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Black America's Economic Challenge: Overcoming Income Inequalities Through Better Consumer Choices

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By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) The agency mandated to provide Congress with impartial, non-partisan and timely analyses seldom makes headline news. But this week when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released findings on its analysis of the nation’s income inequalities from a 30-year review (1979-2007), media coverage exploded.

After assessing the net income shares of people in 525 cities and towns, the agency’s top-line finding was reminiscent of lines from a Broadway production, “There’s no shame in being poor – but it’s no great honor either.”

According to CBO, the nation’s top one percent of household income more than tripled during these years, while middle class households either slipped into poverty or barely held on to their standard of living. Middle class income earners representing 60 percent of the population accounted for only 40 percent of after-tax household income. And among America’s lowest earning workers – about 20 percent of the population, the growth in average real after-tax household income was only 18 percent.

In part the report advised, “The rapid growth in average real household income for the one percent of the population with the highest income was a major factor contributing to the growing inequality in the distribution of household income between 1979 and 2007. Shifts in government transfers and federal taxes also contributed to the increase in inequality.”

A plain English translation of this finding seems to be that the 30-year span of trickle-down economics at work has not brought a drop of prosperity to 99 percent of the nation. No wonder the nation has seen a groundswell of demonstrators referring to themselves as the ‘99ers’.

For African-Americans in particular, these ill-advised policies have been particularly painful – unemployment rates double that of the rest of the nation, neighborhoods dotted with foreclosures and short-sales, a lack of affordable housing for former homeowners, and for those lucky enough to still have a job - incomes trailing the rest of the nation.

If there was ever a time ripe for change, it surely must be now. We cannot continue along the same 30-year path that has led to such pathetic results. The nation needs the return of a robust economy and a time when vigorous enforcement from our federal consumer-watchdog agency convinces more businesses to become more consumer-respectful.

It is equally important that as consumers of color we direct our dollars to education, businesses and enterprises that value all we bring to the marketplace table. According to the Nielsen Company’s recent report, The State of the African-American Consumers, 43 million African-American consumers together represent nearly a trillion dollars of purchasing power each year.

Before Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving and traditionally the busiest retail shopping day of the year, African-Americans have the opportunity to be better stewards of the purchasing power we hold in our own hands. We can and should use our economic clout to forge new awareness and respect for our economic strength. Moreover, that strength would best be shared with those that value our choices in every purchase or investment.

If lenders are reluctant to offer transparent transactions that inform us before a debt is incurred, we need to walk away with our money, our credit and our self-respect. Whether the product is a new credit or debit card, auto financing, or a mortgage, we must remember that loyalty in business should be earned – not given away.

No one has or ever will beg their way out of poverty. But by becoming wiser consumers, we can begin to carve our own path to prosperity.

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

Michelle Obama Joins Food Desert Fight

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By Wendell Hutson, Special to the NNPA from the Chicago Crusader –

Keisha Abrams, a 43-year-old diabetic, has shopped at a South Side Walgreens for 20 years and now shops there even more since the drugstore chain sells fresh fruits and vegetables. “I spend just about as much time here (at Walgreens) as I do at home. The employees know me well and I know them and I am thankful to Walgreens for offering fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said, emotionally. “And I thank First Lady Michelle Obama for bringing awareness to this problem that has attached itself to the Black community.”

On Tuesday Abrams joined First Lady Michelle Obama and Mayor Rahm Emanuel at her favorite Walgreens, 11 East 75th Street, to talk about the need to end food deserts. The Walgreens stop was one of three for the first lady who also visited Iron Street Urban Farm and later attended an evening fundraiser in the West Loop. Earlier Obama attended a mayoral summit at City Hall, which consisted of eight mayors from across the country along with executives from major grocery store chains, such as Jewel, Dominick’s, Save-A-Lot, and Aldi.

