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Republicans Strip D.C.'s Voice and Vote in House Action

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By Dorothy Rowley, Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspapers –

One of the first orders of business for the Republican-controlled House was to strip D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of her limited voice on the floor of the House.

Shortly after the chamber convened Jan. 5, 2011,Republican leaders of the 112th Congress withdrew Norton’s right to vote when the House is convened in what is known as the Committee of the Whole, when the chamber assumes the form of a massive committee to consider legislation or other issues.

The measure was part of an opening day rules package that stripped Norton, Dels. Donna Christiansen (D-Virgin Islands), Eni Faleomavaega (D–American Samoa), Madeleine Bordallo (D–Guam) and Gregorio C. Sablan (D-Northern Marianas) and Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (D-Puerto Rico) of the partial vote granted them in 1993 when Democrats ruled the chamber.

Norton and the other delegates to Congress were allowed to vote in committee but not allowed to take part in legislative floor votes. In 2009, Norton had championed a bill which would have given D.C. a voting representative in the House. The bill passed the Senate but failed to clear the House that year. Norton countered with a measure that would delay stripping of the delegates’ vote until a House commission could study the issue, but the proposal was defeated in a 225-to-188 vote. The delegates still have the right to vote in committees in which they are members.

The action came after D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray at a Jan. 4 rally urged lawmakers “to preserve what little democracy we have.” Norton also attended the rally, which was organized by D.C. Vote, an advocacy group centered around acquiring a voting representative for the nation’s capital.

Gray added later that the decision to rescind Norton’s partial voting rights was "the most outrageous insult imaginable.” Shortly after the GOP’s vote, Norton said she told attendees at the rally not to go quietly into the night now that attacks on their rights had already begun. “Yesterday was day one, showing that residents have no intention of slipping away without protest,” Norton said. “Today I continued on the House floor what our residents, our mayor, and DC Vote began.”

Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, described the GOP’s action as a shameful start to the new year. “It’s about political power and they are determined to deny political power, it seems, to D.C. residents,” Zherka told the AFRO. “Congressional Republican leaders have professed in the last few years to support representation for D.C. residents, but of course their method of achieving representation is often the kinds of things we are pursuing like amending the Constitution,” he added.

Zherka called the GOP’s action ironic, given both newly elected House Speaker John Boehner and his peers profess to support the Constitution, but have argued that the delegate vote is unconstitutional. “When in fact, federal courts have held that the vote is constitutional,” said Zherka. He cautioned that the action to rescind Norton’s voting rights might only be the first effort by the GOP to roll back the gains D.C. residents have made during the past 10 years.

Racism at CBS Television, Sony Entertainment and Bell Dramatic for 37 years

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Actress Victoria Rowell and other Black industry insiders are denied equal opportunity to some of America’s most popular daytime dramas

By Brandon Brooks and Sam Richard, Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel –

Pioneering actress Victoria Rowell is not new to the acting world and she certainly is not new to the millions of fans of the daytime drama “The Young and The Restless”. The veteran actress was part of the cast as Drucilla Winters for more than 17 years. However, the millions of fans and corporate sponsors of the longtime No. 1 daytime drama may be surprised to discover that in her 17 years and even worse, in the show’s 37 year history they have never had a single African American writer, director or producer, despite the fact that African American viewership for “The Young and The Restless” is estimated at more than 35 percent and some have estimated it is as high as 45 percent, which is causing many in the civil rights community to call for boycotts and demonstrations of the show and its advertisers.

Rowell told the Los Angeles Sentinel in an exclusive interview for all National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) newspapers across the country that she has attended several meetings in an effort to help diversify daytime soap operas behind the scenes and in front of the camera. Rowell believes that several examples of discrimination exist. The most egregious being the lack of Black writers, directors or producers for more than 37 years.

