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Occupy LA: What Do They Want?

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By Francis Taylor, Contributing Writer
Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel –

The Occupy Los Angeles movement, which began in early October and has all but taken over the grounds of the Los Angeles City Hall building, will continue throughout the Thanksgiving Day holiday, and beyond, and it will be business as usual.

"I plan to be here until we win or until the City of Los Angeles makes us move," said Russ Johnson, one of the 500-600 individuals who are camped-out on City Hall's lawn. "Thanksgiving to me is just a turkey dinner and I am sure some Christian woman will bring us turkey dinners on Thanksgiving Day."

The 'Occupy' movement, which has spread from coast to coast, has garnered the attention of the media, elected officials, aspiring office holders, as well as a broad cross-section of 'tree-huggers, save the whale supporters, environmentalists, the unemployed, the homeless, and others who are simply fed up with circumstances as they are now.

Seeking an answer to the question about what they are fed-up about or what they hope to accomplish or even, why are you here, does not yield a scripted, well thought out, or uniform response.

The movement does not have any identifiable leaders or organizers in the Los Angeles Encampment and there is no written position paper or statement of purpose or objectives that provides a detailed or even vague list of demands or issues. Signs posted alongside the hundreds of tents of all sizes and shapes reveal glimpses of some of the protester's concerns or issues.

Here are a few examples..."Our system of government is broken"..."Return the U.S. to the gold standard"..."Republicans don't care and Democrats are not listening"..."We are the 99%"..."Get rid of the Lobbyists"..."Get rid of the politician's corporate paychecks"..."Corporations get billions and we are homeless, hungry and poorly educated"...Stop sending money abroad and spend it here."

Joseph Thomas was operating the Food Tent that offered free food, water and juice, provided by private individuals and organizations, to the Occupy Los Angeles protestors. A Black man in his early 40's, Thomas is an articulate man who is neither a drug nor alcohol abuser, and unlike many of the protestors, he indicated, who have arrived from Skid Row, is not in need of mental health treatment.

"I have been homeless for about five years," Thomas said. "I became homeless when my grandmother donated the house where I was living to a church in Los Angeles. The church sold the house and I had to move.

After several years on Skid Row and unable to find stable employment, Thomas found himself living under a freeway overpass just before October 6, when he relocated to the grounds of the Los Angeles City Hall.

"I have difficulty working for others and hope to start a business of my own, someday." He said. "In the meantime, I will be here as long as it takes for the Democratic Party to represent our voice and our concerns in making rules and policies that affect us. The Republicans do not care about us, but they must recognize that most Americans, except for those who are wealthy or brainwashed, are the 99% and we are fed up with a system that is broken."

Unlike some of the violence that has been reported at Occupy locations in other parts of the nation, sexual assaults, fights and even murder, Los Angeles has been relatively crime-free.

"Today an individual's bicycle was stolen from the grounds and there are frequent reports of minor thefts of items that are left unattended," one protester said on Monday. "My advice is to hide anything that would approximate the value of a bottle of wine because there are many here who will take it."

While the image from vehicles driving past the City Hall building is one of a crowded patchwork of tents and make-shift shelters, inside the encampment one gets the feeling of being in a public campground with a melting pot of campers of all ages, sizes, colors, and backgrounds. There does not appear to be any urgency to do anything in particular and it certainly does not appear that anyone is looking forward to abandoning the encampment for a Thanksgiving meal with their family members.

And, even though the individual answers are different to the question about objectives or purpose, one protestor's list of demands, posted outside of his tent, seems to capture the broad concerns of many who are committed to remaining until the end.

1. Public funding for elections
2. End corporate greed and political manipulation
3. Eliminate lobbying
4. Tax the 1% more than the 99%
5. End corporate paid politicians

Federal Cuts Would be 'Critical Blow' to Schools

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Special to the NNPA from The Atlanta Voice –

A coalition of more than 150 black colleges and universities – including three in the Atlanta University Center – are fighting to persuade Congress and its deficit-reducing “Super Committee” not to cut $85 million or more in federal funding for the colleges and their students.

The coalition, which collectively represents the 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and 50 Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs), are fighting proposals that will cut federal funds to HBCUs by $85 million or more and would zero out support for PBIs.