As a result of the summit, grocery store executives committed to opening 17 new stores in Chicago over the next few years. They include a new Save-A-Lot store in the North Lawndale community on the West Side by year-end and one in the Grand Boulevard, West Pullman, Morgan Park, Calumet Heights, West Englewood, and Englewood communities on the South Side and one in the Austin community on the West Side, all by spring 2012. For Obama, the homecoming brought back memories of when she observed people buying groceries at unusual places. “I can remember seeing people buy their groceries at gas stations at ridiculous prices because there were no stores that sold healthy foods,” Obama recalled. “A lot of people don’t have the time or money to travel outside their community to reach stores that do sell fresh produce, fruits and vegetables, so they go to the closest store and buy whatever is there.”

And when it comes to healthy eating, especially for children, Obama said America should to do more than just give ‘lip service.’ “We can talk all we want about making healthy choices about the food we serve our kids, but if parents don’t have anywhere to buy those foods, then that’s all it is - it’s just talk,” explained Obama. “Imagine what we could achieve if mayors across the country started taking on this issue. Think about all the jobs we could create, all the neighborhoods we could begin to transform and what it means when our children finally get the nutrition they need to grow up healthy. I am confident that - one neighborhood, one community, one city at a time - we can ensure that all our kids have the happy, healthy futures they deserve.”

The first lady’s appearance was closed to the public but well attended by Black elected officials including Alderman Roderick Sawyer, whose Sixth Ward includes the Walgreens Obama visited. “Healthy eating is very important to the Black community because studies have shown that those who eat healthy live longer,” Sawyer told the Crusader. “And at a time when Black males are being murdered or sent to prison at alarming rates, we need to make sure that there are stores like Walgreens in the Black community that sell food items to keep us healthy.” Third Ward Alderman Pat Dowell also attended and said “I spoke with several CEOs today about possibly opening up stores in my ward and they were generally interested in exploring ways to do so,” she said. “In my ward there are very few obstacles that would prevent more grocery stores from opening. Available land is not a problem. And financial incentives are not a problem.”

One problem Alderman Leslie Hairston (Fifth Ward) said that she sees is the misconception by corporate America that there is no money to be made in the Black community. “There is plenty of money to be made in the Black community,” Hairston added. “I think if corporations can overcome this perception that there is no money to be made in the Black community then we can start to move forward in getting more businesses to operate in our communities.” And Emanuel pledged to continue fighting to eliminate food deserts, which he said exist primarily in underserved, economically deprived communities.

“It is unacceptable that a half-million Chicagoans do not have access to healthy, fresh foods for their family and I am committed to the elimination of these food deserts in our city,” said Emanuel, just before he introduced the first lady. “I am grateful to First Lady Michelle Obama, grocery executives and mayors who joined us today for their commitment to working together to ensure that residents have access to the foods they need to make healthy choices for themselves and their families.”

'Guinness' Names Samuel L. Jackson Highest Grossing Actor of All Time

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

With over 100 films under his belt, actor Samuel L. Jackson can now add another amazing facet to his résumé. According to the New York Daily News, The Guinness Book of World Records recently named him the highest grossing actor of all time.

The 62-year-old’s body of film work has brought in a staggering $7.42 billion He averages three to four films a year.

Jackson got his big break in the 1991 Spike Lee "joint" Jungle Fever. He later appeared in numerous Hollywood blockbusters including Pulp Fiction, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones" Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Currently, Jackson portrays Martin Luther King Jr. in the Broadway production "The Mountaintop." According to CBS News, the play also stars actress Angela Bassett and focuses on King's last hours before his assassination.

On the big screen, Jackson will have appeared in a total of four films at the close of the year, and has already signed on to appear in three in 2012.

In a recent interview with CBS News, Jackson reflected on his career and his presence in Hollywood.

"I've been fortunate," he said during the interview. "There's a handful of movies that have made enormous amounts of money, and that just means that the other movies that I'd done have made the kind of money that allows me to continue to work, that people see me as viable as a box office draw to people. People come and see my movies.

NYC Police Officer Allegedly Says 'Fried Another Nigger'

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By Lee A. Daniels, Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

The words allegedly spoken by a New York City police officer accused of illegally arresting a Black New York City resident – “fried another nigger,” – are shocking.