The Sentinel contacted Jim Kennedy, executive vice president for Global Communications at Sony Pictures Entertainment, which co-owns “The Young and the Restless,” along with The Bell Family regarding the lack of African American participation behind the camera. Kennedy stated, “With regard to “The Young and the Restless,” we are proud of the fact that five African American actors play important roles on the program, and we are especially grateful for the diverse audience it has every day. And, in light of that, Sony Pictures has over the course of the past year undertaken an initiative designed to have us be more representative of the global audience we work to entertain.” While in the statement, which was sent via email, Kennedy did talk about diversity, he did not address why “The Young and The Restless” has not hired a Black producer, director, writer or crew member in 37 years which leads many industry insiders and civil rights leaders to believe that CBS has no interest in making real change without pressure.

For years many industry leaders, and community organizations including the NAACP, The Urban League and The Los Angeles Brotherhood Crusade have raised concern about what they say is a lack of diversity in front and behind the camera.

To demonstrate the lack of diversity on television and to help bring about change in the industry, the NAACP commissioned a report titled “Out of Focus - Out of Sync: Take 4.” The report pointed out that the number of African-Americans in regular roles and on air in a prime time scripted series — in the 2006-2007 season — were 20 African Americans on Fox, 19 on NBC, 17 on CBS, and 15 on ABC. The report did not track African Americans on cable channels, which in recent years have become a much larger part of the television viewing format. The figures, provided by the networks, are the latest numbers available.

“All four major broadcast networks have made important strides in increasing diversity,” the report stated, but it also added: “Progress has been slower in areas that arguably could have the greatest impact: writing and producing.

“White males have always dominated the entertainment industry and that continues to be largely the case. While African-American writers represent the largest share of minorities employed in television, they still only averaged about 5.2 percent of the total number of writers employed. That translates to 161 African-American writers out of 3,088 during the 2005-2006 television season, according to the Writers Guild of America.”

Other African Americans Weigh In

Other African Americans and Black organizations are looking into the issue of diversity in daytime soap operas, including the National Urban League and NAACP. The Sentinel obtained two letters from Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial, addressed to Howard Stringer, president and CEO of Sony Corp., and William Bell Jr., president of Bell Dramatic Serial Co. The letters, dated Sept. 23, contended: “Through a preliminary review we have learned that there are few African American actors, producers, directors and support personnel in the ‘Day time Soap Opera’ industry despite the fact that African Americans are a crucial significant portion of the loyal audience of viewers for ‘Daytime Soap Operas.’ The letters pointed out that this is unacceptable in 21st Century America.”

Emma Young, head writer and associate producer for an online African-American soap opera, “The Proud and the Privileged,” said that she knows several actors who complain about having “no” African Americans behind the scenes. Young added that it is important to have Black producers, writers and directors. “It’s very important to show African Americans not only in a positive light, but in a true light,” Young said. Also that someone might not do that if he or she is not Black because they would be unfamiliar with African American life experiences and their experiences would come from stereotypes.

Darryl Manuel, producer and director of “The Proud and the Privileged,” agrees, but thinks it is important to have diversity in all genres of entertainment. “There’s just a wealth [of information] and a rich point of view that the general audience misses out on, by not having a true representation of that point of view,” he said. “I mean it’s only going to make those stories better; it’s only going to bring more to the pot, you know… put more meat on the bones, into the stew, when you have this story that has an authentic and a rich story line.”

Davetta Sherwood, an African American who also played on “The Young and the Restless,” said at first she had a good experience being on the show. But, that eventually changed. “The experiences that I had with the lack of diversity, the lack of acknowledgement of the Winters family and just our ethnic background, was really disappointing,” she said. Sherwood said people on the show were strategic about choosing her. So, she thought they would treat her “carefully” on the set. But “I felt disregarded at times; I felt unappreciated at times,” she said. Sherwood said she confided to Rowell, telling her that she felt something was “a little off” on the show. “And she shared with me some of the issues she had had in her … years on the show,”.

