As President Barack Obama begins his second term, there is something noticeably different about his new cabinet - the absence of African-American leaders and advisors.
The Congressional Black Caucus chair, Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio recently sent the president a letter stating, “You have publicly expressed your commitment to retaining diversity within your cabinet. However, the people you have chosen to appoint in this new term have hardly been reflective of this country’s diversity.”
When one compares President Obama to his predecessors, the decrease in African-American appointments is astounding.
In American presidential history, President William Jefferson Clinton has been, by far, the most transformational leader.
Clinton appointed seven African-American cabinet members, the most of any president in history: Ron Brown as Secretary of Commerce; Mike Espy as Secretary of Agriculture; Hazel O’Leary as Secretary of Energy; Alexis Herman as Secretary of Labor; and Jesse Brown as Secretary of Veteran Affairs. President Clinton also appointed Togo West as Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Rodney Slater as Secretary of Transportation.
Compared to Obama, President George W. Bush also had more African-Americans in his cabinet, including the first African-American secretary of state and secretary of education, Colin Powell and Rod Paige, respectively. Bush also appointed Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state and Alphonso Jackson as secretary of housing and urban development.
For Obama, Eric Holder is the first African-American attorney general and the only African-American cabinet member of Obama’s administration.
In sum, when one compares the first African-American president to his recent predecessors, the number of African-Americans in senior cabinet positions is very disappointing: Clinton (7); Bush (4); and Obama (1). Obama has not moved African-American leadership forward, but backwards.
Moreover, while having African-Americans in senior cabinet positions does not guarantee an economic agenda that will advance Black people, it at least is a starting point and puts us in the driver’s seat. With President Obama, we are not in the driver’s seat - or even in the car.
For me, the absence of African-Americans in a second term is not only disrespectful to the Black community—who voted 96 percent for President Obama in 2008 and 93 percent in 2012, but also underscores a larger problem of economic and job opportunities for the Black community.
Indeed, if we objectively look at Obama’s presidency, African-Americans are in a worse position than they were before he became president. At the end of January 2009, unemployment for African-Americans was 12.7 percent. Four years later, the situation is worse, and unemployment is higher at 13.8 percent.
For those of you who have read my articles in The Philadelphia Tribune, you know I have been a very strong supporter of the president and worked hard to get him elected in 2008 and 2012.
Shortly after Obama announced his candidacy to run for the office of President of United States, in 2008 I hosted the first clergy breakfast in Philadelphia to encourage religious leaders to support his candidacy. This was a major gathering at the time, because both Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter were strong supporters of then-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, and were encouraging the clergy to support her and not Obama.
I supported then-Senator Obama not because he was Black, but because I truly believed in my heart that he was the best candidate to empathize, understand, and develop policies to help the African-American community, the poor, and previously under-represented communities.
To my disappointment, the president has not only failed the Black community, but also has failed to surround himself with qualified African-Americans who could develop policies to help the most disenfranchised.
The president’s agenda appears to be for everyone except Black people—his most loyal constituency.
In 2012, two prominent Philadelphia lawyers convened a meeting between White House senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett, and a cross-section of Philadelphia’s African-American leadership. The purpose of the meeting was to candidly discuss the president’s re-election strategy and policies toward African-Americans.
The meeting was initially cordial until I mustered the courage to ask Jarrett a question I have heard repeatedly in the African-American community, “Over the past four years, what has President Obama done to help Black people?”
After the question was raised, you could hear a pin drop in the room. Jarrett, who is known as the chief loyalist to the president, did not mince words when she responded to my question and proceeded to fire off the administration talking points: the passing of Obamacare, the increase in PELL grants, etc. She concluded her remarks by saying that we should support the president because “we are family.”
Moreover, when I raised additional questions about persistent high unemployment in the Black community and the lack of appointing an African-American to the United States Supreme Court (a move that could have real and lasting impact on the future of our community), Ms. Jarrett then went for the jugular and said, “The president is the president of all people and not just Black people.”
Jarrett is right. The president is the president of all people, but aren’t Black people part of the “all”? In the words of Langston Hughes, we “too sing America.”
Given the president’s poor record in catapulting an economic and empowerment agenda for the African-American community, we must begin asking the questions:
My questions do not suggest that we should necessarily change political affiliation, but they do suggest that the African-American community must hold political leaders accountable and change our strategy to ensure that we are fully engaged in the political process beyond November elections.
George Burrell, a member of my church, a well-known lawyer, and someone I respect, recently told a group of leaders that having an elected Black politician is not enough. He argues that having an African-American mayor, governor, or president does not guarantee, in and of itself, that the Black elected official’s agenda will be the same as the Black community. After much reflection, I agree with him.
In order for the African-American community to become “real” players in the political process, shaping a politician’s agenda, Burrell argues that the Black community must do what every other community is doing - control the politicians through money.
In the past, the African-American community has relied exclusively on our voting power to advance their agenda. However, voting power is meaningless when politicians are perpetually thinking about their next election and the financial resources they will need to win.
If Burrell is right, then this would be more of a reason why the president should have made appointments that would not only make a difference in our community but further break down barriers in our beloved country. President Obama is not running for re-election, and should have felt empowered to appoint a diverse cabinet and not one reflected of the status quo.
Hence, this is the main issue I have with President Obama and his second term: Obama is more of a historical leader than he is a transformational leader for the African-American community.
