. It's called the American Jobs Act. There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation. Everything in here is the kind of proposal that's been supported by both Democrats and Republican -– including many who sit here tonight. And everything in this bill will be paid for. Everything,” said Obama.

It was obvious from the start; the president had two audiences he wanted to address. The American people and congress, and it would be congress that would get the president’s wrath for their inaction and partisanship over the past 24 months.

“Some of you have decided that [our] differences are so great that we can only resolve them at the ballot box. But know this: the next election is fourteen months away. And the people who sent us here -– the people who hired us to work for them -– they don't have the luxury of waiting fourteen months. Some of them are living week to week; paycheck to paycheck; even day to day. They need help, and they need it now,” said Obama.

The American Jobs Act has tax credit provisions laden with incentives for small businesses. For example, the plan would give a tax credit of $4000 to small businesses when they hire new workers or raise current worker’s salaries. The president also wants to cut payroll taxes in half for small businesses.

“It's not just Democrats who have supported this kind of proposal. Fifty House Republicans have proposed the same payroll tax cut that's in this plan. You should pass it right away,” said Obama.

The president plans to pay for his jobs package with an additional $1.5 trillion in spending cuts on top of the cuts the bipartisan Deficit Reduction Commission is expected to review.

“The agreement we passed in July will cut government spending by about a trillion dollars over the next ten years. It also charges this Congress to come up with an additional $1.5 trillion in savings by Christmas,” said Obama.

However, while the president lost the battle over raising taxes on the top 1 percent to raise revenue during the debt talks last month. He seems to have every intention to revisit the issue. He reminded Congress “Warren Buffet pays a lower tax rate than his secretary –- an outrage he has asked us to fix. We need a tax code where everyone gets a fair shake, and where everybody pays their fair share.”

While the president made the case that his proposals are in fact, proposals Republican and Democrats have worked together to support in the past. He concluded his speech by firmly defending consumer and environmental protections, and the social safety net that his rivals have opposed.

“I reject the argument that says for the economy to grow, we have to roll back protections [regulations] that ban hidden fees by credit card companies, or rules [regulations] that keep our kids from being exposed to mercury, or laws that prevent the health insurance industry from shortchanging patients,” said Obama.

C Stone Brown is the former Washington Bureau Chief of DiversityInc and Contributing Editor of Crisis Magazine. He currently lives in Washington D.C. He can be reached at cstonebrown@aol.com

Zimbabwe President Mugabe Has Prostate Cancer, Says New Wikileaks Release

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

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has cancer and was told in 2008 that he had about five more years to live, according to a newly published United States diplomatic cable.

In one of the so-called ‘wikileaks’ cables released, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Dr Gideon Gono, who is also President Mugabe’s personal banker and a close family confidante, disclosed this news to former U.S. Ambassador James McGee during a private meeting.

McGee was quoted as saying, “according to Gono, Mugabe’s doctor had recommended he cut back on his activities,” adding that “Gono told us last year (2007) that Mugabe was ill and that his doctor had urged him to step down immediately.” Further, “Mugabe told his doctor, according to Gono, that he would leave office after the election.”

Rumors of Mugabe’s illness have been swirling around and they have been further exacerbated by his frequent trips to Singapore, where it is believed he is receiving treatment.

Human Rights Watch: Gaddafi Okayed U.S. Prisoner Airlifts for Torture

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Islamic militant suspects were secretly shipped to Libya for harsh interrogation after 9/11 under a U.S. program called “extraordinary rendition,” it was revealed last week by the New York-based group Human Rights Watch.

The program was outlined in hundreds of letters recently discovered in the now-abandoned office of Moussa Koussa, former foreign minister and head of Libyan intelligence, who defected to Britain in February.

The documents expose how the CIA turned over suspects to Libyan authorities knowing they would be tortured.

“Eight or nine individuals” were delivered to Libya, according to the rights group, and not just for questioning, said Peter Bouckaert of HRW in Tripoli. “The CIA also sent the questions they wanted Libyan intelligence to ask. And from the files it's very clear that they were present in some of the interrogations themselves.”

