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The U.S. Revolution that Supported Mandela

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Nearly three decades ago, a handful of prominent Black activists began organizing a movement that would eventually help break the back of apartheid in South Africa and force the U.S. government and American companies to end their support of White minority rule on the continent.

What was called the Free South Africa Movement began on Thanksgiving Day 1984, when then-U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Mary Frances Berry, TransAfrica executive director Randall Robinson, then-D.C. Congressman Walter Fauntroy, and current-D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (then a law professor at Georgetown University), were granted a meeting at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C.

The group called for an end to apartheid and the release of all political prisoners in South Africa. When their demands were ignored, the activists staged a sit-in at the South African embassy on Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.

All but Norton were arrested for trespassing, and their actions made national, then international news.

“There were already protests before, but no one got any momentum,” Berry recalls. “We wanted to get arrested. And we tried to get people lined up to get arrested the next day.”

They got arrested the next day, the day after that and the following day. In fact, every day for a year, the Free South Africa Movement held demonstrations at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C.

The nascent movement attracted support from celebrities, members of Congress and other high-profile people, many of whom joined the protest and allowed themselves to be arrested in order to draw more attention to the issue. Before long, chapters of Free South Africa sprang up across the United States.

“Let us not forget that Britain, the U.S. and all of the western powers labeled Mandela a terrorist and steadfastly propped up the apartheid regime—they were on the wrong side of history,” says civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. Mandela is not gone, he remains with us always. He’ll always be a chin bar to pull up on. He has left this earth, but he soars high among the heavens, and his eloquent call for freedom and equality is still heard among the winds and rains, and in the hearts of the people the world over.”

Mary Frances Berry, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, remembers the personal side of Mandela.

“In dealing with him in personal interactions — having the privilege to be with him and talk to him in an informal setting — he was very funny. Not at all full of himself, and completely down to earth even though he was larger than life. He considered himself on the same level as an ordinary person, and he didn’t take himself too seriously. He loved a joke and always had witticisms.”

While maintain pressure on the streets, movement organizers organized a legislative assault on apartheid, resulting in passage of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986.

It took an entire year to get it passed by Congress and presented to President Reagan for his signature. Instead of signing, however, Reagan vetoed it. But supporters had enough votes to override the veto.

Next in line were U.S. companies that profited from doing business in the White-ruled nation, including Shell Oil, which had been exploiting workers in South Africa. Boycotts were launched against Shell as well as the Krugerrand, a South African currency that would become an illegal import under the Anti-Apartheid Act.

Even while the United States and other governments had condemned Mandela and continued to support the South African government, anti-apartheid movements gained traction. Something about South African apartheid had struck a chord, especially for people of African descent.

“There were chapters of FSAM all over the country and there were many White people in those chapters, but the leadership was always Black. People got involved because our message was simple. At that time, if people didn’t remember Jim Crow or the Civil Rights Movement, then their parents did,” says Berry. “We told people that the South African government passed laws just like what we did here. It resonated with people in this country.”

Melvin Foote, founder and president of the Constituency for Africa, has worked to foster African and African American relations for more than 35 years. He remembers watching Mandela become a global symbol of injustice.

“When people of African descent learned about apartheid, it didn’t sound too much different than what happened with slavery,” he says. “And I think with Mandela – who would’ve thought you’d have this tall, very strong, powerful man come out of prison after 27 years with his fist up, and do the things he did. He got us to think differently about Africa.”

Foote says, “He was one of the greatest people to walk the Earth, certainly in our lifetime. There’s discussion of Mandela happening in China, India, all over the world.”

Foote sees parallels between Black South Africans’ regard for Barack Obama, and Black Americans’ regard for Nelson Mandela, especially for those who visited South Africa during Mandela’s presidency.

“[South Africans] based their revolution against apartheid on us,” Foote says. “People, especially White people, try not to make that connection, try not to foster any relationship between Africans and Black Americans…but the South African revolution was very much based on the Civil Rights Movement.”

For Berry, Mandela’s life and anti-apartheid work taught her that movements require perseverance, especially during low moments. And, she learned how to make movements effective.