Sherwood, echoing similar sentiments that Rowell had, said, “There has never been a Black crew or director or writer in the history of “The Young and the Restless.” So, that was really disappointing considering how successful and how profitable the show has been for CBS and the Bell family.” Later she added: “Right now … it’s about speaking out and making people aware so that we can create a change right now. There’s no more time to wait. We don’t have 20 more years to revisit this conversation again. This is something that has to happen immediately.”

Dawn Stern, another African American who played on “The Young and the Restless,” also contends that the show had never hired a Black writer or producer. “They could have had a Black writer; they did: Victoria Rowell was her name,” Stern said. “But they never gave her the credit for doing what she was doing, they never gave her the title, they never gave her the money.”

Ellen Holly, the first African-American actress to integrate daytime soaps, played on “One Life to Live”, wrote a book "One Life The Autobiography of an African American actress.” which included her negative experiences in the soap opera industry. Holly said that she is concerned about what some young actors are going through. They’ve read her book, she said. And “they still come to me … and to this day say to me, ‘The things that you went through … you’re writing what’s happening to me right now.’ And, that’s very upsetting to me.”

Pushing for Diversity

Rowell said she has always been concerned and always wanted to find solutions to tell Blacks’ stories with integrity and to the best of her ability. One instance in which Rowell sought to bring change took place when she was told her character would be illiterate. She requested the illiteracy story line be played out to its fullest extent and expedited so that — while it could be shown that adult illiteracy existed — the story line be moved along. “Then I presented the classical ballet story line, proving that dance and arts belong to everyone no matter what the socio-economic bracket, no matter what the race,” Rowell said.

Her story line demanded more African-American cast members since her character would have to have parents, a sister, love interest and others on the show, she said. More Blacks came on board. Doing that was “quite unique,” but her efforts to do so, she believes, generated “push back.” Rowell — who first came on the show in 1990 and continued on for several years afterward — was nominated for Emmys and won several NAACP Image awards for her work on “The Young and the Restless,” along with other Black actors on the show. She contended, however, that although some of the African-American actors on the show have won awards they appear on a small amount of the shows.

Rowell told the Sentinel that she’s asking for “one thing” from all the tenure she has as an actress: to reinvest in African-American talent as writers, producers and directors in daytime drama, including the “The Young and the Restless.” “What could possibly be impossible about that?” she asked. CBS responded to some of Rowell’s contentions: “We have great respect for Victoria Rowell, but strongly disagree with her statements about diversity. CBS is very committed to diversity and inclusiveness throughout the company — including Daytime, where we feature diverse talent in all programming.” But, again CBS did not address the 37 years of not hiring any African Americans as writers, directors or producers.

The company said that, through the CBS Diversity Institute and other outreach programs, CBS mentors aspiring writers and directors, and sponsors talent showcases, including an “unprecedented casting initiative specifically for daytime dramas.”

Letters and phone calls from Urban League President Marc Morial to William Bell, Jr., President of Bell Dramatic Serial Company and Sir Howard Stringer Chairman, President and CEO of Sony Corporation received the height of disrespect: they have not been responded to, nor has Bell Dramatic Serial responded to the Los Angeles Sentinel’s request for this story, which has many in the civil rights community furious. “If the Chairman of CBS would not respond to Urban League President Marc Morial for a meeting what does that say about their commitment to inclusion and diversity? Maybe the racism starts at the top” stated Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., Chairman of NNPA (Black Press of America).

“Meetings are great, but access and results are greater,” stated Rowell.

Sentinel interns Biko Poindexter-Hodge and Robert Gillard contributed to this report.

Black Scholars Divided Over Censored 'Huck Finn' Edition

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspaper –

Black educators and scholars remain divided over the decision to purge the n-word from Mark Twain’s classic “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

The years of critical acclaim—and disdain—of the use of that and other racial epithets in the text have lead to the widespread banning of the book in the nation’s school districts. Now a major publisher has announced it will replace incendiary words with more acceptable ones in a new edition of Huck Finn.