The practice of torture to obtain information, while not permitted at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, received a green light from President Gaddafi in Tripoli, the documents reveal. In return, Libya's secret service reportedly received specific information about Libyan dissidents and was even assisted with the deportations of exiled dissidents back to Libya.

"What’s remarkable is the friendly tone of these files,” observed Bouchaert. “U.S. and British intelligence agents thank Musa Kusa for the crate of oranges and dates that he sent back with the intelligence agent who came to visit. And all of the—these are letters, 'Dear Musa' letters, to a man who is infamous in Libya for his involvement in repression.”

Meanwhile, in an unrelated development, top Gaddafi aides are reportedly taking refuge in neighboring Niger where the former Libyan president has close ties with the Tuareg nomads. Some African countries continue to recognize Colonel Gaddafi as Libya's leader. Niger's government, however, has recognized the anti-Gaddafi National Transitional Council as the country's legitimate authority.


U.S. Justice Department Attacked for Fighting Discriminatory Lending

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Wall Street Journal editorial claims agency is “intimidating” banks

By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) Usually when government is criticized, it’s because someone is dissatisfied with a lack of effective performance. But for the U.S. Department of Justice, recent high-profile criticism is due to a series of effective actions.

On August 31, a member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board publicly criticized DOJ’s Civil Rights Division for “intimidating banks” into lending to borrowers of color at below-market rates – a charge that is simply untrue. The piece ignores facts that the newspaper has reported: the rise of reckless lending during the housing bubble, and the fact that more than 60 percent of borrowers who received subprime loans had credit scores high enough to have qualified for standard conventional loans.

The Justice Department did not let the charges go unanswered. Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division responded a few days later with a letter to the Journal that said in part, “All qualified home buyers should have access to sustainable credit without being subject to illegal discrimination. The Justice Department will unapologetically continue to ensure they can do so.”

The full text of the Perez response is available at: http://rspnsb.li/nd5fgA. Unfortunately the space allowed for the rebuttal did not afford a complete account. There are a series of verifiable and appropriate reasons why the Civil Rights Division is so hard at work.

Had the Journal editorial board been familiar with the considerable body of research on foreclosures, it might have learned how communities of color were targeted and financially abused – particularly in mortgage lending. The research developed by the Center for Responsible Lending spans several years and offered early warnings about foreclosures and a 2010 report that showed how Black and Brown communities lost $350 billion in wealth through foreclosures.

I suspect that the victims of predatory mortgage lending are less concerned about editorial rhetoric than they are with more urgent concerns like financially piecing together lives hit hard by foreclosures; the shortage of adequate and affordable rental housing for former homeowners; or their former neighbors who now owe more than the homes are worth. Neighborhoods hard hit by foreclosures have suffered an equity drain on the single most important investment most people make in a lifetime – their home.

Each year, the DOJ’s report to Congress on the Equal Credit Opportunity Act Amendments of 1976 provides an in-depth review of the scope and volume of discriminatory lending over the past year. The 2010 report stated that the DOJ Civil Rights Division received more referrals that year (49) in 2010 than it had received in “at least the last 20 years”. By comparison, from 2001-2008, the total number of referrals received was only 30.

In terms of governmental accountability, DOJ efforts in 2010 brought actions correcting ill-advised practices and fair lending violations, including the following:

The largest monetary award for victims in a fair lending case - AIG Federal Savings Bank and Wilmington Finance settled to pay up to $6.1 million to African-American customers who were charged higher broker fees than non-Hispanic white customers; and

The first time a lender was held responsible for failing to monitor brokers who originated its home loans. The fore-mentioned lenders turned a blind eye to brokers that charged borrowers of color higher fees than other similarly-situated white borrowers.