The proposed funding cuts would come on top of $30 million in cuts already made in HBCU funding, officials say – a move that would devastate black colleges nationwide.

“The colleges that would have to absorb these cuts serve students who employers are counting on as the next generation of engineers, scientists, teachers, doctors and nurses,” said Michael L. Lomax, UNCF president and CEO. “Their education is being threatened at the worst possible time – in the midst of an economic downturn that is already making it hard for them to stay in school and graduate.”

Administrators at Clark-Atlanta University, Morehouse College and Spelman College agree.

“We provide unparalleled access to students from historically disenfranchised, economically disadvantaged sectors of the population and transform their paths to leadership in diverse arenas,” said Clark Atlanta University President Carlton E. Brown.

“The drastic reduction of Title III funding – totaling nearly $33 million in Georgia – would essentially dismantle critical elements of the infrastructure through which we have successfully completed this mission.

“In addition,” Brown added, “a reduction also would have significant, injurious impact on local economies statewide.” Morehouse College President Robert M. Franklin agreed.

“Morehouse, like many HBCUs and PBIs, is committed to closing the gap of students who are prepared to go into the fields of science, technology, engineering and math,” Franklin said.

“Reducing federal funding to organizations like Morehouse and others would deliver a critical blow to an entire population of deserving students who could go on to become doctors, scientists, researchers and educators, leaving them with no higher education alternatives,” he said. “And that would be a national tragedy.”

Spelman College President Beverly Daniel Tatum said the federal funding “is essential to sustaining and enhancing the quality of HBCUs, and aids institutions like Spelman College to meet national challenges associated with global competitiveness, job creation, and changing demographics.”

“As a nation we need to sustain this kind of investment,” she said, “not undermine it when we need it most.”

The coalition – coordinated by the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) – seeks to rally students, alumni, faculty, staff, administrators and all supporters of HBCUs and PBIs to petition Congress not to cut the deficit by disinvesting in higher education.

“Cutting federal support for HBCUs would shoot an already-weak economy in the foot,” said TMCF President and CEO, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.

“In addition to the students they educate, they impact more than 180,000 jobs, including professors, counselors, staff members and others,” he added. “Local businesses and national companies depend on the money that the colleges, their employees, and students spend. Their total economic impact is estimated at over $13 billion.”

NAFEO President and CEO Lezli Baskerville said U.S. presidents and the Congress historically have made funding HBCUs a national priority, understanding that HBCUs and PBIs are critical to stimulating the economy, preparing excellent, diverse, workers, putting Americans back to work, and meeting the human services needs of traditionally underserved communities.

“HBCUs are great national resources of leadership in the sciences, technology, engineering, mathematics, education, health and the environment. They contain costs at a time when the costs of college are increasingly beyond the reach of the masses,” Baskerville said.

“It would be disconcerting if Congress or the Super Committee decides to reduce the deficit without raising revenues and by cutting funding for HBCUs and PBIs, the primary incubators of diverse human capital to make the nation thrive.”

Obama: Drug Addiction is a Disease, Not a Crime

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By Valencia Mohammed, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

The Office of National Drug Control Policy hosted a media briefing on Nov. 20, to highlight the Obama Administration’s unprecedented approaches to addressing drug addiction.

Ben Tucker, deputy director for State, Local, and Tribal Affairs set the tone by giving stats about how costly criminalizing drug use has been.

“The Department of Justice released new data showing that drug use cost our society about $193 billion a year. Fifty six billion of those dollars can be traced directly back to costs associated solely with the criminal justice system,” said Tucker.

The deputy pointed out that contributing to this immense cost are the more than seven million people in the United States who are under the supervision of the criminal justice system with more than two million behind bars.

For states and localities across the country, the costs of managing these populations have grown significantly. Between 1988 and 2009, state corrections spending increased from $12 billion to more than $50 billion per year.

“African Americans and Hispanics are disproportionately incarcerated for drug offenses. These two groups have consistently higher proportions of inmates in state prison who are drug offenders compared to Whites - about 50 percent higher among these minorities compared to Whites,” said Tucker.