If President Obama does not make some changes soon, at the end of his presidency he will be known as a historical leader - the first African-American president, but not a transformational leader - the president who truly uplifted and catapulted Black people from cycles of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and despair.
As we observed across the nation the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, I hope that President Obama and others are reminded that we, too, have dreams that should and must be fulfilled.
As always, keep the faith.
Kevin R. Johnson, Ed.D. is the senior pastor of the Bright Hope Baptist Church.
Ask Americans how race relations have changed under their first Black president and they are ready with answers.
Ashley Ray, a white woman, hears more people debating racial issues. “I know a lot of people who really thought we were OK as a nation, a culture, and now they understand that we’re not,” she says.
Karl Douglass, a Black man, sees stereotypes easing. “White people deal with me and my family differently,” he says.
Jose Lozano, who is Hispanic by way of Puerto Rico, believes prejudice is emerging from the shadows. “Now the racism is coming out,” he says.
In the afterglow of Barack Obama’s historic victory, most people in the United States believed that race relations would improve. Nearly four years later, has that dream come true? Americans have no shortage of thoughtful opinions, and no consensus.
As the nation moves toward the multiracial future heralded by this son of an African father and white mother, the events of Obama’s first term, and what people make of them, help trace the racial arc of his presidency.
Shortly before the 2008 election, 56 percent of Americans surveyed by the Gallup organization said that race relations would improve if Obama were elected. One day after his victory, 70 percent said race relations would improve and only 10 percent predicted they would get worse.
Just weeks after taking office, Obama said, “There was justifiable pride on the part of the country that we had taken a step to move us beyond some of the searing legacies of racial discrimination.”
Then he joked, “But that lasted about a day.”
Or, rather, three months.
By July 2009, the Black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested for yelling at a white police officer who questioned whether Gates had broken into his own home. Asked to comment, Obama said he didn’t know all the facts, but Gates was a personal friend and the officer had acted “stupidly.”
The uproar was immediate. Obama acknowledged afterward, “I could’ve calibrated those words differently.”
Ed Cattaneo, a retired computer training manager from Cape May, N.J., points to that episode as evidence of how Obama has hurt race relations.
“He’s made them terrible,” says Cattaneo, who is white. He also sees Obama as siding against white people through actions such as his Justice Department’s decision to drop voter intimidation charges against New Black Panthers and in a program to turn out the Black vote called “African Americans for Obama.”
Larry Sharkey, also white, draws different conclusions from the past four years.
“Attitudes are much better,” Sharkey says as he slices raw meat in a Philadelphia butcher shop. He remembers welcoming a Black family that moved next door to him 20 years ago in Claymont, Del. A white neighbor advised him not to associate with the new arrivals, warning, “Your property values are going to go down.”
That kind of thing would never happen today, Sharkey says.
As Obama dealt with fallout from the Gates affair during the summer of 2009, the tea party coalesced out of opposition to Obama’s stimulus and health care proposals. The vast majority of tea partyers were white. A small number of them displayed racist signs or were connected to white supremacist groups, prompting the question: Are Obama’s opponents motivated by dislike of the president’s policies, his race — or both?
As that debate grew, Obama retreated to the race-neutral stance that has been a hallmark of his career. An October 2009 Gallup poll showed a large drop in racial optimism since the election, with 41 percent of respondents saying that race relations had improved under Obama. Thirty-five percent said there was no change and 22 percent said race relations were worse.
The president has discussed race in occasional speeches to groups such as the National Urban League or the National Council of La Raza, and in interviews with Hispanic and African-American media outlets. But he usually walks a careful line, allowing the nation to get used to the idea of a Black president without doing things to make race seem a central aspect of his governance.
“There is a totally different psychological frame of reference that this country has never had,” says William Smith, executive director of the National Center for Race Amity at Wheelock College.
He cites evidence of progress from the mindset of children in his programs to new history curriculums in Deep South schools.
“To me, that’s a quantum leap,” Smith says.
Douglass, a real estate agent from Columbus, Ga., says white people seem less surprised to see him with his wife and daughter in places such as an art museum or a foreign language school.
“I think white people deal with me and my family differently since an African-American man is leader of the free world and a nuclear Black family lives in the White House,” he says.
But Steven Chen, an Asian-American graduate student in Philadelphia, points to racial rhetoric he has heard directed toward Obama, in person and online, as proof that race relations have deteriorated.
He also has observed a more visible sign of division: fewer Obama T-shirts.
“When he was elected, it was an American thing. People of all races wore them,” says Chen. “Today it’s a distinctly Black phenomenon.”
Ray, a graduate school administrator from Chicago, is uncertain whether race relations have remained the same or gotten worse.
It’s good that people are talking about race more, she says, “but I know quite a few people who are sick of those discussions and blame him for all of it.”
In the summer of 2010, race and politics collided again when Arizona Republicans passed an immigration law that critics said would lead to racial profiling of Hispanics.
Lozano, the police sergeant, remembers that when Obama visited Arizona and met with the governor, who supported the law, she wagged an angry finger in the president’s face.
“That was ugly, I’ve never seen anything like that,” says Lozano, who also is vice president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers. “There’s no way that would have ever happened to a white president.”
By the fall of 2010, Republicans had triumphed in the midterm elections and made history by electing Hispanic and Indian-American governors in New Mexico, South Carolina, and Nevada. Two Black Republicans also went to Congress, from South Carolina and Florida.