The DOJ annual report also advised Congress that “Lawsuits challenging redlining and reverse redlining practices are significant weapons in the battle against predatory lending. And we expect that some of the investigations begun in 2010 will lead to suits or settlements in 2011.”

Here’s hoping that DOJ’s Civil Rights Division keeps up the good fight.

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

Welfare Cuts Put Thousands of Families in Jeopardy

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By Eric T. Campbell, Special to the NNPA from The Michigan Citizen –

DETROIT — In a matter of days, Gov. Rick Snyder will sign legislation that will effectively discontinue welfare assistance for over 12,000 Michigan families. That bill, which goes into effect Oct. 1, will enforce a federal limit on cash assistance for long-term recipients. The policy will be applied retroactively, meaning that any family reaching the allotted 60-months on or after the Oct. 1 deadline will be cutoff immediately.

State organizations, charities and non-profits advocating for low-income residents are scrambling for information. Gilda Z. Jacobs, president of the Michigan League for Human Services, says that based on a two-child-per-family model, up to 25,000 children will be affected by the welfare reform bill.

“Our feeling is that, at a time when Michigan is struggling so much, our governor should be helping citizens become more sustainable, instead of putting up barriers to economic stability,” Jacobs said. “A lot of people use this cash assistance to pay for rent. So we’re concerned about the increase of homeless children. There really isn’t the capacity to absorb these families into the community.”

Welfare reform bills 4409 and 4410 have passed both the Michigan House and Senate. A letter from the Department of Human Resources went out on Aug. 9 to 14,000 Michigan families stating, “Your federal lifetime limit for cash assistance will likely be reached on Oct. 1, 2011.” The dual bills amend Michigan’s Social Welfare Act and make revisions to the Family Independence Program (FIP), which designates cash assistance for low-income families with children.

In response to the Republican-backed welfare reform, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO) is spearheading a non-violent protest action, dubbed Resurrection Marches, every Thursday, outside the Michigan State Building on W. Grand Boulevard.

Angela Johnson, a mother of five and a grandmother of five, carried an oversized copy of the Aug. 9 letter sent out by the DHS during the Aug. 25 march. She has been receiving state assistance on and off, depending on her employment status, since 1980. After years of working for the Wayne County Treasurers Office, she was laid off in July 2010. When her unemployment runs out, she will be unable to receive welfare now that Michigan is enforcing the federal time limit.

“I’ve had jobs that have allowed me to come out of the system,” Johnson told the Michigan Citizen. “I have my unemployment as my source of income right now. Once that expires, I won’t have any income coming in. I’ll have my food stamps and medical until they cut that.”

MWRO’s Miriam Kramer says workers like Johnson, who for years have been in and out of the system, will be affected immediately, because of the welfare bill’s time limitation includes all time spent by a welfare recipient in the system.

“Snyder has cut across the board when it comes to the working class,” Kramer told the Michigan Citizen. “Be you unemployed and on public assistance, be you employed, whatever, he’s attacking every element of the working class. And now today, we’ve been out here trying to make people understand: If you stand by and let this go down, then you’re next on the totem pole.”

Kramer says welfare reform will split families as the state removes children from homes that are without resources and income.

“Common sense tells us that’s what this will lead to — if your water’s shut off, your children will get taken,” Kramer continued. “I’m asking the people to get out here, join us in this fight. Not only the picketing, but all the other stuff we come up with because we’ve got to start fighting. This is war not only on the poor today, but everybody else that’s a part of the working class.”

The Michigan League for Human Services has recently completed a county-by-county breakdown showing that over half of all welfare recipients affected by Snyder’s welfare reform reside in Wayne County.

The demographic implications were not lost on U.S. Rep. John Conyers as he joined the MWRO march on Aug. 25. He spoke to the Michigan Citizen, saying: “This is an enormous step backward and it’s typical of what’s going on in Lansing and so I ask that everyone inquire of the state representatives and state senators that voted for this bill to kindly explain to us why. Because I want history to show who was supporting this incredible backwards step in terms of providing social services to the citizens of this state.”

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