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Obama Steps Up for Communities of Color

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The President’s Latest Budget Supports Key Programs

By Daniella Gibbs Leger, Special to the NNPA –

President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 sets a responsible course for rebuilding the economy so that it works for everyone, not just the privileged few. Our middle class is the engine of economic growth, but is threatened by dwindling public investments, a tax system increasingly rigged to benefit the wealthy, a fraying safety net, and assaults on what should be the bedrock guarantees of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

The president’s budget protects those guarantees, boosts critical investments, and takes steps toward rebalancing the tax code so that all pay their fair share. And it does this in a fiscally responsible way, charting a path that nurtures the economic recovery while reducing the federal deficit, all without asking the middle class to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden.

The president’s annual budget is an opportunity for the American people to clearly see what the goals and priorities of the administration are. Judging by the fiscal year 2013 budget released by President Barack Obama today, this administration is focused on growing the middle class and continuing the fragile economic recovery in this tough budget environment. That means there’s a lot for communities of color to cheer about.

People of color have been hit hardest by the current economic recession, both on the employment and housing fronts. And while there have been some recent bright spots in the employment numbers, there is still much work to be done.

Let’s begin with higher education. The president’s FY 2013 budget makes many investments that will directly benefit people of color. For the kids of color who rely on Pell Grants to help get to college, they will be happy to know that President Obama’s budget maintains the recent increases through the 2014-2015 award year. And for them and their parents, the president is proposing to make permanent the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a partially refunded credit that’s worth up to $10,000 per student over four years of college.

At the primary and secondary school level, the president’s budget also invests money into grant programs that will help improve teacher programs at minority-serving institutions. Given the current lack of teacher diversity as noted in a recent Center for American Progress paper, this is a well-timed program.

This budget also delivers in the housing sector. To many Americans, owning a home was a basic part of the American Dream, and much of their personal wealth was tied up in their houses. This is especially true of people of color. And as Pew pointed out last year, the housing crisis helped cause some of the biggest wealth gaps ever seen. President Obama’s plan to help responsible homeowners stay in their homes will help not only individual homeowners but also the communities they live in by slowing down or reversing the neighborhood destabilizations that happen through multiple foreclosures.

And for those for whom the dream of owning a home remains far out of reach, the president put forth $19.1 billion to help extremely low to low-income families with rental assistance to help them live in better neighborhoods of their choosing.

Youth jobs are also a prime focus of the president’s budget, which is good news for people of color. Youth unemployment is a big problem in our country, and it’s an even bigger problem among communities of color. Recognizing that the only way to ensure a bright future is to prepare our youth, the administration is investing in a series of programs to help low-income and at-risk youth connect to the labor market. Proposals include a $12.5 billion Pathways Back to Work Fund and a Workforce Innovation Fund aimed at incentivizing states to either come up with new ideas or replicate proven strategies for delivering better employment results.

The president also calls for extending the payroll tax cut through the end of the year. As CAP pointed out earlier, not extending the payroll tax cut would take money away from the communities who can least afford it. Communities of color suffer from greater economic insecurity than the population at large, evidenced by higher unemployment rates and significant disparities in wealth. Fifteen million African Americans and 21 million Hispanics would see their paychecks maintain their increase from last year if a full extension is passed.

These are just some of the items in the 2013 budget that will continue to charge a path to prosperity. It’s important to point out and recognize the policies that will specifically help communities of color because of the changing demographics of our nation. By 2042 there will be no ethnic or racial majority in the United States. If we want to ensure a healthy and thriving country and economy in the future, we need to focus efforts today to close the racial disparities that currently exist. This budget is a step in the right direction.

Daniella Gibbs Leger is Vice President for New Community Initiatives at the Center for American Progress.

Roland Martin's Suspension Praised by GLAAD

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By Damon C. Williams, Special to the NNPA from the Philadelphia Tribune –

Tight spirals and touch passes weren’t the only things tossed around on Super Bowl Sunday. CNN’s popular news anchor Roland Martin allegedly threw around a number of homophobic tweets last weekend, which led to CNN suspending the charismatic host.

“Roland Martin’s tweets were regrettable and offense,” read a statement from CNN, in outlining its move to censure Martin. “Language that demeans in inconsistent with the values and culture of our organization, and is not to be tolerated. We have been giving careful consideration to this matter, and Roland will not be appearing on our air for the time being.”