Less than a year later, an August 2011 Gallup poll showed a further decline in racial optimism: 35 percent said race relations had improved due to Obama’s election, 41 percent said no change, and 23 percent said things were worse.
Around this time, some African-American lawmakers and pundits openly complained about the president’s refusal to specifically target any programs at high Black unemployment. An interviewer from Black Entertainment Television asked Obama why not.
“That’s not how America works,” Obama replied.
Then came this February’s killing of unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is from Peru. Authorities initially declined to charge Zimmerman with a crime, causing a polarizing uproar.
This time, when asked about the case, Obama delivered a carefully calibrated message. He said all the facts were not known, the legal system should take its course — and that “if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.”
The comment was factual, but it still strikes Cattaneo as a coded message to Black people that Obama is on their side. “A lot of people I talk to can’t understand why a man who’s half-white and half-Black is so anti-white.”
This April, in a poll by the National Journal and the University of Phoenix, 33 percent felt race relations were getting better, 23 percent said they were getting worse, and 42 percent said they were staying about the same.
So where are we now?
Four years after Obama smashed the nation’s highest racial barrier, and less than four months before America will decide whether he deserves a second term, the nation is uncertain about the meaning of a Black president.
Recently, Obama was asked in a Rolling Stone magazine interview if race relations were any different than when he took office.
“I never bought into the notion,” Obama said, “that by electing me, somehow we were entering into a post-racial period.” — (AP)
DAVENPORT, Iowa — President Barack Obama asked the Iowans who first voted for him as president to give him another chance to accomplish his goals, including the immigration overhaul that he predicts Republicans will want to accomplish if they are defeated in the White House race.
The president kicked off the busiest day of his re-election campaign with an appeal to the Iowa voters who selected him in the first-in-the-nation Democratic caucus in 2008. Obama later won the state in the general election, but it's a toss-up this year against Republican Mitt Romney and a suffering economy. Romney planned to visit the state later Wednesday with a stop in Cedar Rapids.
Obama, speaking to a crowd of 3,500 before falling yellow leaves at the Mississippi Valley Fairground, acknowledged he hasn't done all he set out to do four years ago. But he said he's been fighting for the people every day he's been in office.
"This is where it got started, Iowa," Obama said. "I believe in you, and I'm asking you to keep believing in me."
One of the goals he hasn't been able to meet is his promise to overhaul the nation's immigration system in his first year in office. He said he was confident he could pass reform in 2013 if re-elected because he said Republicans will have learned their lesson and will have "have a deep interest in getting that done."
The president originally made the comments Tuesday in an off-the-record interview with The Des Moines Register in pursuit of its endorsement. His campaign released the transcript Wednesday under pressure from the newspaper.
"Since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt," Obama said. "Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community."
Obama also predicted he would get a so-called "grand bargain" on the deficit within the first six months but says it "will probably be messy."
The Romney campaign criticized another part of the interview in which Obama said he had no regrets for focusing on health care instead of the economy during his first two years in office. He rejected the notion that he could have accomplished more on the economy if he hadn't been pursuing health care reform.
Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said Obama didn't learn from his mistake.
"In the face of a struggling economy, President Obama took his eye off the ball, and spent over a year focused on passing Obamacare - a massive government takeover of health care that cuts Medicare for today's seniors, raises taxes on millions of middle-class families and impedes job creation," she said in a statement.
The two candidates were picking up their pace of travel with just 13 days left in the election. Their mission remains to sway the small pool of undecided voters, but their increasing emphasis is to implore their millions of supporters to vote, particularly in the battleground states that allow early ballots to be cast.
With polls showing more women backing Romney in recent weeks, Obama's campaign tried to tie his rival to a Republican Senate candidate's comments on rape.
Richard Mourdock, who is running for Senate in Indiana, said during a debate Tuesday that when a woman becomes pregnant during a rape "that's something God intended."
Obama spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki told reporters that the president finds Mourdock's comments "outrageous and demeaning to women." Romney's campaign has said he does not agree, but Psaki said it was "perplexing" that Romney hasn't demanded Mourdock take down the ad he taped endorsing the candidate.
Romney traveled Wednesday to Reno, Nev., and then planned to stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before a three-stop swing in Ohio on Thursday. He got some help on the airwaves in seven swing states from actor Clint Eastwood, who filmed an ad backing Romney for the Republican independent group American Crossroads. Eastwood says a second Obama term would be a "rerun of the first and our country just couldn't survive that."
Obama's campaign came out with a new 30-second ad Wednesday using the lesson of the 2000 Florida recount to urge its supporters to get vote. The ad points out that just 537 votes in that one state decided that election.
"If you're thinking your vote doesn't count, that it won't matter, well, back then, there were probably at least 537 people who felt the same way," the narrator says, speaking over images of war, economic collapse and ballot counting in Florida.
Obama was to campaign nearly around the clock Wednesday in what he told the Iowa crowd was "a 48-hour, fly-around marathon campaign extravaganza."
"We're going to pull an all-nighter. No sleep," Obama beamed as the end of the long campaign closed in.
His day was taking him from Washington to Iowa, Colorado, California and Nevada, and then overnight to Florida. Not stopping to sleep in a hotel was meant to signal spirit and drive — although, with a comfortable suite on Air Force One, Obama was hardly crashing out in the coach section for his red-eye flight.
It was the first time Obama was spending the night on his plane for a domestic trip, but far from unprecedented for an incumbent scrambling to keep his job.
