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Pennsylvania Black Reps Stiffed in Political Shake-up

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By Christian Morrow, Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier –

While Democrats in the state house railed against Republican measures to limit their voice last week, Black Democrats are upset with their own party for the same reason—no voice on key committees.

Though the November election saw Democrats go from a five-seat majority in the state house to a 22-seat minority, Black Caucus Chair Ron Waters, D-Philadelphia, said that should not have translated into fewer Blacks serving on house committees. “We didn’t lose. All the Democratic losses were White legislators,” he said. “In fact, we actually gained in the Black caucus because Margot Davison took a seat that was Republican for a long time.”

Waters said the most glaring omission is the judiciary committee, which has no African-Americans serving. “There are so many issues, sentencing, incarceration. We make up 12 percent of the general population, but about 60 percent of the prison population,” he said. “And we have no representation at all.”

In addition to the Judiciary Committee, there are also no African-American representatives on the Insurance Committee, the Environment and Energy Committee, the Liquor Control Committee, and the Committee on Committees. Yet other committees, Human Services, Health, have multiple Black representatives.

“If they can pack five African-Americans on the Health Committee, it seems to me that having none on Judiciary could be easily fixed,” said Waters. “There are a lot of people who were very unhappy with the Committee process.”

State Rep. Joseph Preston, D-East Liberty, said losing seats on committees comes with being the minority party. They get 10 seats per committee, the Republicans now get 15. He also said not having any African-Americans among the Party leadership could lead to such omissions.

“But you have to ask for those spots,” said Preston. “You give the leadership your four to five choices, and they try to give you at least three. Sometimes, you don’t get any.”

Preston said with the Black Caucus making up 20 percent of the Democrats in the state house, they should be more involved in the party leadership. “There were divisions in the caucus during the leadership vote and that cost us,” said Preston. “As a result, there are no people of color in the leadership. Still, we actually did gain one chairmanship, even with Ron and Dwight Evans turning down chairs.”

In addition to Preston, who chairs both the Consumer Affairs Committee and the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, the current Black Chairs are Louise Williams Bishop, Children and Youth; James Roebuck, Education; Rosita Youngblood, Gaming Oversight; John Myers, Health; and Thaddeus Kirkland, Tourism and Recreation.

Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, who still serves on four committees but no longer chairs any sub-committees, joined Waters in asking Minority Floor Leader Frank Dermody, D-Cheswick, about the lack of balance with committee assignments.

He said Dermody has promised to address the problem following the (Feb. 1st) special election to fill the late Robert Donatucci’s seat, which his wife Maria is favored to win.

“Frank said he could tweak the process, we’ll see,” said Wheatley. “That the leadership took this in the direction it did, intentionally or not, says a lot about how we are viewed. This is an afterthought. We should not be an afterthought. We’re going to have to work even harder to change that.”

Haiti's Election Campaign and Aristide Expected Return

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By Tony Best, Special to the NNPA from The New York Carib News –

About a month before millions of Haitian voters trek to the polls in the second round in Haiti’s disputed presidential election, a cloud of uncertainty has descended over the country’s political climate.

The questions mark can be traced to the planned return of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide and its potential impact on the outcome of the election.

At the same time, though, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the United Nations special envoy to Haiti, is convinced the March 20 election will produce a winner. He made a special one-day trip to the Caribbean country last week and he held talks with the presidential candidates, Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly and Dr. Mirlande Manigat and discussed the future reconstruction of the earthquake ravaged country.

In addition, the Organization of American States to which Haiti and its Caricom neighbors belong is putting the final pieces in place to send its joint OAS- Caricom Electoral Observation Mission back to the country to monitor the voting under the leadership of Colin Grandison, a senior Caricom official.

“We hope that the irregularities and logistical problems we experienced in the first round on November 28th last year will be mitigated in the elections of March 20th,” said Albert Ramdin, OAS Assistant Secretary-General and Chairman of the Organization’s Group of Friends of Haiti. “That will depend on the resources available to the Provisional Electoral Council, CEP, to conduct the election. We need to have good, well-organized elections.”

But, as the steps are being taken to ensure an acceptable outcome, the key unknown factor in the political equation is Aristide’s impact, should he return home before the election.

Having been granted a diplomatic passport by the Haitian government despite the stated objections of the Obama Administration, Aristide hasn’t indicated when he would he set foot in the country and if he would campaign for any one of the candidates. What’s also unclear is how such a dramatic step would affect the election.

Ira Kurzban, the ousted president’s attorney in Florida, said a few days ago that he was still trying to figure out a way to give his client the Haitian passport. For his part, Aristide has seemingly left his options open.

“As I have not ceased to say since 24th February 2004, from exile in Central Africa, Jamaica, and now South Africa, I will return to the field I know best and love: education,” was the way Aristide put it in a recent article in London’s Guardian newspaper.

The prospects for his return have dominated conversations in and out of Haiti, especially in the Diaspora, on radio stations, the Internet and in Haitian gatherings in New York and Miami. And, like his two terms in office, both of which were prematurely terminated, discussion concerning Aristide’s future divides Haitians.