“It reinforced the view that it takes grassroots movements working together with political action to make change,” she states. “If you organize around a simple issue – and messaging has a lot to do with it – and if the issue is clearly one of morality, you can prevail.”

Uninsured Blacks Eligible for More Aid

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As President Obama continues a revised campaign to shore up American confidence in the Affordable Care Act, a new report released today points out that six out of 10 uninsured African Americans who are eligible for insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces – 4.2 million people – may also be eligible for federal options and/or financial assistance with healthcare costs.

According to the report from the Department of Health and Human Services, 2.2 million may qualify for either tax credits to help purchase plans in the Health Insurance Marketplace, while the other 2 million may qualify for free to low-cost coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). To be eligible for the Health Insurance Marketplace one must be nonelderly and lawfully living in the United States.

Under the law, states can decide whether or not to expand Medicaid coverage to people living on at least 138 percent of the federal poverty line (currently, it’s $15,857 per year for a single person, and $38,047 per year for a family of five). This provision expands the safety net for people who are just above the poverty line, but still unable to afford packages from private companies. The government is required to provide 100 percent of funding for the first three years (phasing down to no less than 90 percent federal funding in subsequent years) to any state that expands Medicaid.

Today, 6.8 million African Americans of all ages are uninsured. Florida, Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, and New York are home to the highest populations of uninsured African Americans who are eligible for the ACA’s provisions. Of those, only New York has expanded Medicaid.

If all 50 states expanded Medicaid, 95 percent of uninsured African Americans would be eligible for Medicaid, CHIP, or Marketplace tax credits, including those without dependents in the home who have traditionally been barred from Medicaid. In addition to using the virtual marketplace to compare plans offered by the private companies in their own state, the uninsured also have the option to become insured through Medicaid, insure their children through CHIP, or use federal tax credits to mitigate the cost of a private plan from the marketplace.

Currently, 26 states have done so, and according to the report, Medicaid currently covers 60 percent of eligible uninsured African Americans. However, an additional 2.2 million eligible uninsured African American adults with family incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level live in states that are not expanding Medicaid. Twice as many uninsured African Americans live at the 138 percent FPL threshold, but only 1.5 million live in Medicaid expansion states. That leaves nearly 3 million people stuck between having too much income to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private plans in the marketplace without assistance.

That assistance comes in the form of tax credits to help purchase plans from the Marketplace. In states that do expand Medicaid, individuals and families with household incomes from 138 to 400 percent of the federal poverty level may be eligible for the credits (that’s $38,047 to $110,281 per year for a family of five). In states that do not expand Medicaid, those with family incomes between 100 and 400 percent of the FPL may qualify for tax credits (or $27,570 to $110,281 per year for a family of five).

The tax credits are significant. For a family of four with an income of $50,000 in Houston, Texas’ Houston County for example, the second-lowest coverage insurance package would cost $658 monthly, before applying the tax credit. With the credit, they’re covered for $282 per month (or $74 per month, for the lowest level of coverage).

For a single 27 year-old with an income of $25,000 in the south Los Angeles area, the second lowest level of coverage is $182/month before the credit, and $145 after (or, $122 and $92, respectively, per month, for the “catastrophic” plan).

This report is another in a stream of reports, speeches, and grassroots level talking points on the benefits of enrolling in the Health Insurance Market began initiated last week by the Obama administration. The reception so far has been mixed.

Black Unemployment Dips to 5-Year Low

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – he Black unemployment rate fell to a five-year low in November, according to the latest jobs report by the Labor Department, but economists saw little to celebrate as Congress inaction threatens the federal unemployment insurance programs that helps millions of families.

The unemployment rate for Blacks fell to 12.5 percent last month the lowest since December 2008 when it was 11.9 percent. In January 2009, the same month President Obama started his first term the rate jumped to 12.6 percent.

The unemployment rate for Whites ticked down from 6.3 percent in October to 6.2 percent in November.