“As our nation works to recover from the greatest recession we’ve had, we must do everything we can to lessen the harm that drug offenses and drug use have on the health, safety, and economic potential of our nation and our fellow citizens.”

Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy outlined unprecedented actions being undertaken by the Obama Administration to address this challenge by breaking the cycle of drug use, crime, incarceration and re-arrest.

The Obama Administration’s approach to criminal justice drug policy is guided by three facts; that addiction is a disease that can be treated; people can recover and new interventions are needed to appropriately address substance abuse and drug-related crime.

“We cannot arrest our way out of our nation’s drug problem and while new strategies are being implemented there is more to do,” said Kerlikowske.

This last fiscal year, the Obama Administration spent $10.4 billion on drug prevention and treatment programs compared to $9.2 billion on domestic drug enforcement.

August, 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act into law. This important and long-overdue criminal justice reform dramatically reduced a 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine, which disproportionately affected minorities.

The administration is implementing the Second Chance Act, which provides funding for programs that improve coordination of reentry services and policies at the state, tribal, and local levels, including demonstration grants, reentry courts, family-centered programs, substance abuse treatment, employment, mentoring and other services.

Expansion of drug courts, which place non-violent drug offenders into treatment instead of prison.

Last year, the Department of Justice awarded $100 million to support 178 state and local reentry grants to provide a wide range of services and in late September awarded another $83 million to 118 new grantees.

Encouragement to housing authorities nationally to lease to offenders returning to the community and to ensure that they understand that they have the discretion to lease to all but two specific classes of felon.

The Attorney General issued a letter to state attorneys general to urge them to review the legal collateral consequences of their state laws being placed upon ex-offenders that may burden their successful reentry into society.

“I also encourage states to take our lead in support the funding of effective alternatives to incarceration. By implementing a range of innovative, yet proven public health and public safety interventions, we can save taxpayer dollars and improve outcomes and break the cycle of drug use, crime, and incarceration,” said Kerlikowske.

Redonna Chandler, chief of services research branch of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, closed by stating that harsh punishments including lengthy incarcerations, boot camps, and intense supervision alone do not alleviate addiction. “Effective treatment helps the offender change attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors with regard to both drug use and criminality,” Chandler said.

She suggested numerous approaches including cognitive behavioral therapy where participants learn positive social and coping skills; contingency management approaches help break down long-term treatment goals into smaller steps and motivational enhancement interventions and medications.

The Community Impact of Supercommittee Failure

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By Yanick Rice Lamb, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

Dysfunction turned out to be Kryptonite for the supercommittee.

The Budget Control Act of 2011 gave six Democrats and six Republicans the power to come up with a plan to cut the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion before the Congressional Thanksgiving recess. However, lawmakers bickered while the market fell.

“It would be a sad commentary on our state of affairs if a decade-old political pledge to a corporate lobbyist were allowed to prevent bipartisan progress on our nation’s most pressing issues,” James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., one of the “Super 12” and Assistant Democratic Leader of the House, said in a statement. “Yet with massive across-the-board budget cuts hanging over us like the sword of Damocles, that seems a possible outcome.”

Amid global skittishness fueled partly by the debt crisis in Europe, the supercommittee’s impasse was linked to a 2.5 percent drop in the Dow Jones industrial average, which fell roughly 300 points to 11,500 around noon Monday. It also meant no extensions, at the moment, for unemployment benefits or payroll tax cuts.

With no super heroes to save the day, Democrats are blaming Republicans, and Republicans are blaming Democrats. They clashed primarily over tax breaks for the wealthy and spending cuts for domestic programs from Social Security to health care.

“The claim that Medicare, Medicaid and other health-care costs are major drivers of our debt crisis is an overstatement,” said Alfred Chiplin Jr., managing attorney at the Center for Medicare Advocacy in Washington, D.C. “We must be sure that philosophical differences about the nature, role and size of government are not taken out on the backs of the poor, the elderly, those with disabilities or on children.”

The National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) also opposes cuts in domestic programs and had been encouraging citizens to “tell the supercommittee NO cuts to HIV/AIDS programs” as lawmakers made 11th hour efforts to reach some sort of face-saving measure.

