August 08, 2013
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will speak later this month at a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
The White House says the speech will be delivered during the “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony on the Lincoln Memorial steps on Aug. 28. No other details were released.
Obama’s speech will come 50 years to the day after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led approximately 250,000 to the National Mall in a march for jobs and freedom. King also delivered his signature “I Have a Dream” speech from the memorial steps.
The March on Washington helped pressure Congress to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts in 1964 and 1965, respectively.
The Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in June. Obama has called that ruling a setback.
The “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony is being organized by the King Center in Atlanta. Plans include an interfaith service and ringing of bells at 3 p.m. to mark the time King delivered his speech on Aug. 28, 1963.
August 01, 2013
By George E. Curry
PHILADELPHIA (NNPA) – One of the primary goals of the 1963 March on Washington was finding or creating jobs for Blacks. At a panel discussion during the annual convention of the National Urban League, jobs was mentioned more frequently than any other topic as leaders discussed the famous march 50 years ago and an upcoming one planned for Saturday, Aug. 24.
Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said employers are increasingly using measures that have nothing to do with job performance that disproportionately limits the ability of African-Americans to gain employment.
“I need you to make sure that your state has a law that says very clearly that you cannot use the fact that somebody has been arrested as a reason not to employ them,” she told convention delegates. “A mere arrest tells you nothing.”
Sounding more like an evangelical preacher than the lawyer that she is, Arnwine drew loud applause when she said, “You need a state law that says to employers that credit checks have nothing to do with your ability to work. If your credit is bad, it’s because you don’t have a job. Get real.”
Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, said the private sector needs to assume a larger role in reducing Black unemployment, which stood at 12.7 percent when Obama took office and rose to 13.7 percent in June, twice the White employment rate of 6.6 percent. According to the Department of Labor Statistics, more than 2.5 million Blacks are unemployed.
“Ever since President Obama has been in, there has been an increase in jobs in the private sector, but Black unemployment has not decreased. Why? Because we work [disproportionately] in the public sector,” he explained. “So while the private corporations who now don’t have to deal with us because the Supreme Court is knocking down affirmative action, they are not hiring us. The public sector is being cut down with agencies and programs – we’re being minimized in the public sector.”
But Sharpton said Blacks have the economic leverage to force companies to hire more African-Americans.
“We need to renegotiate Black America’s understanding – we called them covenants – with the private sector,” he said. “The court can say all it wants about affirmative action, we have the consumer power to say to companies that do business in our communities that, ‘You must have targets of doing jobs in our community.’ They can’t make us buy from those who won’t hire us.”
Jesse Jackson said that all levels of government should also be held accountable.
“In Chicago, there are 81,000 vacant lots,” he stated. “They cut public housing and they foreclosed on private housing. They’ve cut public transportation, cut trauma care. Cut public schools. There is no present plan to bring us out of that isolation. And I think the government has some obligation.”
Especially a government and nation as rich as the U.S., according to Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League.
“We’ve got a $15 trillion economy in the United States of America, the largest economy in the world,” he stated. “And it is unacceptable – Dr. King talked about it and Whitney Young talked about it – for there to be these vast oceans of poverty amid all the plenty. So many are doing well and so many people are left behind.”
He said many U.S. tax and trade policies are misguided.
“American public policy is focused on job creation,” Morial said. A significant part of it is focused on job creation in the wrong places. For example, there’s a huge infrastructure rebuilding program that the people of the United States are paying for. The problem is it’s for the reconstruction of and rebuilding of Bagdad. It’s for the reconstruction of Kandahar…Your and my tax dollars are being invested. That could be and should be redirected to Philadelphia, to Baltimore, to Boston. Secondly, United States trade and tax policies are encouraging job creation. But they are encouraging job creation in China, in India and overseas.”
Closer to home, far away from Iraq and Afghanistan, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., president and CEO of the Hip Hoop Caucus, said that unlike civil rights veterans, many youth are not eager to participate in marches.