But not if you’re familiar with the long, infuriating history of police racial profiling. Not if you’re among the millions – yes, millions – of citizens who’ve been unfairly stopped by the police over the past decade. Not if you’re familiar with the details of the two separate, current federal lawsuits which charge that two different New York City Police Department practices are racially discriminatory and unconstitutional.

One, filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, claims that the city in implementing its street-level stop-and-frisk tactic has engaged in widespread and unjustified stops and racial profiling.

The second, brought against the New York City government and the New York City Housing Authority by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., the Legal Aid Society of New York City, and the private law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP. contends that the city’s policing practices in its public housing developments – most notably, its “vertical sweeps” of buildings — “routinely” subject residents and those who visit them to illegal stops and false arrests that serve no lawful purpose. The lawsuit charges that the number of these vertical patrols, which are conducted by both Housing Authority police officers and the New York City police officers, has approached 200,000 a year in recent years and has resulted in thousands of residents of these buildings and visitors to them being stopped and/or arrested on trespass charges.

The incident involving Officer Michael Daragjati, who is white, occurred in Staten Island in April. Daragjati was in plain clothes and driving an unmarked police car when he stopped and searched the citizen, a Black man, without cause. He found no contraband; but when the man complained that he should never have been stopped and asked for Daragjati’s badge number, the officer arrested him for resisting arrest. At the precinct house, Daragjati lied about the incident on the required documents, claiming the man had become physically belligerent. As a result, the man spent a day and a half in the police station lockup.

But the officer’s lie began to unravel that very night, according to the criminal complaint against him, when the government intercepted telephone calls and text messages he made bragging about the incident. The telephone call to his friend in which he used the racial slur occurred the next day. Investigators were shadowing Daragjati’s communications because he was suspected of extortion and insurance fraud. He is now under indictment for those charges as well.

Of course it is to the credit of the federal prosecutor’s office and the police department that they have pursued this case against an officer intent on harassing people of color. Officer Daragjati acted alone.

Nonetheless, the sworn testimony of individuals involved in the federal lawsuits as well as the accounts of individuals interviewed for news stories recently and over the years make it clear that the wrong he perpetrated isn’t an isolated incident.

On the contrary, their words underscore the human cost of the astonishing statistics showing that each year the hundreds of thousands of police stops of ordinary citizens in New York City lead to only a small number of arrests and a miniscule number of convictions – and those are usually for minor offenses.

It’s long past time for the New York Police Department’s street-level stop-and-frisk policy and its housing development illegal stops policy to just stop.

Lee A. Daniels is Director of Communications for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Editor In Chief of TheDefendersOnline.com.

Michigan Legislator, Community Calls for Investigator of Wayne County Executive

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By Zenobia Jeffries, Special to the NNPA from The Michigan Citizen –

DETROIT — Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and his administration will not only be investigated by the FBI, but the county executive and three of his officials may have their law licenses revoked.

On Oct. 19, Attorney Leland McRae, on behalf of State Rep. John Olumba, filed complaints with the Attorney Grievance Commission to investigate Ficano, former County Director of Economic and Neighborhood Development Turkia Mullin, former deputy County Executive Azzam Elder and former County Assistant Corporate Counsel Chief Marianne Talon. The four have been accused of professional misconduct and failure to report professional misconduct. Mullin has additionally been accused of prohibited conflict of interest.

At issue is a $200,000 severance payout to Mullin, which many believe is unethical if not illegal. Reacting to community outrage and allegations of misappropriation of county funds, Ficano suspended Elder and Talon for 30 days without pay.

Yet, this may only be the beginning for county executive Ficano and his administration.

Last week, Olumba sent a letter to Attorney General Bill Schutte requesting an investigation into Mullin’s severance pay and other allegations of corruption at the County’s office.

The AG responded to Olumba’s request with a prepared media statement, stating he would allow the Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council (PACC) to carry out an investigation.

Olumba says the council is a “body with no teeth.”

“They have no power to delegate to any prosecuting body,” said Olumba, who submitted a resolution to the House Oversight, Reform and Ethics Committee requesting the Attorney General begin investigation of the Wayne County Executive and “other entities related to the severance payment scandal.”

