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Ethics Proceeding Against Congresswoman Waters Cancelled

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspaper –

The House ethics subcommittee cancelled the Nov. 29 hearing that was scheduled to consider allegations of ethics impropriety against California Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct panel said in a statement it postponed an adjudicatory hearing, the equivalent of a trial by the committee, because new evidence has surfaced. The matter has been referred back to investigators.

The California congresswoman decried the delay, saying it showed “a complete disregard for due process and fairness” given that the investigation began more than a year ago.

“Today, the Committee has brought discredit upon itself and this institution by denying me, and more importantly my constituents, the right to set the record straight,” she said in a statement.

Waters became a target of the ethics panel over allegations that she helped OneUnited, a Massachusetts-based, minority-owned bank in which her husband owned stock and once served as a board member, received $12 million in bailout funds.

The congresswoman was accused of arranging a meeting between the Black-owned bank officials and Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson in 2008 without disclosing her husband’s history with the company.

The Wall Street Journal, one of two newspapers that chronicled the receipt of $12 million in federal money under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, has pointed out that members of Congress may vote on matters that affect their financial holdings. But, the paper noted that the rules are unclear about the role members of Congress can play in contacting executive branch agencies about firms in which they have a financial stake.

The Congressional Black Caucus member has maintained that her efforts to ensure that the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act assisted small and minority institutions were not solely on behalf of OneUnited.

“As the highest ranking African-American and woman on the Financial Services Committee, my staff and I did what we said we did and what we have always done, which is provide a voice in the process for those who lack it,” she said.

The evidence referred to by the committee is, according to the Associated Press, an e-mail that, the wire service says, shows Waters, a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, followed the drafting of language in the bank bailout bill that would have affected OneUnited. The newly discovered document—which Waters said the committee actually had since Oct. 29—will likely support her claims, she added.

“If this evidence is so damning, the Committee should present its case before the public, as we asked them to do when I first learned of their desire to postpone the hearing. Apparently the Committee now recognizes, as I have maintained, that there was no benefit, no improper action, no failure to disclose, no one influenced, and there is no case.”

Amid Guilty Conviction, Rangel Remains Defiant

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By Herb Boyd, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

After waiting two years to be tried by the House ethics subcommittee, Rep. Charles Rangel was convicted within three days at a trial that never was. The embattled representative from Harlem left the proceedings after delivering his opening statement, refusing to participate at a hearing in which he “was deprived of due process rights.”

On last week, Rangel was found guilty of 11 of 13 counts of ethics.

A violations by the eight-member subcommittee of four Republicans and four Democrats, which cited that he used congressional stationery and staff members to solicit donations for a center to be named in his honor at City College, failed to pay some taxes and did not accurately report his personal income.

The panel of representatives split on one of the charges related to the four rent stabilized apartments and two of the counts were merged on the alleged misuse of House mailing privileges.

Reading the verdict, the chair, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-CA, said, “We have tried to act with fairness, led only by the facts and the law. I believe that we have accomplished that mission.”

A defiant Rangel had a different view of the process and the outcome.

“How can anyone have confidence in the decision of the ethics subcommittee when I was deprived of due process, right to counsel and was not even in the room?” Rangel wrote in a statement. “I can only hope that the full committee will treat me more fairly, and take into account my entire 40 years of service to the Congress before making any decisions on sanctions.”

That decision is expected to be rendered by the full committee of 10 this week. It is widely considered that the 80-year-old representative will be either severely censured or reprimanded.

“I am disappointed by the unfortunate findings of the ethics subcommittee,” Rangel continued. “The committee’s actions are unprecedented in view of the fact that they arrived at [their conclusion] without rebuttal or counter evidence on my behalf.”

Rangel asserted that only a week before the trial was to take place, he was presented with an 80-page motion of summary judgment on Monday. Without legal counsel, he insisted he was not prepared to go to trial and requested a delay. The delay was denied, and acceding to the wishes of the prosecutor, Blake Chisam, the subcommittee began its deliberations with an understanding that the facts of the case were uncontested.

When Chisam was asked by a panelist if there was possible corruption by Rangel, he said no, nor, in his opinion, had the congressman intentionally sought personal financial gains by his actions. “Sloppiness” was the extent of Rangel’s errors, Chisam added.

“The committee elected to reject my appeal for additional time to secure new counsel and thus acted in violation of the basic constitutional right to counsel,” Rangel wrote. “The committee’s findings are even more difficult to understand in view of yesterday’s declaration by the committee’s chief counsel, Blake Chisam, that there was no evidence of corruption or personal gain in his findings.”

“I think Charlie was marvelous in refusing to go to trial without an attorney,” said the Rev. C. Vernon Mason. “They deliberately let him twist in the wind for two years, thereby exhausting his legal funds and then denied him the opportunity to seek counsel. Not having a prompt exercise of due process is a grievous miscarriage of justice.”

