- Created on 27 March 2013
The push for the Black vote is on. Black folks are back in style. Black is beautiful – again. Since the last election, the mantra has become, “Get more ‘minorities’ to vote Republican” and Black voters are at the top of that list. Yes, they want to increase their Hispanic support, but the African-American vote is ripe and ready to be harvested by just the right message given by just the right messengers. Wow, that sounds familiar. Don’t Democrats have that same strategy? They trot out a couple of spokespersons to soothe us with convincing platitudes that have kept us in their corner for decades.
Now the Republican sleeping giant has finally awaken, and it is ready to do whatever it takes to regain Black voters’ confidence and support. They have launched a new Black political role model into the limelight; he is an icon among Black people, a hero, Horatio Alger personified, and his name is Dr. Ben Carson. He was the darling of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) convention and is the new love of Sean Hannity’s life. Fresh off his in-your-face, Mr. President, speech at the national prayer breakfast, Carson has decided to quit medicine and pursue “other” interests. The Republicans are already drafting him for the 2016 presidential race.
To rub salt into the wound, some Black commentators and columnists are suggesting that Black voters should seriously consider moving from the Democrat plantation to the Republican plantation, and the chairman of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus, has a plan to make that happen. So does Rand Paul. Both of them have said Republicans must get more Black people to remember what their party has done for us, and bring us back into their “big tent.” Yes, we are definitely in vogue these days.
The question is: What are we going to do with our newfound popularity? When political parties compete for your votes, you win. I wonder what the Democrat response will be to this Republican incursion. After 75 years or so of unbroken Black voter loyalty, the battle lines have been drawn by Priebus, who has set out to do what Michael Steele could not do with “fried chicken and potato salad": get more Black folks to vote Republican.
Why is it always an either/or choice between Black folks being a Republican or a Democrat? It seems to me that Black people, especially, should always be independent and willing to support either party if, of course, both parties address the interests and needs of Black people. Notwithstanding the opposing arguments regarding what Presidents Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Nixon did for Black people versus what Presidents Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Johnson did, we should base our voting on interests rather than parties. Our unique position and genesis in this country demand political independence rather than political allegiance to anyone or any party. It’s all about reciprocity, and the last time I checked, Black people have yet to receive even a reasonable return on our investment in the U.S.
Our American experience is unique. No other group has committed so much to, worked so hard for, fought and died in wars for America, and received so little in return. Other groups did not go through what we went through, and our right to play in the political game was bought and paid for hundreds of years ago. However, this is still, above all, a capitalistic society, and economics rules the day. If we take care of business in the economics arena, the political arena will be easy pickings.
Heed the words of T. Thomas Fortune, a journalist and co-founder of the National Negro Business League: “No people ever became great and prosperous by devoting their infant energies to politics. We were literally born into political responsibility before we had mastered the economic conditions which underlie these duties.”
His message is clear. We are not even in the political game because we do not use our political leverage to get what we say we need. All we get back from our “precious” votes is a good feeling, which could be characterized as having sex rather than making love. Black people are in love with our political party; and our party is just having sex with us.
We had better wake up from our infatuation with political parties, and understand that they only want us for one thing: our votes. Of course, they would also like our campaign donations, but we certainly aren’t trying to hear that. Black people must be more politically independent, and stop letting the talking heads and so-called leaders, both Black and White, steer us toward one party over the other. We will be more politically effective if we leverage our votes with those who espouse and support our interests. If we can’t do that then we should at least be present at both tables in large enough numbers to have a positive impact on each party’s agenda. Right now, the reference to Black people being made by either major party is related to our votes, not our progress.
Remember: In politics there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, just permanent interests.
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.
- Created on 27 March 2013
I never considered the late Rodney King anything of a philosopher, but as one observes Washington shenanigans, especially around fiscal matters, it seems that Brother King had a point. Can we all just, maybe, get along?
In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the Senate finally passed a budget by the narrowest of margins, 50-49. Four Democratic Senators jumped ship to side with Republicans, probably because they are facing tough election fights in Republican leaning states. Still, it was great to see some vision from this Senate, which called for a $1 trillion in tax increases and $875 billion in program cuts. Unlike proposals presented by the likes of Paul Ryan, who would eviscerate social programs, the Senate offers a budget that cuts social and other programs more carefully and thoughtfully. Since this is the first budget the Senate has passed in four years, one might think that they should be congratulated. But the passage of a Senate budget is only the first step. Now, the Senate and the House of Representatives have to find some common ground.