Alabama-based NewSouth Publishing announced in early January it will replace 200-plus n-word references in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” with “slave” and other less offensive phrases. Since its publishing in 1885, literary critics have struggled to determine whether the book is an attack on racism or a satirical confirmation of stereotypes rampant during the late 1800s. According to the American Library Association, a nonprofit group that promotes library education worldwide, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” was the fifth most banned book during the 1990s.

But, Syracuse University professor and cultural commentator Boyce Watkins said he believes removing the "n-word" makes the text more palpable for today's school children and therefore, more useful in modern classrooms.

“The fundamental question I would ask is, ‘Can you still make the point of this brilliant novel without using this word 219 times?’ I think that you can,” Watkins told CNN. “The question for me also is whether or not it makes sense to force kids in school to hear this word over and over again to make that point. When I was in high school, I wouldn't have wanted to read that book. I think [NewSouth Publishing] made the right move.”

The publisher stood behind its decision to pull the hot-button word, citing Dr. Alan Gribben, internationally recognized Mark Twain scholar, who approves of the revised text.

“At NewSouth, we saw the value in an edition that would help the works find new readers,” company officials wrote. “If the publication sparks good debate about how language impacts learning or about the nature of censorship or the way in which racial slurs exercise their baneful influence, then our mission in publishing this new edition of Twain’s works will be more emphatically fulfilled.”

While removing the word may make Twain's work more appropriate for younger readers, some African-American scholars say NewSouth's modified edition “whitewashes” an American masterpiece and creates a slew of social ills.

Micahela Angela Davis, a former editor at Essence magazine and social commentator, decried the revised book.

“I think this is problematic on so many levels. It's not just history, it’s literature, so it's art,” Davis told CNN's Anderson Cooper. “When we get into really censoring art and censoring literature, we open up a Pandora's box. If a teacher is not prepared to have a social and historical conversation and place this masterpiece in context, is she prepared to teach that text? When we get into changing words, unwriting history, rearranging art, we start to put our democracy in danger. This is not making it palpable, it's censorship.”

Ironically, film critic Roger Ebert showed just how contentious the n-word remains days after NewSouth's announcement. In a post on Twitter, Ebert—who is married to an African-American woman—wrote, “I’d rather be called a n----r than a Slave.” After angry responses from hundreds of Twitter followers, Ebert apologized, saying, “I’ll never be called a n----r or a Slave, so I should have shut the ---- up.”

President Obama to Face a 'Beast' of a Problem in 2011

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Special to the NNPA from TheDefendersOnline.com

By George E. Curry –

Republicans in the House and Senate, borrowing a page from Ronald Reagan, plan to stifle President Barack Obama’s domestic agenda by using recently-enacted tax cuts as an excuse to reduce federal spending.

There is even a name for it – Starve the Beast.

“This idea that cutting taxes will lead to a reduction in government spending is often referred to as the ‘starve the beast’ hypothesis: the most effective way to shrink the size of government is to reduce the revenues that feed it,” Christina and David Romer wrote in a 2009 scholarly paper titled “Do Tax Cuts Starve the Beast? The Effect of Tax Changes on Government Spending.”

In a 1981 speech, President Reagan put it in simpler terms: “Well, you know, we can lecture our children about extravagance until we run out of voice and breath. Or we can cure their extravagance by simply reducing their allowance.”

Republicans have made it clear that they plan to reduce the “allowance,” perhaps by as much as $100 billion a year. A sampling of the Sunday, November 7 talk shows suggests that they are reading from the same script:

· Senate Minority Leader Mich McConnell (R-KY) on CBS’ Face the Nation: “We don’t have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem.”

· House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) on Fox News Sunday: “The election result reflected the fact that people get Washington does not have a revenue problem. It’s got a spending problem.”

· Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) on ABC’s This Week: “Well, I think it’s not a revenue problem. It’s a spending problem.”

· Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Fox News Sunday: “We do not have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem.”

In truth, the federal government has both a revenue and a spending problem. And, the revenue problem was exacerbated by a compromise between President Barack Obama and Republicans to extend the George W. Bush tax cuts, the only U.S. tax cuts adopted during wartime, for another two years.

Obama campaigned on a pledge to extend the 2001 and the 2003 Bush tax cuts only for individuals earning less than $200,000 a year and couples making no more than $250,000 annually – 98 percent of all taxpayers. However, Republicans insisted on an extension for the top 2 percent at a cost of $81.5 billion during the next two years. The price tag for extending all the cuts during that period will be almost $545 billion.

Raising the individual estate tax exemption from $3.5 million to $5 million (from $7 million to $10 million for couples) will provide another $25 billion in tax reductions during the next two years to the top 1 percent of estates, according to the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center.

Republicans fought for a tax cut for the wealthy at a time when the gap between rich and poor is the largest on record.

In an interview on 60 Minutes, former Reagan Budget Director David Stockman observed, “In 1985, the top five percent of the households, wealthiest five percent, had net worth of eight trillion dollars, which is a lot. Today, after serial bubble after serial bubble, the top five percent have net worth of 40 trillion.”

Just as Republicans fought for the wealthy, Obama fought equally as hard for extending tax breaks for the middle class, which is not as beleaguered by taxes as the president has depicted.

According to the Tax Policy Center, Americans are paying federal taxes at one of the lowest rates in history. In 2000, the year before the first Bush tax cut went into effect, the medium-income family of four paid eight percent of its income in federal taxes. That figure has dropped to 4.6 percent, the second-lowest percentage in the past 50 years.

Overall, U.S. citizens pay the third-lowest rate of combined taxes – local, state and federal – than all but two of the world’s 27 industrialized nations, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Only Turkey and Mexico have lower rates, which are measured as a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP).

Corporate tax rates in the U.S. are lower than all developed countries except Austria, Iceland, Germany, and Turkey.

Still, Republicans and Democrats are lobbying to make some or all of the Bush tax cuts permanent.

David Stockman said elected officials know that the U.S. is in no fiscal position to extend any of the cuts.

“It’s rank demagoguery,” he said in the 60 Minutes interview. “We should call it for what it is. If these people were all put into a room on penalty of death to come up with how much they could cut, they couldn’t come up with $50 billion, when the problem is $1.3 trillion. So, to stand before the public and rub raw this anti-tax sentiment, the Republican Party, as much as it pains me to say this, should be ashamed of themselves.”

But they are not. Many in the GOP, who now profess to be so concerned about federal spending, did not express any outrage when George W. Bush was racking up record deficits.

Bush inherited a $236 billion surplus from Clinton. But, the deficit rose under Bush to $1.4 trillion in 2009.

To deal with the mounting deficit, Republicans want to “starve the beast.”

But the research paper by Christina D. Romer, who served until recently as chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, and David H. Romer, her husband and former MIT classmate, concluded: “The results provide no support for the hypothesis that tax cuts restrain government spending.” Instead, the couple argues, “Tax cuts may increase spending.” They explained, “The results also indicate that the main effect of tax cuts on the government budget is to induce subsequent legislated tax increases.”

The problem with most Republicans trying to starve the beast is that they want to exempt big-ticket items such as defense, homeland security, and Medicare.

“If you look at a pie chart of federal outlays, discretionary spending being red, non-discretionary being the blue, the blue is already over half way mark and it’s growing in double digits,” Republican Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said in an interview on MSNBC. “Anybody who comes in here and tells you they’re not going to cut anything other than waste, fraud, and abuse, they’re not going to touch entitlements – they’re lying to you. If you want to deal with the spending issue, in terms of federal outlays, you got to deal with interest on the national debt, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid…”

Pawlenty is correct.