The unemployment rate for Black men over 20 also improved dropping from 13 percent in October to 12.3 percent in November. The jobless rate for White men fell from 6.2 percent in October to 6 percent in November. The jobless rate for Black women fell from 11.5 percent in October to 11.1 percent in November, compared to White women that saw their unemployment rate fall from 5.5 percent in October to 5.3 percent in November.

Black youth between 16-19 years old continue to suffer the worst unemployment rate at 35.8 percent. The unemployment rate for White youth in the same age group was 18.6 percent in November.

The economy added 203,000 jobs last month.

“What this report shows is that the economy continues to grow at a very tepid pace,” said Bernard Anderson, an economist and professor emeritus of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “The economy is not growing at a rate that will reduce the overhang of long-term unemployment.”

Economists fear that Congress won’t act to extend federal unemployment insurance benefits, a move that could stifle job growth in 2014.

“For lawmakers to not be considering extending [unemployment insurance] means that they are really not looking at what’s happening in the economy and they think that things are better than they are,” said Elise Gould, the director of health policy research at the Economic Policy Institute.

Gould continued: “What’s often missed in these discussions is that these unemployment payments to people actually provide stimulus for the economy. Without [the benefits] the labor market will actually lose more jobs in 2014.”

Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, agreed.

In a blog on the center’s website, Stone wrote: “Despite improvements this year, the labor market is still not strong enough for policymakers to let emergency federal unemployment insurance (UI) expire as scheduled during Christmas week.”

According to CBPP, the long-term unemployment rate has never been higher than 1.3 percent when the federal unemployment insurance program ended after past recessions. The current long-term unemployment rate is 2.6 percent. More than 4 million people have been looking for work longer than six months.

If Congress allows the emergency federal unemployment insurance (UI) to lapse, Stone wrote: “That means more hardship for the families of workers who are still struggling to find a job, and it also means that families that lose EUC will have less to spend. Reduced spending, in turn, will hurt the recovery and slow job creation.”

Those hardships would be disastrous for the families of Black workers, who continue to endure higher levels of unemployment than White workers.

The number of Black workers either employed or looking for work fell from 60.7 percent in October to 60.6 percent in November, compared to White workers who saw an uptick in their labor force participation rate from 63 percent in October to 63.1 percent in November. A decrease in the labor force can make the unemployment rate look better than it does on the ground.

“In general, nothing has changed in the relative economic position of African Americans relative to Whites in November compared to what it was in October,” said Anderson. “I don’t see anything to shout about. I guess one can be happy that the African American unemployment rate didn’t go up, but the unemployment rate didn’t go up for anybody.”

Anderson continued: “African Americans have a relationship with the American economy similar to the caboose on the train. When the train speeds up, the caboose speeds up, and when the train slows down, the caboose slows down, but in the natural order of things, the caboose never catches up with the engine. That’s what these numbers show you.”

Reform Law Could Pose Major Threat to Black Banks

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By Charles Ellison
Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune

When President Obama signed the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (otherwise known as Dodd-Frank) into law in the summer of 2010, no one could be satisfied. Only bill creator and outgoing Sen. Chris Dodd was putting a happy spin on it at the time, while Rep. Barney Frank, a famously crabby Congressman from southern Massachusetts, reluctantly put his political capital behind it before retiring.

Supporters of the law were pretty dim on its prospect as an effective Wall Street enforcement tool, with many decrying it as toothless. Critics, on the other hand, were equally disdainful for different reasons: They saw Dodd-Frank as not only the bane of the financial services industry and big banks, but the cataclysmic end of capitalism as we knew it.

Three years later, and Wall Street is still humming along alive and well with record breaking markers on the stock market. The top banks, wealth management and other financial service firms in the United States hold over $10 trillion in total assets, according to the latest Federal Reserve report, nearly $3 trillion more than they held in 2008 before the Great Recession laid waste to the economy.

But as the fog of Dodd-Frank appears to lift somewhat, critics on both sides of the aisle agree that the law’s focus on big banks has come at the expense of smaller community banks. That includes the less than two dozen African American-owned banks lightly sprinkled throughout the nation and struggling to serve economically battered African American communities.