Former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-Wis) chairs the House Budget Committee and he chairs it like he thinks he is still running for office. He claims that he can save $4 trillion more than Democrats by turning Medicare into a voucher program and slashing Medicaid, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps), and other safety net programs. How will the Senate and House resolve their differences when Republicans basically refuse to bargain, and Democrats will give away the store if given an opportunity? If half of the Democrats in the Senate had the backbone of House Republican Majority Leader John Boehner, the people of the United States would be in a better position.
We can’t get along if we go along with nonsense such as a voucher program for senior health. As it is, some hospitals are closing or consolidating, largely because of the number of poor and elderly people who use those facilities. While Ryan is talking slash and burn, Obamacare, albeit imperfect, expands health care possibilities for everyone. We can’t get along with cuts in SNAP that leave more people hungry. The average monthly income for those who receive SNAP assistance is less than $700. That means families who receive this benefit are working part-time or not at all, not an unusual occurrence when the unemployment rate remains higher than 7 percent overall and 13 percent for African Americans. We can’t get along with proposals to cut educational funding, knowing education opens doors for generations to come.
How, then, will they fill the gap between the lean budget passed by Senate Democrats, and the austerity budget passed by Republicans? It is up to we, the people. A few weeks ago, a friend proposed organizing a March that would bring thousands to Washington as these budget deliberations continue to remind the Senate and the House that we are watching them. As this is the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, many marches are being planned to commemorate that critical date. But it might also be meaningful if Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign were also reenacted. Dr. King’s vision of bringing thousands to occupy government offices to highlight the needs of the poor was never fully realized, and the current gap between the House and Senate suggests that the poor will be more harshly treated now than they were two generations ago.
When one contrasts the House Budget with the one that comes from the Senate, one realizes that there are two starkly different visions of our country. We were presented with these stark choices when Mr. 47 Percent Romney faced off against President Obama. One could hardly call our president a flaming liberal. People chose the humanitarian Obama vision of the world instead of the elitist austerity that Romney exemplified. The people have spoken, but the politicians can’t hear.
The people are talking, the politicians are posturing, and millions are wondering how they will survive if a Ryan budget passes. Why can’t we all get along?
Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.
- Created on 26 March 2013
Every year for the past decade, under the agency's "stop-and-frisk" program, New York City police officers have stopped 500,000 to nearly 700,000 citizens on the city's streets. Nearly 90 percent of those stopped are Black and Hispanic men, women and children.
The department's own data show that at most only 12 to 14 percent of these stops result in an actual arrest – and only about half of those arrested are ultimately convicted of some transgression.
Is that the definition, as the city administration and police department claim, of an effective crime-fighting program?
Or is the program a cynical cover for police "make-work:" harassing innocent civilians in order to churn statistics of an operation that has virtually no effect on reducing crime – and burnish the department's reputation and that of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as effective crime-fighters?
Those are the questions behind the central constitutional issue at the heart of a class-action lawsuit challenging New York's controversial stop-and-frisk program now being heard in a federal district court in Manhattan.
The suit, brought by the New York City-based Center for Constitutional Rights, reaches the court after years of complaints from the city's Black and Hispanic communities, and civil rights and civil liberties advocates against both the Bloomberg stop-and-frisk program and earlier, similar police department programs.
That long record has produced legislation from the New York City Council that would establish an office of inspector general for the police department, which would have subpoena power to investigate police actions. The legislation, bitterly opposed by Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, is inextricably enmeshed in this year's mayoral campaign. Bloomberg cannot run again; and does not want Christine Quinn, the Council's Speaker, to be his successor. She is a chief sponsor of the legislation, and also said there's enough support for it on the Council to override Bloomberg's promised veto..
The street-stops case is also being heard in the wake of a January federal court decision on a similar police department program in which landlords of thousands of private buildings in The Bronx gave the department permission to patrol their buildings and arrest trespassers. The judge in that case found that the police searches of individuals routinely violated citizens' 4th Amendment rights and said it needed to be modified if it is to continue.