“Although Aristide must be allowed to return to his country, it would be unwise for him to go back now because of the upcoming election and the confusion it can cause,” said Michel Louis, a Brooklyn resident. “If Jean Claude Baby Doc” Duvalier can go back to Haiti without being arrested for all the trouble and the pain he caused when he was president, then Aristide can also return. But, the timing isn’t right.”

That’s the view of Charles Henri Baker, who contested the November presidential election but failed to get into the run-off.

“The timing is not right for this controversial figure,” said Baker, who opposed Aristide when he was in the presidential palace and might have played a role in his ouster seven year ago. “Anything that has the possibility of disrupting peace should be avoided.”

Jean-Pierre Baptiste, who lives and works in Miami, disagrees. “I take Aristide at his word that he simply wants to go back home,” Baptiste said. “Even if he wants to campaign for someone, that should be his right. At this stage, I don’t believe he can cause any more trouble than currently exists in Haiti.”

Tony Jeanthenor, a Haitian activist in Miami who also supports the ousted President, contends the move to keep Aristide out of Haiti is blatant discrimination.

“Duvalier can go to Leogane. He talks on the radio. He can go wherever he wants,” Jeanthenor said. “It is more than a double standard. It’s discrimination against political beliefs.”

What worries Haitian and American officials is the prospect of Aristide’s supporters taking to the streets to demand that he be allowed to serve out his second term, which was abruptly ended when a militia took up arms against him and Washington used it as a pretext to fly him out of Haiti and into exile.

“I think we would be concerned that, if former President Aristide returns to Haiti before the election, it would prove to be a distraction…an unfortunate detraction,” said P.J. Crowley, U.S. State Department spokesman. “The people of Haiti should be evaluating the two candidates that will participate in the run-off, and I think that should be their focus.”

 

No Home for Blacks and Latinos at Top NY High Schools

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

A newly released report by the New York City Board of Education shows a huge shortage of Black and Latino students at specialized high schools in New York City.

Through a series of articles in the New York Amsterdam News, this student shortage has been chronicled for many months, beginning last year, while the New York Times reported the disparities in an article last week.

The report shows that out of the seven specialized high schools in the five boroughs, only four percent of the students admitted were Black, six percent were Latino, 13 percent were Native American/Alaskan, while 35 percent were Asian and 30 percent were White (Editor’s note: The DOE total does not add up to 100 percent). More than 70 percent of the New York City student population is either Black or Latino.

Since the mid-1990s, the percentage of Black and Latino students at the marquee public schools—the Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant High School and Brooklyn Technical High School—has been steady declining.

In an earlier New York Amsterdam News story, it was reported that the Bronx High School of Science’s current ethnicity breakdown is 61 percent Asian, 25 percent White, eight percent Latino and three percent Black. Stuyvesant’s breakdown is 69 percent Asian, 26 percent White, three percent Latino, and two percent Black. And, Brooklyn Tech’s breakdown is 59 percent Asian, 21 percent White, 12 percent Black, and eight percent Latino.

The other top high schools around the city labeled as specialized include the High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at the City College, the High School of American Studies at Lehman College, Staten Island Technical High School, Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, the Brooklyn Latin School and the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts.

Only 12 Black students were admitted to Stuyvesant for the freshmen class of 2011. Stuyvesant is famous for placing large numbers of students in the Ivy League (including schools such as Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Brown and Cornell) and other prestigious public and private universities. Last year, only seven Blacks were admitted to Stuyvesant, whose freshmen classes have several hundred students each year.

The stubbornly low numbers of Black and Hispanic students has been a problem that the city has been aware of for many years. Students are admitted to many of the programs, including Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech, solely on the basis of a single test—student grades or teacher recommendations are not considered.

To improve the situation, the Department of Education has begun a preparation program to help with the admissions process. An earlier New York Amsterdam News article chronicled the lack of information and publicity for these test preparation programs available to Black and Latino students as they entered the seventh and eighth grade. The story reported on the plight of a Black student who went to a specialized high school and his family from Staten Island (whose names were changed at their request).

According to the father, James, it was all about knowing when the specialized high school test was scheduled and how soon parents/students found out. “I know through the grapevine, you hear that there are a limited number of seats, and it’s on a first come, first served basis,” he told the New York Amsterdam News. “Which means you either have to be in the PTA or in the network to get the information right away so you can act on it. And after a while, all the seats fill up and you realize the situation. They tell you that there are no more seats available or they’ll have to find a prep course on their own or do some studying outside of the classroom [for the exam].”

However, prep courses take money, and the economic gap between Blacks, Latinos, and Whites is well-chronicled. It was suggested by James that minority parents form an alliance across the city to keep each other up to date on educational matters. He feels that the Department of Education will never do right by them, so they have to do right by themselves.

The city admitted last week that despite its so-called attempts through preparation programs, it hasn’t done enough to reach out to Black and Latino students.

Congressman West Pivots Race, Touts Conservative Ideals at CPAC Summit

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

Rep. Allen West (R-FL) presented the keynote address at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and focused on the onset of “a new dawn in America.”