It remains unclear when, or if, CNN will bring Martin back.

According to several news outlets, Martin made numerous tweets that could be taken as promoting anti-gay violence. In one tweet, Martin allegedly advocates beating any man who enjoyed the David Beckham underwear commercial, and in another, he champions a similarly styled beating for a New England Patriot player who wore an all pink suit.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation spokesman Rich Ferraro also released a statement condemning Martin’s tweets, while applauding CNN for its action.

“CNN took a strong stand against anti-LGBT violence and language that demeans any community,” Ferraro said. “We look forward to hearing from CNN and Roland Martin to discuss how we can work together as allies and achieve our common goal of reducing anti-LGBT violence, as well as the language that contributes to it.”

For his part, Martin has received and accepted GLAAD’s request for a meeting of the minds, and exchanged tweets with GLAAD, thanking it for the invite and confirming his attendance.

Even the National Association of Black Journalists – usually a staunch defender of one of its own – issued a measured statement in response to the CNN – Roland Martin Twitter affair.

“This is a teachable moment for all journalists. We are reminded that what we communicate in print and broadcast – and now through social media – has considerable power,” said NABJ President Gregory H. Lee Jr., through a statement released by the organization. “NABJ does not support any commentary in any medium that is insensitive or offensive.

“Mr. Martin is one of our most committed members,” the statement continued. “In lieu of his presence on CNN, until this matter is resolved, we encourage the network to continue to present a diverse offering of voices in its programming.”

While some may see Martin’s words as off-the-cuff comments that weren’t meant to offend, other claim that these types of comments, if left unchecked, that can lead to deadly, hate-fueled confrontations.

In the report, “Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Infected Communities in the United States, 2010,” the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that LGBT-based violence increased by 14 percent from 2009-2010, the latest year of available data. It also showed that hate violence murders are the second highest they’ve been in ten years. So little wonder then that some draw a correlation between hate speech and hate acts.

“I happen to be a big fan of Roland Martin, but I do believe, in terms of prejudicial remarks, that the rules apply and need to be equally enforced,” said Equality Forum Executive Director Malcolm Lazin. “In this case, I applaud CNN for standing up against prejudicial remarks.”

The Philadelphia-based Equity Forum is a non-profit whose mission is to advance the civil rights of the LGBT community through education, and for Lazin, the first thing that needs to be taught is how damaging and effective words can be.

“What we are seeing here is, whether you’re talking about women, African-Americans or Jews, there’s a certain moment in time when society accepts and incorporates prejudice, until it gets to a certain tipping point,” Lazin said. “And you know you’ve reached that tipping point when society no longer tolerates that type of language.

“When that occurs, particularly with public figures, whether that opinion truly expresses the feelings of that person become irrelevant.”

Lazin feels the explosion of social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook has led to a slight increase in the volume of hate speech floating about, but believes things are starting to turn around, thanks to education and stiffer prosecutions for those committing hate crimes.

“In particular, I think things are starting to turn,” Lazin said. “I think people are connecting speech and the violence that has occurred in gay youth, and it’s important that people have a better understanding of that,” Lazin said. “In Nazi Germany, when a certain speech is allowed, we saw what the ultimate results were. We saw the same things with African-Americans, when disparaging language led to lynchings.

“We see the same things in terms of homophobic speech.”

Samuel L. Jackson: 'I Voted for Obama Because He's Black'

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Special to the NNPA from the Washington Informer –

Actor Samuel L. Jackson says in an interview for the March issue of Ebony magazine that he became a supporter of Barack Obama in 2008 because of his race.

According to the interview, the Oscar-nominated screen legend admits that his decision to vote for Obama had nothing to do with his political beliefs.

“I voted for Barack because he was black. ‘Cuz that’s why other folks vote for other people — because they look like them,” Jackson was quoted as saying.

‘That’s American politics, pure and simple,’ he added. “[Obama's] message didn’t mean **** to me. In the end, he’s a politician. I just hoped he would do some of what he said he was gonna do,” Jackson continued. “I know politicians say ****; they lie. ‘Cuz they want to get elected.”

The actor also went on to defend his use of the N-word, explaining it was used at home while he was growing up.