That judge was Shira A. Scheindlin, who is also hearing the current, broader case involving police street stops.
The Supreme Court has long upheld the right of police officers to stop and question civilians on the street; but they must have reasonable cause – not just a hunch – to search individual's belongings or person.
Bloomberg and Kelly have repeatedly declared the stop-and-frisk program integral to the police department's success in reducing crime.
But critics assert that the city has never presented any statistics or other data establishing a direct connection between the program and the fact that the city's crime rate has declined during the past decade. Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told the New York Times last month that "A gun — the ostensible reason behind the stop-and-frisk regime — was found in 0.1 percent of stops," she added. "That is an unbelievably poor yield rate for such an intrusive, wasteful and humiliating police action."
The street-stops trial opened last week with the wrenching testimony of three Black men who told of being stopped and frisked, and in one instance, momentarily handcuffed. "To be treated like that, by someone who works for New York City, I felt degraded and helpless," said Nicholas K. Peart, 24, who is the legal guardian of his two young brothers and 20-year-old disabled sister. In December 2011, Peart, a college student, wrote a widely-discussed op-ed article in the New York Times about the five times police have stopped and frisked him in the last decade.
Witnesses for the plaintiffs also included two police officers who testified that patrol officers in their precincts were told they must meet a departmental monthly quota of 20 summonses and at least one arrest, or else they would be punished. Such a police practice is illegal, and the two officers' claims were vigorously denied by the city's lawyers in court and the police department's chief spokesman. But both officers supplied tape-recordings they secretly made of precinct-station conversations that seem to support their claims.
As this column is being written, the commanding officer of one of the patrolmen will soon be called to testify about his criticism of the cop for not stopping and frisking the "right people" – which he later defined as "male Blacks 14 to 20, 21."
His tape-recorded words, defending a program with an atrocious record of identifying the "right people" of any age to stop for questioning, should underscore that all citizens deserve police officers who are committed to being protectors, not predators.
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.
- Created on 27 March 2013
In today’s challenging financial times, the cost of living finds many consumers with an ongoing financial challenge to hold on until their next payday arrives. Even worse, when banks peddle predatory payday loans, they pose serious threats to their customers’ financial well-being. Marketed under names such as “direct deposit advance,” these loans are easy to get; but hard to pay off. As consumers get ensnared by the debt trap, banks reap repeating cycles of quick cash.
In its latest report on bank payday lending, the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) found that although participating banks claim that their payday loan products are only for short-term emergencies and carry marginal risks, the real-life experiences were the opposite. In fact, the typical bank payday borrower:
- Is charged an annual percentage rate (APR) that averages 225 to 300 percent;
- Took out 19 loans in 2011, spending at least part of six months a year in bank payday debt; and
- Is twice as likely to incur overdraft fees than bank customers as a whole.
In addition, more than one in four bank payday borrowers is a Social Security recipient. This comes on the heels of a key administrative change for seniors on Social Security. As of March 1, all Social Security payments are issued electronically. And although seniors have specific protections from payday lending on prepaid cards, no comparable protection exists on checking accounts.
CRL’s report also calls for regulators to take immediate actions to stop banks offering payday loans from engaging in this form of predatory lending. Additionally, CRL calls for the following terms on small loan products:
- A minimum loan term of 90 days with affordable installments;
- An APR of 36 percent or less;
- Underwriting based on an ability to repay; and
- No mandatory automatic repayment from the consumer’s checking account.
More than a year ago, 250 organizations and individuals sent a letter to federal banking regulators expressing concerns about bank payday lending. Last year, in a separate action, more than 1,000 consumers and organizations told the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about elder financial abuse, including bank payday lending.
At that time, CRL advised, “More than 13 million older adults are considered economically insecure, living on $21,800 a year or less. Senior women in particular face diminished incomes because of lower lifetime earnings and therefore lower Social Security and pension benefits.”
As opposition to bank payday and elder financial abuse grows, banking regulators are continuing to hear from advocates, experts and concerned citizens. Fortunately, advocates are determined to press this issue in growing numbers. In a letter dated March 13, for example, 278 organizations and individuals signed a second letter to regulators.