“My generation just doesn’t want to march for marching’s sake,” he said. “We got to march for a reason. Trayvon is one reason. Voting rights is one reason. We much push for policy.”
Proving Yearwood’s point, a young member of the audience gnetly questioned the value of marching.
“I’m concerned about those who are tired of marching who have never marched,” Jackson said. He noted that all demonstrations were undertaken with specific goals in mind and marching is simply a means to an end.
“You say why march about voting?” he asked, rhetorically. “Well, that’s how we got it the first time. We did not get voting rights at a cocktail sip, trying to have racial harmony sessions. We got it by organizing and galvanizing and the only way we are going to make changes is by organizing and galvanizing.”
Morial said recent changes in federal student loan programs are threatening the existence of some historically Black colleges.
Recalling a recent conversation with Norman Francis, who has been president of Xavier University in New Orleans for 45 years, Morial recounted, “He said that the effect of the changes to the student loan program cost the member colleges of the United Negro College Fund $50 million.”
Morial said he heard similar stories from other HBCU presidents.
“I spoke the other night to the president of Lincoln University [in Pennsylvania]. This was a stunning piece of information. He said, ‘I’m going to lose half of my freshman class. They cannot come back.
“There is something deeply flawed when young people who have gone to high school, graduated from high school, gotten admitted to colleges and universities, successfully completed one year and cannot go back even if they have A’s and top-level scores. They can’t go back because of money.”
Morial said if the Federal Reserve can lend money to banks at zero interest rates, similar accommodations need to be made to save HBCUs.
In response to a question from a convention delegate about whether there should be a national boycott of Florida, Sharpton said he would support a boycott if it were “directed, disciplined and focused.” He said it should be carefully planned, saying, “You got to hurt who has hurt us.”
Jesse Jackson was less nuanced.
“I would make the case that when Stevie Wonder and those artists say let’s boycott Florida, boycott it,” Jackson said to loud applause. “If we can boycott South Africa and bring it down, we can surely boycott Florida and bring it down.”
The death of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old African American shot to death by George Zimmerman, was mentioned throughout the panel discussion as some leaders discussed how best to strike down Stand Your Ground laws, like the one in effect in Florida that imperils the lives of young Black men in particular.
“We are now right back where we were 50 years ago, where states are superseding our federal civil rights,” Sharpton said. “Trayvon Martin had the civil right to go home. State law gave Zimmerman the legal right to say, ‘I can move without any resistance and kill him.’ The federal government must supersede that.”
Jesse Jackson, quoting the first Black Supreme Court justice, added: “As Thurgood Marshall said, the law enslaved us, the law freed us, the law segregated us and now the law is leaving us unprotected.”
(For more information on preserving your voting rights, go to the Election Protection Website, www.866ourvote.org or reach them by telephone, 866-OURVOTE.)
August 01, 2013
By Alan Fram
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate voted in dramatic fashion Wednesday to approve one of President Barack Obama’s nominees. For Democrats to prevail, all it took was a last-ditch vote switch by one senator, a flight back from North Dakota by another and an afternoon roll call that stretched into the evening.
Five hours after the balloting started, the Senate voted to end Republican delaying tactics against B. Todd Jones, Obama’s pick to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It then voted in a comparatively instantaneous 29 minutes for his final confirmation, 53-42.
A defeat would have been a setback for Obama, who is trying to plug gaps in his second-term administration’s lineup, and dealt a blow to the recent cooperation between the two parties over allowing votes on the president’s nominees.
The lengthy roll call and the theatrics accompanying it nearly obscured that Jones’ approval marked a rare congressional victory for gun-control forces. His confirmation came three months after the Senate rejected Obama's drive to expand background checks for firearms buyers.
In a written statement, Obama applauded senators of both parties for confirming ATF’s first director in seven years — gridlock, he said, caused by Senate Republicans who “put politics ahead of the agency's law enforcement mission.”
Republicans have said Obama showed no urgency, waiting until November 2010 — almost two years after taking office — before naming his first nominee for the ATF, Andrew Traver, whom the Senate never acted on.