Across the miles, Obama was holding rallies from morning to night, appearing on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno and calling some voters from the plane. It is the first half of a two-day trip that will see him going to Florida, Virginia and Ohio on Thursday, with a stop sandwiched in for him to cast his vote in Chicago.
With Obama holding an edge in the uncontested states, Romney must win more of the battlegrounds to reach the minimum 270 electoral votes for the presidency. Those states are Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and New Hampshire.
All of them will be drawing enormous personal attention from Romney and Obama, their wives, their running mates and other surrogates through Nov. 6.
From the Romney campaign, aides to Ryan were casting his speech Wednesday at Cleveland State University as a significant pitch.
He was to argue that Americans stuck in poverty cannot afford four more years like the past four. Ryan also planned to tell voters that Romney offers a better pathway for low-income Americans to improve their lives through opportunity and upward mobility, including school choice and public-private partnerships. -- (AP)
Summer jobs program, payroll tax cut could put many back to work
As the recession looms and families figure out how to pay the bills and keep their homes, no other segment of society has been hit harder than Black people. For more than 1.4 million African Americans, weeks have turned into months, and months into years.
It’s no secret, throughout President Barack Obama’s term in office, he has been criticized incessantly by pundits and those within the Congressional Black Caucus, who feel that he has not done enough to help African Americans in general.
So when he went before Congress last week with his $450 billion jobs bill, many wondered how this bill — providing it passes the GOP-controlled House intact — would significantly help people of color, particularly African Americans.
“It will be an extraordinary benefit to well over a million and half African American people…who are unemployed, because of the way the program is structured,” said U.S. Rep. Chaka Fatah, a Democrat who represents Pennsylvania’s second congressional district. “It will provide benefits to the long-term unemployed. There is a tax benefit to a company that hires someone who has been unemployed for more than six months. The bill also focuses on veterans and there are parts of the program that will help young people who are out of work as well.”
Here are some reasons why the president’s new Jobs Bill can help African Americans:
• The extension of unemployment insurance will benefit 1.4 million African- Americans and their families. At the same time, the president is proposing bipartisan reforms that will enable that — as these families continue to receive benefits — the program is better tailored to support re-employment for the long-term unemployed.
• Targeted support for the long-term unemployed could help the 1.4 million African-Americans who have been looking for work for more than six months: To help them in their search for work, the president is calling for a new tax credit for hiring the long- term unemployed.
• A commitment to rebuilding and revitalizing communities across the country will target investments to the communities hardest-hit by the recession. The president’s investments in infrastructure include a school construction initiative with a significant commitment to the largest urban school districts, an investment in revitalizing communities that have been devastated by foreclosures, and a new initiative to expand infrastructure employment opportunities for minorities, women, and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
• Support for subsidized jobs and summer/year-round jobs for African-American youth — for whom unemployment is above 30 percent. In an environment with an unemployment rate of 32.4 percent for African-American youths, the president is proposing to build on successful programs like the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund to create jobs and provide training for those hardest-hit by the recession.
• An extension and expansion of the payroll tax cut for nearly 20 million African-American workers. By extending the payroll tax cut for employees next year and expanding it to cut payroll taxes in half, the president’s plan will help increase the paychecks of nearly 20 million African-American workers.
The early response to the bill has been favorable amongst Blacks, who had grown weary with the president throughout the years. Many felt he was indifferent to their needs.
Many hope the president’s Jobs Bill will translate into reduced misery for them over the coming months. While the country's unemployment rate stands at 9.1 percent, Black unemployment has hit 16.7 percent, the highest since 1984. Unemployment among male blacks is at 18 percent, and black teens are unemployed at a rate of 46.5 percent.
“Particularly in the African-American community, which often times has been expected to flourish and thrive without any investment at all and have done so in spite of a lack of resources, I think this (jobs bill) will be something that will be welcomed in our community and will be significant,” said Cindy Bass, the nominee for City Council for the Eight District. “I think it will be beneficial when it comes to employment readiness and opening up job opportunities for people of color. More than we have seen in quit sometime."
Prominent African-Americans like Kenneth Chenault, chairman and CEO of American Express and Mayor Michael Nutter, quickly applauded the plan. U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who has been one of the most vocal advocates for dealing more effectively with Black unemployment, was enthusiastic.
For the president, it was a welcome change in tone after a steady drumbeat of criticism from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who held their own job fairs and town hall meetings while protesting that Obama's jobs tour across America last month bypassed black communities.
The caucus' urban blitz cleared a path for the country's first Black president to act, Waters said.
"I can see that our handprint is all over it," Waters said of Obama's plan. "We upped the ante a little bit by pushing, being a bit more vocal. This was not done in a way to threaten the president but to make it easier for him. We think we helped him to be able to formulate a response."
The jobs plan was praised by Ralph Everett, president and chief executive of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a nonpartisan black think tank.
Although the president did not specifically mention high unemployment among blacks, black people "are sophisticated enough to understand" how their communities will benefit, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said Friday.
"Obviously there is a debate raging, saying that we should come out and say this expressly for the Black and Latino community," Kirk said. "But this president got elected spectacularly on his premise that we are not a black America, a brown America, a white America. We are one America."
The White House moved quickly to capitalize politically on the good will, emailing an extraordinary blast of supportive statements from elected officials, union leaders and interest groups within minutes after Obama spoke Thursday night.