According to a white paper released during a recent Community Bank Research Conference sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, more than 250 banks with assets under $250 million have failed since 2002. The bulk of those failures occurred at the onset of the financial crisis in 2009 but continued persisting even as Dodd-Frank went into effect. While the rate at which smaller banks failed decreased significantly, it didn’t go unnoticed by experts that the pace of big bank failures since Dodd-Frank dropped sharply compared to small outfits. In 2009, at the height of the financial crisis, 30 banks with assets over $1 billion failed. But, by 2012, only 1 big bank failed compared to 35 smaller community banks.

“Communities cannot reach their full potential without the local presence of a bank,” warned Thomas Boyle, vice chairman of Illinois-based State Bank of Countryside during a Congressional hearing on Dodd-Frank in 2011. “Hundreds of new regulations … are slowly but surely strangling traditional community banks and handicapping our ability to meet the credit needs of our communities.”

Two years later, B. Doyle Mitchell, Jr., President and CEO of Industrial Bank, is ringing the same alarm bell. Testifying before a House Small Business Committee panel last week, Mitchell’s tone was grim in his assessment of Dodd-Frank’s impact on his business. Industrial, based in Washington, D.C., is one of the largest and oldest African-American banks in the country, with total assets valued near $350 million.

“These regulations are being enacted in response to the worst abuses of the pre-crisis mortgage market, abuses in which community banks did not engage,” explained Mitchell during testimony. “In order to reach their full potential as catalysts for entrepreneurship, economic growth and job creation, community banks must have regulation that is calibrated to their size, lower-risk profile, and traditional business model.”

Mitchell argues that small banks like Industrial are getting hit with the cost of massive compliance provisions built into Dodd-Frank. Meeting regulations means hiring more staff and using scarce resources community banks like Industrial don’t have. Financial analyst and credit rating firm Standard and Poor’s projects the eight largest U.S. banks will have to spend $34 billion annually just on compliance. That figure excludes the $100 billion plus in legal fees these same banks have spent shielding themselves from regulators.

African-American banks only boast combined total assets worth less than $5 billion. As a result, bankers like Mitchell worry Dodd-Frank could pose an existential threat to Black banks.

In response, the Independent Community Bankers of America, a coalition of small banks, is proposing an alternative Plan for Prosperity bill to address the disparity. “By rebalancing unsustainable regulatory burden, the plan, if adopted by Congress, will ensure that scarce capital and labor resources are used productively, not sunk into unnecessary compliance costs,” says Mitchell. “This allows community banks to better focus on lending and investing that will directly improve the quality of life in our communities.”

“For those who have survived the regulatory burden it has required staff to spend more time on compliance than on helping customers,” said Rep. David Schweikert during that same hearing. “Consumers will have less choice when it comes to accessing financial services.”

To have one of the nation’s most prominent African-American bankers express concern about the impact of Dodd-Frank before Congress is particularly telling. It’s prompting Dodd-Frank supporters and Democrats such as the subcommittee’s ranking member Rep. Yvette Clarke to cautiously take a second look at the law.

“These one-size-fits-all solutions, the unintended consequences often times are not worth it,” said Clarke shortly after Mitchell’s testimony. “Even if there’s the fear that these regulations will be burdensome and it shocks the culture of the institutions that we’re trying to preserve, then we’re defeating the purpose that we’re all seeking.”

Clarke, a Congressional Black Caucus member, has reason to worry. Four of the largest Black banks in the U.S. – Industrial among them – are in the New York Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation region. That includes United Bank of Philadelphia, which holds nearly $70 million in assets.

Still Clarke reminded lawmakers and witnesses about why Dodd-Frank “was implemented in the first place.”

“Five years ago, widespread malfeasance brought our nation to the brink of financial collapse,” said Clarke. “If it were not for swift Congressional action, we’d be living in a different America today.”

Democrats and GOP still Clash over Judicial Appointments

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Just before Thanksgiving break, the Senate voted to eliminate the super-majority needed to end filibusters on executive level and judicial nominees, clearing the path for President Obama’s most recent selections. Despite threats and consternation from the Republican Party, political pundits suggest that little will change in Washington.