Fellow New York congressional colleague Rep. Eliot Engel concurred with Mason and was concerned that Rangel might be condemned before the full Committee on Standards of Official Conduct has ruled on the charges. “I think that people should judge Charlie Rangel by his long career and put into perspective what has happened as of late,” Engel told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday. “I think he has done a very many good things for his district and for New York and for the country.”

Thousands of Harlemites thought the same thing when they re-elected him for a 21st term.

“What I remember most about Congressman Rangel is what he did back in the late ’80s in disallowing tax breaks for corporations doing business in South Africa, which at that time was under an apartheid government,” said Professor Michael Thelwell of the University of Massachusetts. “For that alone, his legacy, for me, is secure.”

In his autobiography, “And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since,” this bill is discussed as part of the “Rangel Amendment.” And after the full committee’s decision this week, let us hope that the good congressman will not have to amend the title of his autobiography.

Despite Success, Michael Steele Under Fire by Republicans

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By James Wright, Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer –

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele's term ends in January 2011, and he has not definitely said whether he will run again for the position. Steele is being criticized by party activists for being ineffective despite the fact that he played a key role in the GOP's success in the recent midterm elections. Steele said that the country came back to the Republican Party after two years of failed policies supported by President Obama.

"The American people signaled that they wanted change on Nov. 2," Steele said to a group of reporters at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Southeast Washington, D.C. "They did not want health care reform, which is the worse piece of legislation passed by Congress. They did not want the policies of Obama, [Sen. Harry] Reid and [U.S. House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi to continue.”

During the 2010 midterm elections, the Republicans recaptured control of the U.S. House of Representatives. The GOP picked up 6 seats in the U.S. Senate but the Democrats still have control of that chamber with 51 Democrats, 2 Independents and 47 Republicans.

African-Americans Twice as Likely To Go Hungry

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Special to the NNPA from the SC Black News –

Twenty-five percent of African-American households suffered from food insecurity in 2009 - compared to 11 percent of White households - according to the most recent data on hunger released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Food insecure households are those that struggle to put food on the table at some point in the year. Nationally, one in seven - or 14.7 percent - of U.S. households experienced food insecurity in 2009.

"The national figures are record-breaking, but the fact that such a disparity exists between African-Americans and Whites shows that we must call on Congress to do more - especially for communities with the greatest need," said Rev. Derrick Boykin, northeast regional organizer for Bread for the World. "Congress must act now to ensure that programs designed to mitigate hunger are well-funded."

This year, participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (formerly called food stamps) hit record levels. African-Americans comprised 22.6 percent of the 42 million Americans who receive SNAP benefits each month. Ninety percent of African-American children will receive SNAP benefits at some point before age 20, compared to 49 percent of all U.S. children.

Nearly 35 percent of African-American children currently live in households that struggle to put food on the table, compared to 16.7 percent of White children.

Congress reconvened this week for a lame duck session with several important unfinished agenda items, including extending tax benefits for low-income working families and reauthorizing the Child Nutrition Act, which will improve school breakfast and lunch programs along with WIC and summer food sites.

"In the African-American community in particular, high rates of unemployment have led to dramatic increases in poverty and food insecurity rates over the past few years," Boykin added. "As African-Americans grapple with the ongoing impacts of the recession, Congress needs to ensure that programs like SNAP, the national school meal programs, and WIC are funded at levels to support this time of need."

According to the USDA figures, nearly 27 percent of Hispanics suffer from food insecurity and nearly 35 percent of Hispanic children live in households that struggle to put food on the table.

Maya Angelou, John Lewis Named as Medal of Freedom Recipients

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspapers –

Writer Maya Angelou and civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, D-GA, were among 15 announced recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. It singles out those who have made contributions to the security or national interests of the U.S., to world peace or other significant endeavors.

“These outstanding honorees come from a broad range of backgrounds and they’ve excelled in a broad range of fields, but all of them have lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place,” President Barack Obama said in a statement announcing the recipients. “I look forward to awarding them this honor.”

The award ceremony will take place at the White House in early 2011.

Maya Angelou, a world-renowned poet, author, educator, and civil rights activist is currently the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. This is the third presidential award she’s received, following the Presidential Medal for the Arts in 2000 and the Lincoln Medal in 2008.

Lewis, a longtime congressman, was a seminal figure during the Civil Rights Movement. While chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he helped organize the first lunch-counter sit-in in 1959, and was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963. In 1965, he led the Selma-to-Montgomery march on what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday,” drawing a violent, turbulent Alabama police response that prompted the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Also honored was basketball legend Bill Russell. One of the most successful performers in professional sports, Russell led his Boston Celtic teams to 11 NBA championships in 13 years while also winning five most valuable player awards. He was the first African-American to become a coach of a major sports team at the professional level in the United States.

Among the other honorees were President George H.W. Bush, billionaire Warren Buffett, civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez and president emeritus of the AFL-CIO, John J. Sweeney.

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