It is important to remember that the federal budget is divided into two basic categories: mandatory and discretionary spending. Mandatory spending, which comprise 59.3 percent of the budget, is spending that does not require Congress to act each year. That category includes Social Security and Medicare. Discretionary spending represents 35.2 percent of the budget and includes programs or federal agencies whose funding must be re-appropriated by Congress each year. Another 5.3 percent of the budget goes toward paying the interest on the national debt.

With that 35.2 percent that Congress has to work with each year, the Defense Department receives 20.3 percent, leaving approximately 15 percent of the budget from which to make all those cuts. That remaining 15 percent covers such items as veterans’ health, which is the largest non-defense discretionary program; education, transportation, airport security, and the environment.

According to an analysis of Congressman Boehner’s budget proposal by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “The plan would require immediate cuts of $101 billion – or 21 percent – in funding for discretionary programs other than those funded by the defense, homeland security, and military construction and veterans appropriations bills … This would represent the deepest cut in funding for these programs from one year to the next in recent U.S. history.” A 21-percent cut in K-12 education funding would mean a reduction of $8 billion, the center figured.

In the past, providing tax cuts has done nothing to strengthen the nation’s economy.

According to an article by Michael Linden and Michael Ettlinger of the Center for American Progress, “The Bush tax cuts have directly added $2.5 trillion to the national debt in the full 10 years that they have been law.”

Conversely, Bill Clinton created many more jobs than Bush while raising taxes.

Linden and Ettlinger explained, “President Clinton, after raising taxes in 1993, oversaw an economy that went from 111 million jobs in August of that year (the month Clinton’s budget plan passed, including the increase in taxes) to 129 million jobs six years later – an increase of 16.2 percent, and more than three times better than under the Bush tax cuts. ”

In many respects, President Obama may find himself in situation similar to the one Bill Clinton was in after Democrats lost both houses of Congress in 1994.

Robert Reich, who served as Clinton’s Secretary of Labor, recalled: “The price [Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan] Greenspan exacted from Clinton – and a resurgent Republican Congress demanded – was a balanced budget. As a result, Clinton had to give up much of his ‘investment agenda’ in education, infrastructure, and other long-neglected means of building the productivity of average working Americans.”

Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), one of Obama’s presidential co-chairs in 2008, worries about a resurgence of Reaganomics, a term used to refer to the economic policies of Ronald Reagan that featured low taxes, low spending on social services, high military spending, decreased federal regulations, and the trickle down-theory.

In a statement issued just before Congress voted to extend the Bush tax breaks, Jackson said, “If we recklessly cut taxes for the wealthiest 2 percent, then Obamanomics will look an awful lot like Reaganomics.”

'Favorite President' Funneled Millions to French Politicans

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

A newly-released WikiLeaks cable portrays the late president of Gabon, Omar Bongo, sharing millions in stolen funds with French Presidents Jacque Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy.

In the U.S. embassy cable, published in the Spanish newspaper El Pais, a U.S. diplomat said he was informed by a senior official at the Bank of Central African States of Bongo’s “brazen” defrauding of the bank, which holds the pooled reserves of six central African countries, including Gabon, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The bank source said: “Gabonese officials used the proceeds for their own enrichment and, at Bongo’s direction, funneled funds to French political parties, including in support of French President Nicolas Sarkozy… Bongo was France’s favorite president in Africa,’ and ‘this is classic Françafrique.’

Bongo, who came to power in 1967 with French help, was the world’s longest-ruling head of state, apart from the British and Thai monarchies. He was succeeded last year by his son Ali, who was said by the cable to also have “benefited from the embezzlement”.

The Bongo family faces an inquiry into the use of state funds to acquire vast assets in France, Riviera villas and fleets of luxury cars. Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog has launched the probe into shadowy relations between French leaders and African rulers. The practice is called “Francafrique.” The Bongo family has denied any wrongdoing.

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