Obama nominated Jones weeks after the December massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 first-graders and six staffers. Jones, a former Marine, has been acting ATF director since 2011.
Gun control advocates backed Jones’ nomination, saying he would strengthen an agency long weakened by congressionally imposed restraints. With a national registry of gun owners forbidden by federal law, authorities face constraints when they want to trace firearms used in crimes.
For most of Wednesday afternoon, the Senate idled in neutral waiting for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., to fly back from her home state, where aides said she had taken ill. She then cast the 60th vote needed to end a GOP procedural blockade aimed at derailing Jones’ nomination.
But to get the 59th vote, Democrats earlier had to persuade Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to switch her initial vote.
In a prolonged spectacle played out largely in full view on the Senate floor, Democratic senators swarmed around Murkowski after she at first voted to support her party's delaying tactics.
As the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and other Democrats tried persuading her to switch, Republican senators joined the group, urging her not to change. More than a dozen lawmakers spent nearly an hour imploring Murkowski, first on the Senate floor and then in a private cloakroom.
She finally emerged from cloakroom and switched her vote.
She said in a written statement that she switched her vote after learning that Jones no longer was under investigation, as opponents had said he was, for his performance as U.S. attorney for Minnesota. She later voted against his confirmation.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who was in the middle of the crowd surrounding Murkowski, said Democrats also argued that blocking a vote on Jones “would have disrupted the relative and recent comity in the Senate.”
With an autumn of fights over the budget and other issues coming up, “The last thing we want to do is leave with some radioactive blowup,” Klobuchar said. Congress is due to leave for a five-week summer recess this weekend.
Most Senate roll calls take about 20 minutes.
The Senate Historian’s Office said that while it lacked exhaustive data on the longest-lasting Senate roll calls, the chamber’s 2009 vote on Obama's economic stimulus package lasted five hours and 15 minutes. It ended when Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, returned from a family funeral in Ohio to vote.
Many congressional Republicans have been harshly critical of the ATF, especially for its fumbled Fast and Furious Operation aimed at gun-smuggling across the Southwest border. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and others have also complained that Jones’ nomination should not move forward because of whistle-blower complaints against Jones involving his work as U.S. attorney for Minnesota.
Five other Republicans also voted Wednesday to end the blockade against Jones.
They included Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who came under pressure at home from gun control supporters after she opposed wider background checks in April. Ayotte, like Murkowski, voted against Jones’ confirmation.
When Obama nominated Jones, he seemed to face long odds for winning approval. But the politically potent National Rifle Association said this week that it was neutral about Jones, which even critics of Jones conceded was important.
Senators had planned to vote Wednesday to confirm Samantha Power to become ambassador to the United Nations. That roll call was postponed until Thursday.
August 01, 2013
By Frank Jordans
HALLE, Germany (AP) — Karamba Diaby makes his way through the historic heart of Halle with the speed of a seasoned politician: slowly. More than two decades of involvement in local politics means the 51-year-old immigrant can't go more than a few steps without being stopped for a chat.
Two months before Germany's general elections each handshake and greeting carries added significance because Diaby is intent on becoming the country's first black member of Parliament. He listens patiently to his constituents and responds in fluent German with a strong Franco-African accent, courtesy of his Senegalese origins.
Nationwide just 81 — or about 4 percent — of the candidates running for the roughly 600-member parliament in the Sept. 22 election have an immigrant background. It is the highest number yet but still far behind countries such as France and Britain. Most of the immigrant candidates belong to the Greens or the Social Democrats, while Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party has only six immigrants on its slate.
Diaby's Social Democrats badly need candidates who will pull in enough votes to hold onto the three seats they won in the state of Saxony-Anhalt in 2009. Diaby has been placed third on the party list, making him one of the few immigrants with a strong chance of being elected.
"I didn't throw my hat in the ring," he said, a touch apologetically. "I was asked by others."