On Friday, while the president pushed his American Jobs Act in Richmond, Va., his aides promoted targeted relief to Hispanics, teachers, police officers, construction workers, small businesses and others.
Administration officials said the plan would extend unemployment benefits and provide support for 1.4 million blacks who have been unemployed six months or longer. It also would provide summer and subsidized jobs for youth; help boost the paychecks of 20 million black workers through an extension and expansion of the payroll tax, and benefit, in some way, more than 100,000 black-owned small businesses.
"With over 16 percent of African-Americans out of work and over 1 million African-Americans out of work over six months, I think the president believes this is a serious problem and the onus is on us to do everything we can to tackle this," Danielle Gray, deputy director of the National Economic Council, told reporters.
White House adviser Valerie Jarrett promoted Obama's plan on Steve Harvey's syndicated morning radio show, saying it would help "every part of our country, but particularly those who are the most vulnerable, who have been struggling the hardest, who have been trying to make ends meet and all they need is a little help from their government."
A factor in the early enthusiasm in Obama's plan with blacks is that most accept that, as the country's first black president, there are limits to what he can do about their specific problems — especially as he heads into the 2012 campaign.
“Obviously the president cares about the African American community as he does all Americans,” said Fattah. “This bill will benefit the African American community and the broader community as whole, because the minute someone goes to work, they start spending money. And that’s what stimulates the economy. It will have significant benefits in cities like Philadelphia, Detroit, Cincinnati, Chicago and the likes. I think what the president has done is structure a program that deals with the hardest hit communities.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Some argue agenda to revise state’s Electoral College will undermine Democrats
Many Democrats see the drive to change the way Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes are counted — a movement that seems to be gathering momentum — as a blatant attempt to block President Barack Obama from winning Pennsylvania in 2012. Republicans tout the plan as a way to give individual voters more power in the voting booth.
“They are determined that he is going to be a one term president,” said state Rep. Ron Waters (D-Philadelphia/Delaware), head of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus. “Many of my colleagues believe that voters gave them a mandate to carry out their agenda — not the voters’ agenda, but their agenda.”
Since 1804, Pennsylvania’s electoral votes have all gone to the candidate who won a popular majority in the state. In 2008 that was Obama.
Now, state Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-Chester/Delaware) wants to change that.
Pileggi suggested changes to Electoral College rules earlier this week and is expected to introduce legislation that would allocate electoral votes by congressional district rather than through the winner-take-all system.
“There is no question that our current winner-take-all system for choosing electors does not reflect the diversity of Pennsylvania,” said Pileggi when he announced his plan. “This proposal will more fairly align Pennsylvania’s electoral college votes with the results of the popular vote.”
Pennsylvania will have 20 electoral votes in the 2012 presidential election; one for each member of the U.S. House of Representatives and one for each senator. Pileggi’s plan would give voters statewide the chance to choose two presidential electors. The others would be chosen based on the vote for president in each congressional district.
“There is no mistaking that this is nothing other than a blatant attempt by Republicans to have a lopsided, unfair playing field for national elections,” said state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery).
Hughes went on to add to his concerns that by breaking up the block of Pennsylvania electoral votes the move would sideline Pennsylvania in national elections.
“Doing so makes Pennsylvania, a state that is at the forefront during national elections, irrelevant,” he said.
With its 20 electoral votes, Pennsylvania is among the six most influential states in presidential elections ranking with: Illinois, which also has 20 votes; New York and Florida, which have 29 each; Texas, which has 38; and California, which tops the list with 55. Obama carried all but Texas in the 2008 election.
Only two states currently break up their electoral votes: Maine and New Hampshire with four votes each.
But at the moment, the idea seems likely to sail through the state House and Senate, both controlled by Republicans, and has the governor’s support.
Gov. Tom Corbett, also a Republican, said this week that he would support the measure.
“It will allow the people across the state to be better represented when it comes to the vote for president,” Corbett said during a radio interview Thursday on WPHT-AM (1210) in Philadelphia. He added that the issue was not driven by partisanship but intended to give a wider voice to Pennsylvania voters.
This is a talking point shared by Pileggi.
“It will also make individual votes across the state more important, giving voters a more significant say in presidential elections,” he said.
The timing has raised suspicion among Democrats.
“Why change it now, except for there is an agenda,” he said. “It’s been good enough thus far.”
If adopted, the new system would dilute influence of Philadelphia and the surrounding counties, all Democratic strongholds.
“If they vote strongly like they did for Obama, [Republicans] know that once we set our minds and vote for a candidate that for the most part we can drive what takes part in Pennsylvania,” Waters said. “They want to do everything they can to minimize that power.”
Waters also cautioned that Republicans have more voting changes in mind — including voter identification cards.
“Why are we doing this?” he asked. “It’s only a way, in my opinion, to disrupt voters and say they are not even going to get involved.”
DURHAM, N.C. — Wilma Dillard took over her family's barbecue restaurant in 1997, after her father's death. But this spring — with her blue-collar customers cutting back, and the banks unwilling to extend the usual credit — she was forced to close the 58-year-old Durham eatery and lay off her dozen employees.
"I could hear my father telling me, 'Wilma, it's time for you to get out of the waters. The water's a little too rough for you right now,'" the 51-year-old former school teacher says. "'Bring it into dock, and maybe it can sail again at a later day.'"
On Thursday, she and millions of other recession-weary Americans sat rapt before their televisions as President Barack Obama told Congress that later isn't soon enough.