The letter states, “Payday lending has a particularly adverse impact on African-Americans and Latinos, as a disproportionate share of payday borrowers come from communities of color. High-cost, short-term balloon repayments, and the consequent series of repeat loans, have long been identified by regulators as features of predatory lending.
“Ultimately, payday loans erode the assets of bank customers, and rather than promote savings, make checking accounts unsafe for many customers. They lead to uncollected debt, bank account closures, and greater numbers of unbanked Americans. All of these outcomes are inconsistent with both consumer protection and the safety and soundness of financial institutions.”
The limitation of space will not allow for the listing of all 278 signatories. But they include many national and statewide organizations, including AARP, AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the Black Leadership Forum, NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and CRL.
The coalition warns, “Please move quickly to ensure that payday lending by banks does not become more widespread and to ensure that those banks currently making payday loans stop offering this inherently dangerous product.”
- Created on 26 March 2013
How many African Americans know that the President of the United States (POTUS) recently met with their leaders? How many among the African-American population know what the meeting agenda entailed, who was there, and what was accomplished at, or subsequent to it, regarding our plight and problems?
Late Black History Month 2013, the POTUS had Blacks to a meeting at the White House in the Roosevelt Room. The president discussed his “plan to strengthen the economy … and continue to build ladders of opportunity for those striving to get there.” In perhaps the cruelest of ironies, the president praised the participants for their “steadfast leadership on issues critical to improving the economy.”
The presidential meeting produced no programs to lift Blacks, nor their economies. According to White House, President Obama “reiterated his commitment to supporting policies that will directly impact those hardest hit by the economic crisis by making sure that America is a magnet for jobs, etc. …” Instead of informing the “emperor” that his clothing was “threadbare and worn,” people at the meeting gave a chorus of approval to the president’s agenda for Blacks and their communities.
Those in attendance included the Rev. Al Sharpton, National Action Network; NAACP President Ben Jealous; Avis Jones-DeWeever, executive director of the National Council of Negro Women along with Ralph Everett, president, Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies.
Everett and the Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies’ role in Black life in America is worthy of attention. The Joint Center has had a leading role as a Washington think tank for almost half a century. Without admitting that the Obama presidency is no more than symbolic for Black Americans and that nearly every quality of life indicator shows that Blacks lost ground during the Obama years, Everett cast his lot with the rest of the sheep on their way to the slaughter and said: “The meeting was a positive, constructive exchange of views. The president fully understands the concerns of the African-American community and has set forth a sensible plan to continue America’s economic recovery. We look forward to working with him to strengthen the economy for the middle class and continue to build more ladders of opportunity for those trying to get there.”
Who is going to tell the “emperor” he has no clothes? The only notable item to come out of the meeting was the staged photo-ops. Nothing of substance regarding an agenda for African Americans was discussed. In his post-meeting statement, Sharpton commented, “I and other leaders had a very significant discussion with the president about concerns in the African-American community and the civil rights community in general.”
Blacks can’t see Obama’s failings and are in discord over whether they should demand a more explicit commitment or refrain from doing so because it would weaken his appeal to others. The reverend insists that calling on Obama to be an “exponent of Black views” is “just stupid.” But, the financial ills afflicting the Black communities are more real than Sharpton & Company admit. The Black-White wealth disparity is more than 20 to 1, Black homeownership rates are declining, Blacks’ unemployment rates are nearly double those for Whites, and Blacks’ incomes are down. These discrepancies reflect a mixture of realism and low expectations.
Has “a second-class” mentality taken hold of this generation of Black Americans? Blacks are doing worse than everyone else, yet the man they elected to turn things around for them hasn’t. However, this has not fundamentally changed their view of American politics; almost every other Democratic president has failed them in similar ways.
Instead of devotion to White House deceptions, organizations such as the Joint Center can point Blacks in the right direction through program policy and leadership development practices. The Obama administration has little interest in supporting Blacks in the same ways it has gay and Latino groups. A Black agenda that addresses the serious problems that plague African Americans needs to be presented to Obama, rather than “picture taking moments” with POTUS.
William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via the BaileyGroup.org