In this picture taken July 25, 2013, Karamba Diaby, …
In this picture taken July 25, 2013, Karamba Diaby, a German Social Democratic Party candidate talks …
The decision to place him near the top of the ticket is all the more remarkable because, like other states in the former East Germany, Saxony-Anhalt has a reputation for being more hostile toward immigrants — especially those from outside Europe — than western parts of the country.
While the trained chemist is reluctant to criticize his adopted home — he moved to Halle in 1986 and gained German citizenship in 2001 — Diaby nevertheless acknowledges that he was once physically attacked because of the color of his skin.
Still, the father of two puts this down to the fact that under communist rule East Germans had limited exposure to immigrants and that time will change old habits.
Another tradition he would like to see broken is that politicians from ethnic minorities are automatically pigeonholed as experts on immigration. "I want everyone to talk about immigration, not just immigrants," he said.
Germany urgently needs immigrants to make up for the country's falling birthrate, though few politicians are prepared to campaign on the issue. Diaby's pet topic is education and how it can help people from all parts of society — immigrants, the unemployed, school dropouts — improve their lot.
In this picture taken July 25, 2013, Karamba Diaby, …
In this picture taken July 25, 2013, Karamba Diaby, a German Social Democratic Party, SPD, candidate …
To make his point, Diaby cites the story of Anton Wilhelm Amo, a former slave who became the first West African to study and teach at a European university about 300 years ago. By coincidence, it was the University of Halle.
As an example of the way black immigrants were treated in Germany, Amo's story remained unique for more than two centuries — except for the racism he reportedly endured, and that prompted him to return to West Africa.
That racism reached its horrendous peak with the Nazis' 12-year reign, which ended in 1945 with millions killed in death camps. Among them were many of Germany's small black community at the time, said Nkechi Madubuko, a Nigeria-born former athlete and TV presenter who has researched the history of Afro-Germans.
The biggest influx of African immigrants to Germany occurred in the post-war period, when newly liberated countries in Africa sent their best and brightest abroad to study. Diaby was one of them, receiving a scholarship to study in East Germany at a time when communist rule was slowly unraveling.
By 2005 there were about 200,000 people of African origin with full German citizenship, and about 303,000 more Africans with residency permits in Germany, said Madubuko.
While Afro-Germans have become more visible in recent years as athletes, actors and journalists, none has broken into national politics. This reflects the general lack of minority representation in German political life. Although nearly one in five people in this nation of 80 million are first-, second- or third- generation immigrants, only a handful has made it into the federal legislature — and most of them are ethnic Germans from eastern Europe.
Three have a parent who was born in India, another is of Iranian origin, while several more belong to Germany's sizeable Turkish community. Vice Chancellor Philipp Roesler is an ethnic Vietnamese who was adopted by German parents before he was a year old.
Ekin Deligoez, a member of the left-leaning Green Party whose family came to Germany from Turkey when she was a child, said immigrants were long discouraged from becoming involved in German politics by the country's restrictive citizenship rules and a general sense that they were not welcome.
"Every step of the way immigrants get the signal that they don't belong here," she told The Associated Press. "A foreign name will get you worse results in school, turned down for jobs, and rejected by landlords."
The period after 1990, when the unification of East and West Germany sparked a burst of nationalist sentiment, was particularly difficult, she said. But hostility remains today. "I'm pretty sure that some of the farmers in my Bavarian constituency still have a problem with me," she said.
Germany's political parties are beginning to accept that they can be represented by immigrants, even in senior positions, because of changes in the law over a decade ago that made it easier for immigrants to adopt German citizenship. This made them interesting as potential voters, said Madubuko.
"It's a whole new development for parties to actively court immigrants, rather than just use them for negative propaganda," she said. "So it would definitely be important for Afro-Germans if Mr. Diaby is elected."
Putting down his distinctive African-patterned briefcase to exchange Facebook contacts with two university students, Diaby said he hopes that his candidacy alone will encourage other immigrants to consider entering politics.
"The fact that I'd be first African-born lawmaker is not something I would want to dwell on," he said. "But a lot of eyes are on me and I hope they realize I'll be just one of over 600."