"They need help," Obama said in pushing his nearly $450 billion American Jobs Act. "And they need it now."
Dillard took heart; she proclaimed herself "inspired" by Obama's speech, and pleased to see Republicans applauding some of his comments. This economic crisis, she said, "shouldn't be settled at the ballot boxes."
Dillard is an optimist, unlike many others who watched Obama's speech. They hold all sorts of opinions about his proposals, but hovering over it all is skepticism that the ferocious partisanship of recent months can be overcome, and that anything will be done.
Marc Epstein liked what the president was saying. He just didn't care for the WAY he said it. Epstein, owner of Boston-based Milk Street Café, said he would have preferred something less "pugnacious."
Epstein, 53, opened his first "food hall" in Boston in 1981 and employs 65 people there. In June, he used a loan guaranteed by the Small Business Administration to open a second location on Wall Street in New York City, putting 107 more people to work.
He took advantage of the down economy — and an empty space in a prime location — to expand.
"I feel that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, which is create jobs," he said.
He wants to see more of what he was able to benefit from — the public/private partnership between the SBA and his bank. But he's not sure Obama's approach is likely to create the kind of bipartisan feeling that will make that happen. "I don't know if it's going to be dead on arrival," he said of Obama's proposal.
Watching House Speaker John Boehner's body language, Roy Dabbs agreed.
"He's sitting back like, 'Oh, no. I'm not touching this baby,'" said Dabbs, 64, of Elkhart, Ind., who was laid off in January 2010 from his $68,500-a-year job as an operations manager for an Illinois packaging company. "I think they're going to fight it."
Ansha Saunders, of Redwood City, Calif., worried that the speech only served to highlight the divide between Obama and Republicans, big business and the average worker.
Saunders, 35, was laid off in March from a job in accounts receivable for the credit card industry. She's been going to career fairs, hoping to land something that will take advantage of her master's degree in information systems.
"I get the concerns by business owners about closing tax loopholes, because that's how they've been profitable," she said.
"I want to be optimistic that Congress will really not just use this (downturn) to say, 'We want a Republican in next year,' but really look to the benefit the U.S. economy, the people who are out of work, and compromise."
But David J. Tufts thought the president struck just the right tone. When Tufts joined The Marketing Directors in 2007, the Atlanta-based real estate marketing company was in expansion mode. By the end of 2009, the luxury condominium market in "Hotlanta" had cooled.
"Rather than fire people, we got together as a group and said we're going to be all in this together and keep it going," Tufts recalled. "It was a watershed moment for our company, and we were ready for the rebound. Unfortunately, the rebound has yet to come."
There have been few hires in the past two years, and no salary increases. This summer, he gave employees every other Friday off.
He said Obama "came on strong," because he had to.
"He said he's going to take it to the public," Tufts said. "I think he made his case very well that sometimes you have to spend money to make money. ... The logjam needs to be broken."
Others reveled in Obama's tough talk. "My immediate reaction is 'Wow! That's the guy I voted for,'" said Erik Berg, 43, who teaches at the John D. Philbrick Elementary School in Boston's Roslindale neighborhood. "Where's he been for the last 2 1/2 years?"
He particularly liked Obama's dig at members of Congress who've pledged never to vote for a tax hike on the wealthy.
"I don't know how our country has come to a point where we cuddle billionaires and we vilify working people, particularly public sector workers," he said.
Lincoln Newey, of Utah's Salt Lake Valley, said he liked the way Obama "took it to the tea party." Laid off in early 2009 by the limousine company he managed, the 49-year-old MBA with two decades of marketing and communications experience feels lucky to have a part-time job providing financial advice to seniors.
"It's an hourly wage, but it's the best hourly wage I've seen in a while," he said.
The way Newey sees it, nothing short of a "man on the moon" plan that ignores the clamor for reduced federal spending will shake the economy out of the doldrums.
Joe Olivo, though, was not impressed by the president's proposals. The owner of Perfect Printing in Moorestown, N.J., has had a good year so far. Revenue has grown 20 percent, back up to pre-recession levels. But he's still skittish from 2008, when revenue plunged 25 percent in a single month — the worst drop since he opened shop in 1979.
Olivo has 45 employees and could use a few more. But he's wary of reaching that magic payroll of 50, at which point health care reforms would mandate he provide employee health insurance or pay a fee beginning in 2014.
"That is a huge cloud," said Olivo, who has gotten by with temporary workers and has postponed buying new equipment. He said the president's proposals — such as the tax credit for hiring veterans — show he doesn't understand small business.
"They don't have the time or resources to file the paperwork to get those credits," he said. "There was nothing (in the speech) to convince me, 'Start investing again.'"
Back in Durham, Wilma Dillard swung by the restaurant Thursday to check on things, just as she does every few days. She's still paying the utilities, waiting — and hoping.
On a wall in the silent banquet room out back, the nation's first black president stares out from a framed, enlarged copy of an Ebony magazine cover. "IN OUR LIFETIME," the headline declares.
"This country cannot go down the tube — I just don't think it will," she said. "But we've got to come together. We've got to have unity. The parties have to come together and WORK together as one. This hand cannot fight this hand and expect for the body to be whole." -- (AP)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Southern Baptist leader apologized this week for any hurt caused by explosive remarks accusing President Barack Obama and other Black leaders of exploiting Trayvon Martin's death for political gain.