Said Jackson: ‘When it comes down to it, they wouldn’t have elected a n*****, because what’s a n*****? A n***** is scary. Obama ain’t scary at all. N****** don’t have beers at the White House. N****** don’t let some white dude, while you in the middle of a speech, call [him] a liar. A n***** would have stopped the meeting right there and said, “Who the **** said that?”

$25 Billon Mortgage Settlement Seen as One Step Towards Fairness

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Negotiations Continue with Other Lenders

By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist –

The recent mortgage agreement reached with the nation’s five largest mortgage services brings the first major consumer victory after a nearly year-long effort. State attorneys general, working with the Departments of Justice and HUD together announced a $25 billion settlement for consumers in 49 states. Participating banks are Ally Financial, Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo.

The largest share of the settlement – more than $20 billion — will be dedicated to financial relief for consumers. These funds will be used to assist homeowners with mortgages that are in distress or foreclosure or underwater, now owing more than the home is actually worth. Today, nearly 11 million families with mortgages now owe more than their home is worth.

Additionally, mortgage servicers will pay state and federal governments $5 billion in cash. Among these funds, $3.5 billion will be used to repay public funds spent on the investigation and to fund housing counselors and legal aid. This funding for housing counseling and legal aid is critical to ensuring that homeowners obtain the loan modifications and refinances promised in the settlement. In addition, because the settlement does not affect individual lawsuits, the legal aid funding will help homeowners defend themselves against improper foreclosure actions involving mortgage fraud, servicer misconduct or other legal violations.

The remaining $1.5 billion will establish a Borrower Payment Fund to provide cash payments to eligible borrowers whose homes were sold or taken in foreclosure between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2011. This specific initiative is in addition to restitution already administered by federal banking regulators.

The value of the settlement also will increase if negotiations with nine other lenders reach a successful agreement.

Commenting on the agreement second in size only to the 1998 tobacco settlement, President Obama said, “No action, no matter how meaningful, is going to entirely heal the housing market. But this settlement is a start.”

Mike Calhoun, president of the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) agreed, adding, “Despite its limitations, the settlement requires real reforms in the mortgage servicing industry to stop sloppy business practices and out-and-out fraud. It will also help stabilize housing markets and property values by giving more homeowners a chance to restructure or refinance out of unaffordable loans that are underwater.”

For consumers and communities seeking financial relief and fairness, the settlement offers three key takeaways:

Bank accountability: The settlement preserves the right to pursue claims of criminal violations. State attorneys general can also initiate cases related to fair lending abuses and securities fraud.

A stop to robo-signing and other mortgage servicing abuses: Banks are required to review foreclosure documents individually. Before a foreclosure can lawfully proceed, other options must be exhausted. Settlement payments for each family affected by robo-signing could receive $2,000. Even if a payment is accepted, homeowners who have already lost their homes to foreclosure could still sue the bank for damages.

Strong enforcement: An independent monitor will regularly assess bank performance against a series of measures related to loan modifications and foreclosure. Any violations found will trigger penalties up to $1 million per violation or up to $5 million for certain repeat violations. Joseph A. Smith, most recently the North Carolina Commissioner of Banks, will oversee implementation of the new servicing standards.

In June 2010, CRL research found that African-American and Latino homeowners with mortgages lost $350 billion of family wealth through foreclosures. A 2011 foreclosure update by CRL again found that these communities of color continued to suffer disproportionate losses. Even when African-American and Latino consumers had high credit scores of 660 or more, they were still three times more likely than similar white consumers to receive a high-cost loan with risky features.

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said of the settlement, You cannot put a dollar value on the suffering of these families but we can seek progress. And today’s settlement is a step in the right direction.”

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

Apple, Sony Music Blasted After iTunes Whitney Houston Price Hike

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By Ishmael H. Sistrunk, Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American –

According to digitalspy.com, the price for Whitney Houston’s greatest hits album, The Ultimate Collection,jumped from $4.70 to $14.99 on iTunes after news of the singer’s death.

Upset fans accused Apple of trying to capitalize on the Houston’s death. Apple in turn pointed the finger at Sony Music, saying the record company increased the wholesale cost of the album, causing the iTunes price to automatically increase.

Apple later returned the album to its original price late Sunday. No word on whether other online stores such as Amazon and Google Music were affected.

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