During the Oct. 18 hearing, Olumba testified that the law “unequivocally” states that the council carries none of the sovereign powers of the state. Olumba said that power rests with the attorney general.

Tom Robertson, PACC’s CEO, confirmed the council does not have legal powers; it simply finds a prosecutor to take a case at the request of the AG.

“If we find somebody to agree, then the Attorney General decides if they want to assign a prosecutor to investigate,” Robertson said.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy cited a conflict of interest in the case and filed a petition with the AG’s office.

The AG has stated, in news reports, that the FBI is conducting an investigation.

FBI spokesperson Sandra Berchtold, in accordance with bureau policy, could not confirm or deny a federal investigation. As this paper went to press, the FBI served subpoeanas to Wayne County officials.

Olumba says once the resolution is passed, the AG doesn’t have a choice but to investigate. The investigations can be simultaneous.

The committee, chaired by Tim McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, postponed voting on the resolution until they received clarity of the PACC’s role and powers.

Internal investigation

Wayne County Commissioner Chairman Gary Woronchak, who leads the committee investigating the Mullins scandal, says Ficano’s office is cooperating with the committee’s requests and denied rumors they will issue a subpoena for documents.

“I’m hopeful in a couple of weeks we’ll have some remedies before us,” said Woronchak. “We’ll know the more questions we ask.”

Regarding other entities conducting investigations, Woronchak says each agency has a different role.

“My goal is to find out how this happened and to keep it from happening,” he said in a telephone interview. “The more people who look at [this] is fine with me.”

Woronchak says the commission needs to consider ordinance changes and submit laws “so that this cannot happen again. We want to get focus back on providing services [to citizens].”

When asked if the commission finds there was illegal action on behalf of the county executive he said, “I don’t know if we’re in the position to determine what’s legal or not. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. I wouldn’t make a leap to that point right now.”

Community outrage

What’s good enough for Kilpatrick is good enough for Ficano, was the message a group of Detroit protestors sent as they marched Oct. 17 outside of the Guardian Building, where the county executive’s office is located.

“We don’t want anybody who is unethical,” said community activist Sandra Hines, on behalf of the newly formed Coalition Against Corruption in Wayne County Government (CACWCG).

“He’s already apologized so evidently he did something wrong,” she said. “If he didn’t …why would he apologize?”

During a press conference called by the CACWCG, Hines declared, “the people are outraged …We want transparency.”

The group of about 50 citizens and growing is calling for the Oversight, Reform, and Ethics committee to approve Olumba’s resolution; Elder and Talon’s permanent termination; Mullin’s termination from her new position as Wayne County Airport Authority CEO, and the termination of Ficano’s appointee Michael Grundy; along with an independent investigation into the Office of Wayne County Executive, and other entities involved in the severance payment scandal.

“The community will no longer accept Ficano’s misuse of the people’s money,” Hines said. “This is about accountability and responsibility.”

Detroit Delegation responds

Responding to criticisms of being self-serving and disloyal, Olumba told the Michigan Citizen that he was acting at the behest of his constituency. Olumba was accused by several Democrats of breaking party ranks to end Ficano’s Democratic administration. Olumba said he called for an investigation because it was the right thing to do for the citizens.

“I’ve received hundreds of calls and e-mails [from across the state],” he said. “There’s no representative that I’ve seen serve with vigor on behalf of the people from around this area … I think this situation shows that. Here’s a man stealing money and they can’t ask for a simple investigation?”

Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield) was the only legislator to support Olumba’s resolution.

In a telephone interview, Rep. David Nathan (D-Detroit) said it’s not unusual that there are no supporters of a resolution that goes before a committee. He says support usually comes when the resolution comes out of committee.

“If the resolution comes out of committee, I’ll support it,” he said.

Lisa Howze ( D-Detroit) says any action on the part of the state would be premature.

She says she doesn’t think the resolution will come out of committee and therefore makes the state’s involvement a moot point.

 

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