“NMAC opposes any cuts to discretionary budget line items, which fund domestic or global HIV/AIDS programs,” said Kali Lindsey, the council’s director of legislative and public affairs.

“Research advancements demonstrate that thoughtful and strategic investments along with assured access to necessary care, treatment and support services can bring an end to the HIV epidemic in the United States and around the globe.”

Sentiment among the general public seemed to mirror that of their elected officials, according to a new CNN/ORC poll. Fifty-seven percent of Democrats opposed spending cuts in the poll released on Monday, while 59 percent of Republicans were against tax increases. Republicans favor extending the Bush tax cuts, which expire at the end of 2012, from 39.6 percent to 28 percent for the wealthiest Americans.

Among independent voters surveyed, seven in 10 favor cuts in domestic spending and increases in taxes on corporations and wealthy people. About six in 10 of all respondents are against reductions in defense spending.

If the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction’s failure to act leads to across-the-board cuts in 2013, also known as sequestration, some politicians might be relieved that voters technically couldn’t blame them at the ballot box next November for tampering with pet programs. Without legislative action in the interim, the automatic cuts would be split between defense and non-defense programs.

“Some programs will be exempted from the sequestration process that will benefit people living with HIV or AIDS, including Medicaid, Social Security and food stamps (SNAP), and Medicare's cut is limited to no more than 2 percent,” Lindsey explained.

“However, hundreds of thousands of people living with HIV or AIDS or in need of prevention services will be harmed with cuts to discretionary programs that fund programs like the Ryan White health-care programs, the already strained AIDS Drug Assistance Program and HIV prevention efforts funded at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Chiplin says that health-care reform could save the nation a great deal of money in the long run. “If we let health-care reform through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) work, we will see a general slowing of the rate of increase in health-care costs,” he said.

“The ACA has many cost-containment features that should help to rein in health-care costs over time, including payment and service-delivery model changes, such as exploring and implementing accountable care organizations, paying only for care that has a demonstrated value, focusing on prevention and care coordination (particularly as a tool to address health disparities) and pursuing strategies to address the problem of unnecessary procedures and services.”

Penn State Scandal Similar to Boston Red Sox Manager Molestation of Black Boys

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

Long before news broke of the Penn State sex scandal, it has now been revealed that between 1971 and 1991, Donald Fitzpatrick, a former Boston Red Sox manager, systematically abused and molested dozens of African American boys in their hometown of Winter Haven, Florida, where the baseball team held their Spring training.

"He grabbed me and told me to take my clothes off," Leeronnie Ogletree, who said Fitzpatrick lured him into years of molestation when he was just 10, told thepostgame.com. "I'll never forget him putting his mouth on my penis. I don't mind telling it now because I'm over it. But that stands out. And I'll never forget it."

It took decades for the truth to come out about Fitzpatrick, who is White, and his criminal desire for young Black boys, according to The Huffington Post. In 2003, the Boston Red Sox settled a $3 million federal lawsuit brought against them by Ogletree and seven other men from Winter Haven who said Fitzpatrick repeatedly molested them as boys.

Benjamin Crump, the lawyer who handled Ogletree’s case against Fitzpatrick and the Boston Red Sox, said the similarities between the Penn State and Red Sox scandals are startlingly similar, the Post reported. There were cover-ups, denials and the enabling of pedophiles to use the power of their institutions to prey on the weak, in the Red Sox case, "poor black boys," he said. The kinds of youth often considered society's "throwaways."

"You have these sports institutions; you have all these people of authority; you have all this public support for these institutions and hear talk about what great institutions they are, but then when you ask them to do the right thing and have compassion for these young people, the institutions deny, deny, deny," Crump, of Parks & Crump, told The Huffington Post. "They sweep it under the rug and they look the other way."

According to reports, former Red Sox players such as Jim Rice and Sammy Stewart got wind of Fitzpatrick's deeds and would warn kids in the clubhouse to avoid him, the Post reported. In 1971, one of Fitzpatrick's victims came forward to the team, and in a manner similar to Penn State's handling of the Jerry Sandusky allegations, the team did not alert authorities or fire Fitzpatrick.

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