"I am writing to express my deep regret for any hurt or misunderstanding my comments about the Trayvon Martin case have generated," Richard Land wrote in letter to Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright. "It grieves me to hear that any comments of mine have to any degree set back the cause of racial reconciliation in Southern Baptist or American life."
The head of the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy arm, Land also issued an apology for not telling listeners to his radio show that several of his comments were not his own, but were taken from an editorial in the Washington Times.
He faced plagiarism allegations over the weekend after blogger Aaron Weaver did an Internet search on Land's comments.
Weaver is a doctoral student of religion and politics at Baylor University. He said he was surprised that Land would lift his commentary from another source.
"He's a pretty articulate guy," Weaver said. But Weaver said he also found it troubling because Land, as president of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for 23 years, is the denomination's ethicist.
Land issued a statement on Monday calling the lack of attribution an oversight. He said there was no attempt to deceive his listeners and that he always provides links to his source material on his website.
"I am grateful this oversight was brought to my attention. One can always do better and I certainly pledge to do so," the statement reads.
Land declined to be interviewed for this story.
Martin was fatally shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman on Feb. 26 in the central Florida town of Sanford. Zimmerman said he fired his 9 mm handgun after Martin attacked and beat him. Martin's family and supporters claim Zimmerman was the aggressor, targeting the unarmed Martin for suspicion mainly because he was Black. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother Hispanic.
Last week, Florida prosecutors charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder in Martin's death. Zimmerman, who is claiming self-defense, faces up to life in prison if convicted.
As of late last week, Land had said that he stood by his assertion that Obama "poured gasoline on the racialist fires" when he addressed the killing of Martin.
Land had alleged that Obama and two civil rights activists — the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton — had used the case "to try to gin up the Black vote for an African American president who is in deep, deep, deep trouble for re-election." Land, who is white, had also said he was confident that a vast majority of Southern Baptists agreed with him.
His comments came at a time when the nation's largest Protestant denomination is trying to broaden its appeal beyond its traditional white, Southern base. And Southern Baptists say their efforts have been working.
SBC spokesman Roger S. Oldham has said that ethnic congregations made up about 13 percent of SBC churches in 1998. That had increased to 18 percent by 2008, with African-American and Hispanic congregations each making up about 6 percent of SBC churches, Asian churches at about 3 percent and other ethnic churches making up another 3 percent.
Last year, the 16-million-member denomination for the first time elected a Black pastor to its No. 2 position of first vice president. The Rev. Fred Luter is expected to become the first Black president of the SBC at this year's annual meeting in June.
Luter was among those concerned that Land's remarks could hurt the denomination's efforts to diversify.
In his letter of apology, Land reiterates his commitment to racial reconciliation, noting his key role in the SBC's 1995 apology for past support of slavery and racism.
"I look forward to the day when our convention membership reflects the ethnic and demographic diversity of the general population, with no difference between Southern Baptists and the nation," the letter reads.
While this week's letter does not appear to apologize for the substance of the comments, Land does commit himself to addressing controversial issues with more sensitivity in the future.
"I appreciate him coming forth and giving the apology," James Dixon Jr., president of the SBC's National African American Fellowship, said in an interview Tuesday. "I accept his apology and I hope this has been a teaching moment for him."
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin, who has been one of the chief promoters of Fred Luter's presidency, tweeted, "Thankful. Wish he had said more. 4give. Move 4ward." -- (AP)
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will nominate Mary Jo White to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, tapping an attorney with broad experience in prosecuting white-collar crimes to lead an agency that has a central role in implementing Wall Street reform.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama would announce White’s nomination during a ceremony in the State Dining Room Thursday afternoon.
“She’s got an incredibly impressive résumé,” Carney said. “The president is very pleased to be able to nominate her.”
At the same event, Obama will renominate Richard Cordray to serve as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a White House official said. The president used a recess appointment last year to circumvent Congress and install Cordray as head of the bureau. That appointment expires at the end of this year.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the nomination before the president announces it.
White spent nearly a decade as the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, building a reputation as a tough prosecutor with an expertise in pursuing white-collar crimes and complex securities and financial fraud cases. White House officials say that experience makes her well-positioned to implement Obama’s Wall Street reform legislation.
While serving as U.S. attorney, White also won convictions related to the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
If confirmed by the Senate, White would take over the helm at the SEC from Elisse Walter, who is serving out the rest of former SEC chairwoman Mary Schapiro’s term. Schapiro resigned in December.
In 2000, White led the criminal prosecution of more than 100 people — including members of all five New York crime families — accused of strong-arming brokers and manipulating prices of penny stocks. The action was called one of the biggest crackdowns on securities fraud in U.S. history at the time.
White’s office also won a record $606 million in restitution from the securities arm of the Republic New York Corp. bank in 2001. That year, the bank pleaded guilty to conspiring with an investment adviser to hide hundreds of millions of dollars in losses from Japanese investors.
Cordray has run the consumer bureau since last year, when Obama used a recess appointment to install him in the job. Senate Republicans had opposed Cordray, as well as the concept of the consumer bureau.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., first conceived of the idea of a consumer protection bureau. Obama considered naming her to lead the bureau, but her nomination would likely have run into deep opposition on Capitol Hill.
White, 65, currently heads the litigation department at law firm Debevoise & Plimpton.