The vote on the rule change came a few days after Senate Republicans blocked President Obama’s nomination of Robert Wilkins to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the second most important court in the nation.

Less than a month earlier, in an unprecedented move, Republicans blocked Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), a sitting congressman and President Obama’s pick to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The GOP also jammed Patricia Millet’s nomination to the D.C. Appeals Court.

In a statement following the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that the vote was “about making Washington work – regardless of who’s in the White House or who controls the Senate. To remain relevant and effective as an institution, the Senate must evolve to meet the challenges of a modern era.”

In the modern era of unprecedented obstruction by Republicans, Reid presided over one of the most ineffective U.S. Senate chambers in history in 2012.

According to a Brennan Center for Justice report, titled “Curbing Filibuster Abuse,” the 112th United States Congress ratified 196 public laws, “the lowest output of any Congress since at least World War II.”

The Senate passed less than 3 percent of the bills that came to the floor, a 66 percent drop off from 2005-2006.

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said the vote was absolutely necessary.

“The filibuster had become a weapon of mass obstruction,” said Morial.

In a statement following the Senate’s vote to eliminate the use of the filibuster on presidential nominees except for those to the Supreme Court, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus said, “Now, judicial nominees will move forward and begin to do their jobs, particularly in addressing the unprecedented workloads that have been left to sitting judges due to the high vacancy levels in both federal and district courts. Administration nominees will no longer have their confirmation hindered and unreasonably blocked.”

President Obama expressed his support for the Senate’s filibuster vote and his frustration over GOP obstruction in Congress.

“Over the six decades before I took office, only 20 presidential nominees to executive positions had to overcome filibusters,” said President Obama. “In just under five years since I took office, nearly 30 nominees have been treated this way. These are all public servants who protect our national security, look out for working families, keep our air and water clean.”

GOP leaders are threatening to retaliate in the future.

“If you want to play games and set yet another precedent that you’ll no doubt come to regret. I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle you’ll regret this,” said Senate Minority Leader McConnell before the vote. “And you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.”

Some political pundits found the threats incredulous.

“That’s like saying the Republicans are going to do something worse than what they are doing now,” said Lorenzo Morris, political science professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C. “The only thing that [Democrats] would regret is that they didn’t do more to improve their position.”

Morris continued: “There have been rules for a long time to protect the concerned, but relatively elite minority in the Senate. Now we’re returning to majority rule. Americans have to appreciate the fact that a central foundation to American democracy is majority rule. By removing the filibuster, Democrats have reinstated majority rule in Senate decision-making.”

Morris said that the filibuster rule has been powerful because party politics has been given to consensus at the very end. Morris said that consensus no longer exists.

“There have been rules for a long time to protect the concerned but relatively elite minority in the Senate,” said Morris. “Now we’re returning to majority rule. Americans have to appreciate the fact that a central foundation to American democracy is majority rule. By removing the filibuster Democrats have reinstated majority rule in Senate decision-making.”

In coming weeks, political experts agree that Robert Wilkins, an African-American judge who was rated “Unanimously Well Qualified” by the American Bar Association, will be confirmed before the end of the year.

“What makes Judge Wilkins unique he can see from the corporate level and the defendant level he has a well-rounded background you often don’t get that, said Patricia Rosier, president of the National Bar Association, the nation’s oldest and largest association of African American lawyers and judges. “A lot of times they go from a law firm to the bench or from law school to the bench they don’t have all those real experiences with real people.”

Rosier said that of all the legacies a president can leave the federal judiciary is the most lasting.

“Judges appointed to the federal judiciary are appointed for life. That has wide ramifications for decades,” said Rosier. “When some of these people sit for 20, 30, 40 years you can see how many generations of people that their decisions can affect.”

Republicans still wield significant power to block the president’s appeals court nominations due to the “blue slip rule” which calls for consent from both senators from the state to begin hearings on judicial nominee that serves in their state. Democrats may be less inclined to change that rule.

Rosier said that it’s up to voters to pressure their senators to take action.

“If nothing else we need to educate our community about the federal judiciary,” said Rosier. “People should be up in arms and writing and shutting down the switchboards to get these judges confirmed.”

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