The CPC annual summit assembles the nation’s conservative activists and politicos. The Republican freshman congressman delivered a rousing speech to several standing ovations, hitting on hot-button social issues, health care reform, the budget crisis, and the definition of “true” conservatism.

He began by thanking conservatives and Tea Party members who, he said, “endured the relentless and hostile attacks from the liberal left,” including being labeled racists. “Perhaps they should see who’s standing here as your keynote speaker,” he told the crowd apparently referring to his visible ethnic heritage, prompting thunderous applause.

The retired Army colonel commended Republicans for remaining steadfast to their conservative values. “Do you believe that America can survive as a bureaucratic nanny state?” he asked the audience. “No!” they replied. “And you are absolutely correct,” West answered.

Vowing to help shave $100 billion out of the federal budget, he said, “We cannot continue on with the policies of behavior modification through excessive taxation and over-burdensome regulation and that’s why we are going to be cutting from the [Environmental Protection Agency].”

“We cannot continue on in America where we are making more and more people wedded to government either by assistance check or employment check. Where we are creating more victims and making people more dependent upon government. That has to end,” he said.

Now is the time, he added, to eliminate “redundant, failed” governmental programs and agencies and reduce federal spending by 18-20 percent. Yet, later on in his speech, he proposed larger tax cuts for corporations and the elimination of capital gains and dividends taxes.

West singled out portions of the health care reform act he favored, which included polices to ensure patients keep coverage despite pre-existing conditions, but decried other regulations in the bill. “It’s the other 2,490 pages with 11 new taxes, 159 new government agencies and bureaucracy and 16,000 new IRS agents that the United States of America does not want,” he said, to another standing ovation.

The freshman blasted President Obama’s plan to invest in innovation, saying such actions should originate in the private sector, which he calls the country’s best engine for “long-term sustainable growth.”

While discussing heated social issues that have polarized the nation, West reaffirmed his strong conservative principles. “We must respect and honor the unborn,” he said, noting later that he does not believe “having a baby is punishment.” He said the country must revere the traditional marriage structure “to promote the promulgation of our society because we cannot allow the destruction of the American family.”

While he noted that the nation should celebrate diversity, he added “we should never allow multiculturalism to grow on steroids and define itself as making American culture subservient because yes, there is a definitive American culture.”

Later, he urged Americans to reclaim their Judeo-Christian faith heritage because “our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.”

“We are standing on the verge of the dawn of a new America, if we adhere to those fundamental conservative principals and those constitutional ideals,” he said.

HUD Report: Low Income Renters Suffering

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By Jesse Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

(FinalCall.com) - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently released its bi-annual report to Congress on the housing needs of low income Americans.

It shows an increased number of very low income households have severe housing difficulties, particularly housing costs that far exceed what they can afford.

The findings of the 66-page “Worst Case Housing Needs 2009: Report To Congress,” released Feb. 1, reveal that in 2009 there were 7.1 million worst case needs households in the country, up significantly from 5.9 million two years prior.

HUD defines these worst case needs households as very low-income renters who do not receive government housing assistance and who either paid more than one-half of their income for rent, lived in severely inadequate conditions, or both.

“This report makes clear that worst case needs cut across all regions of the country; all racial and ethnic groups; boundaries of all cities, suburbs, and rural areas; and all household types,” said a HUD assistant secretary.

Fewer than one in four very low income renters currently receive housing assistance. HUD's report finds that these worst case housing needs can be linked to three factors: decline in renter's income, the availability of housing assistance not meeting the increasing need, and the increased competition for affordable rental units.

By race, Hispanic very low-income renters had the highest incidence of worst case needs in 2009, with 45.3 percent. White renters had the next highest incidence, with 42.7 percent, followed by Black renters, with 36.5 percent, according to the report.

During the 2007–2009 period, the number of very low-income renters increased by 11 percent for Blacks compared with 7.7 percent growth for Whites and 5.9-percent for Hispanics, the report says.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition, based in Washington, D.C., is calling on Congress and the Obama administration to spare federal housing aid programs from the budget cuts.

Increases in these two types of housing need have occurred just as many in Congress have suggested that the path to the nation's economic sustainability is through cuts to safety net programs like affordable housing, the group warns.

“Cuts to the programs in existence today would cause increases in many of the other indicators of need tracked by HUD, such as the rising rate of homelessness in the U.S. These data show that the imperative should be to expand and improve low income housing programs,” Sheila Crowley, president of NLIHC, in a released statement.

The group further believes that if the government directs more resources to solve the housing problems of the lowest income families it would create more jobs in construction, a sector that has a 20 percent rate of unemployment, over twice the overall rate of 9.4 percent.

The coalition is also pressuring the government to fully fund the National Housing Trust Fund at $15 billion a year for the next decade. They believe this could double the number of housing vouchers, and preserve all existing federally assisted housing units. Their recommendations were sent to White House policy chiefs Jan. 21 in a letter signed by 32 other organizations representing thousands of housing, civil rights, and social needs advocates across the country.

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