She was the first woman to hold the position of U.S. attorney in Manhattan, one of the most prestigious positions in federal law enforcement. During her tenure from 1993 to 2002, White won convictions of white-collar criminals, drug traffickers and international terrorists. The most notable was Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
She also led the prosecution of mob boss John Gotti when she was acting U.S. attorney in Brooklyn in 1992. Gotti died in prison in 2002.
If confirmed by the Senate, White would be the first prosecutor to head the 79-year-old SEC. Most SEC chairmen traditionally have come from Wall Street or the ranks of private securities lawyers. The choice of White is likely intended to bolster the agency’s enforcement profile in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
White’s background differs sharply from that of Schapiro, who stepped down last month after guiding the agency in the four years after the crisis. Schapiro worked at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the securities industry’s self-policing organization. Some consumer advocates have said that Schapiro’s experience as CEO of FINRA made her more likely to seek compromise and less likely to aggressively pursue misconduct.
During Shapiro’s tenure, the SEC reached major settlements with the biggest banks on Wall Street, including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Citibank. But critics said the penalties were small compared with the banks’ revenues. And they complained that no senior executives were held accountable.
White would be expected to give high priority to expanding the enforcement efforts.
At the same time, much of the pressing work facing the agency involves writing new rules. The SEC is seeking stricter rules for money-market mutual funds and must get into shape the so-called Volcker Rule, which would bar banks from making certain trades for their own profit.
As head of litigators at Debevoise & Plimpton, White has represented a number of financial institutions likely to have crossed swords with the SEC in enforcement cases. Her clients also included former Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis, whom she represented in a 2010 civil lawsuit by then-New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo accusing Lewis of misleading shareholders in the bank’s merger with Merrill Lynch.
White also represented the largest U.S. hospital chain, HCA, in the insider-trading investigations by the SEC and the Justice Department of former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, whose family owned HCA. The investigations were closed in 2007 with no charges filed against Frist. — (AP)
Long-term unemployment impairs recovery
The Black unemployment rate has surged to a 27-year high.
The U.S. Labor Department recently reported that Black unemployment rose to 16.7 percent in August, while the rate for whites fell to eight percent.
Black unemployment has risen to its highest level since 1984.
Christian E. Weller, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, says there are varying reasons why high rates of unemployment continue to persist among African Americans.
Weller said the phenomenon of high unemployment spans across all subgroups of African Americans — whether you look at it by gender, age or educational attainment.
One reason has to do with economic impact on sectors that traditionally employed African Americans. For instance, Weller noted that Black men tend to be disproportionately employed in manufacturing, while Black women traditionally work in the areas of teaching and administrative jobs in local governments.
“To some degree this is a story about sectors — the sectors where African Americans have found job opportunities in the past — but those sectors are suffering more than other parts of the economy where African Americans are less represented,” said Weller.
“The other part is that unemployment sort of creates a vicious cycle. We have now had about 10 years of very high long-term unemployment. Once people lost their job, they were out of a job for long periods of time,” he said.
Weller says that when people are out of work for a long period of time, they start falling behind in terms of using their skills and keeping up with the latest technology being used in their fields — making them even less attractive to potential employers.
Algernon Austin, director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy, Economy Policy Institute is concerned that government budget cuts could lead to more job loss for African Americans.
“Because the federal government wants to join in and make cuts, we’re going to continue to see shrinking employment in the federal, state and local levels,” Austin said.
“African Americans are disproportionately in the public sector — particularly Blacks with college degrees. I am worried about job loss for the Black middle class going forward.”
Economist Bernard Anderson says that there are both short-term and long-term solutions to the problem of high unemployment for African Americans.
He said the short-term solution is to get the economy growing faster.
“If it’s one thing we know about the variability of employment in the Black community, it is that there is a direct relationship between the rate of growth in Black employment and the rate of growth in the economy as a whole. They will be employed if the economy is growing faster and there is a significant increase in the demand for labor,” said Anderson.
“The long-term solution is for Black workers to become more employable in those industries that are likely to grow fastest,” he said, noting this will require more education and more training.
“There aren’t many jobs available in this economy for people who don’t have a good education.”
According to the Labor Department, the nation’s general unemployment rate is 9.1 percent. The number of long-term unemployed — those jobless for 27 weeks or more — was six million in August and accounted for 42.9 percent of the unemployed. There was zero net increase in jobs during the month of August.
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — President Barack Obama signed into law Friday a major overhaul of the nation's patent system to ease the way for inventors to bring their products to market. "We can't afford to drag our feet any longer," he said.
Passed in a rare display of congressional bipartisanship, the America Invents Act is the first significant change in patent law since 1952. It has been hailed as a milestone that will spur innovation and create jobs.
The bill is meant to ensure that the patent office, now facing a backlog of 1.2 million pending patents, has the money to expedite the application process. It now takes an average of three years to get a patent approved. More than 700,000 applications have yet to be reviewed.
"Somewhere in that stack of applications could be the next technological breakthrough, the next miracle drug," Obama said. "We should be making it easier and faster to turn new ideas into jobs."
The president signed the bill after touring Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., where he examined student projects, including a wheelchair that responds to brain waves. Obama at one point had to step aside as he admired the technological displays. "I don't want a robot to run over me," he said.
The law aims to streamline the patent process and reduce costly legal battles. It was backed by companies including Google and Apple as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Small-scale inventors are divided, with some arguing that the law will give the edge to big corporations.
Obama was joined at the signing ceremony by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the two main sponsors of the legislation. -- (AP)