March 06, 2014

By Alan Fram

Associated Press

 

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama sent Congress a $3.9 trillion budget Tuesday that would funnel money into road building, education and other economy-bolstering programs, handing Demo­crats a playbook for their election-year themes of creating jobs and narrowing the income gap between rich and poor.

The blueprint for fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1, is laden with populist proposals designed to fortify those goals. It includes new spending for pre-school education and job training, expanded tax credits for 13.5 million low-income workers without children and more than $1 trillion in higher taxes over the next decade, mostly for the wealthiest Americans.

“As a country, we’ve got to make a decision if we’re going to protect tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans or if we’re going to make smart investments necessary to create jobs and grow our economy and expand opportunity for every American,” Obama told students at an elementary school in the nation’s capital.

With an eye in part on job creation, money would be spent to upgrade highways and railroads, Veterans Affairs hospitals and national parks. Additional funds would be aimed at clean energy research, creating 45 public-private manufacturing institutes for spurring innovation and training workers whose companies have closed or moved.

To help pay for those initiatives and others and trim federal deficits as well, Obama relies in part on higher revenue.

He would raise $651 billion by limiting tax deductions for the nation’s highest earners and with a “Buffett tax” — named for billionaire Warren Buffett — slapping minimum levies on the highest-earning people. Taxes would also be raised on large estates, financial institutions, tobacco products, airline passengers and managers of private investment funds.

Congress has ignored those revenue proposals and many of Obama’s spending ideas before. With the entire House and one-third of the Senate facing re-election in November, campaign-year pressures and gridlock between the Demo­cratic-led Senate and Republican dominated House all but ensure that few of the president’s initiatives will go far.

“The president has offered perhaps his most irresponsible budget yet,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has participated in two failed rounds of deficit-reduction talks with Obama since 2011. “American families looking for jobs and opportunity will find only more government in this plan.”

“The president’s budget is yet another disappointment because it reinforces the status quo,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “It would demand that families pay more so Washington can spend more.”

The Republican recipe for accelerating economic growth includes cutting taxes or overhauling the entire tax code, and they criticize higher spending as wasteful.

Obama’s budget claims to obey overall agency spending limits that were enacted in December after a bipartisan compromise was reached between Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the heads of the House and Senate budget committees.

Yet Obama was proposing an additional package of $55 billion in spending priorities, half for defense and half for domestic programs.

Without that extra money, Pentagon spending be $496 billion, the same as this year. The Pentagon plans to shrink the Army from 490,000 active-duty soldiers to as few as 440,000 over the coming five years — the smallest since just before World War II.

The extra funds would allow steps like buying additional aircraft and enhancing training.

On the domestic side, Obama would use the additional money for grants to states for preschools, new research financed by the National Institutes of Health and modernization of aviation safety systems.

That extra spending would be paid for by cutting federal crop insurance, raising airline passenger fees and capping retirement account tax benefits for wealthy savers — all of which would face an uphill climb in Congress.

The White House released fewer budget documents than normal on Tuesday, making it hard to determine exact costs and details of some of those additional spending proposals and others, such as the 2015 price tag for Obama's health care overhaul.

However, Obama’s plan to expand the earned income tax credit to childless, low-income workers would cost $116 billion over 10 years. It would increase the current $500 maximum those recipients can receive to $1,000.

The budget projects a 2015 deficit of $564 billion and a shortfall this year of $649 billion. If those come true, it would mark three straight years of annual red ink under $1 trillion, following four previous years when deficits exceeded that mark every time.

The president’s spending plan also takes credit for reducing accumulated deficits over coming decade by $2.2 trillion. But nearly one-third of that comes from claimed savings from the end of the U.S. war in Iraq and the gradual withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan.

Critics argue that those savings are fictional because with the ending of U.S. involvement in those conflicts, no one had been expecting that money to be spent on combat.

Other savings the president claims include $158 billion from his proposal to revamp immigration laws, which has stalled in Congress. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has made a similar estimate, with federal revenue accruing as more immigrants work and pay taxes.

The budget also retains Obama’s 2012 proposal to reshape corporate income taxes, including lowering the top rate from 28 percent to 25 percent. It says the overhaul would raise a one-time $150 billion with steps like smaller loopholes for U.S. companies doing business overseas — about half of which Obama would use to finance transportation improvements.

That resembles a proposal by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., in a rare instance of overlap on revenues by the two parties. But prospects for a tax overhaul remain dim in an election year.

Much of the rest of Obama’s deficit reduction would come from other proposals with little chance of surviving in Congress, including higher taxes and Medicare costs for the rich and cuts in government payments to pharmaceutical companies and other Medicare providers. With declining budget deficits, it has become easier for lawmakers to avoid seriously considering the politically painful tax increases and spending cuts needed to significantly reduce the shortfalls.

Thus, the president’s budget does not renew last year’s offer — hated by many fellow Democrats — to save money by slowing increases of Social Security benefits. The White House says that plan was advanced only to entice congressional Republicans into deficit-reduction talks and was excluded this year after GOP leaders refused to reciprocate by offering tax increases.

Obama’s budget starts what should be a relatively peaceful year on Washington’s fiscal front lines. That is because land mines embedded in the budgetary landscape have been defused this time around after cliffhanger, partisan showdowns in recent years.

Instead of the annual fight over spending limits — which last year helped produce a 16-day partial government shutdown — Murray and Ryan's bipartisan compromise set an overall agency spending cap for the next two years. That has eliminated the need for lawmakers to do anything but provide the details in later spending bills, easing the threat of another federal closure.

Also missing this year is a need to extend the government’s debt limit, which in the past has sparked battles that threatened economy-jarring federal defaults. Congress has given the Treasury Department authority to borrow money into next March, eliminating a must-pass legislative vehicle that either side might use to make demands.

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March 06, 2014

By Kenneth D. Miller

Assistant Managing Editor

 

The Black Law Students Association (BLSA) presented prominent attorney, Robert H. McNeill Jr. with its second annual Outstanding Alumni Award on Feb. 27 at Southwestern Law School on the 35th anniversary of his California State Bar exam.

“When I first got the call, I immediately said yes (to accepting the award), but it was my wife (Debra) who suggested that I do it on February 27th.  That was really important to me,” McNiell explained to the bevy of students and lawyers gathered at prestigious Southwestern Law School in downtown Los Angeles.

Accompanied by his wife, Debra and two daughters, Erica and Stacey, McNeill was also saluted by his esteemed colleagues and partners with the highly successful Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt Law Firm at the event hosted by BLSA.

McNeill became the second recipient of the award, after former Johnnie Cochran associate, Shawn Chapman Holley was honored in 2013 by BLSA.

McNeill obtained his Juris Doctorate Degree from South­western University Law School in December 1978, and subsequently passed the State Bar on the first try.

“Southwestern has meant so much to me and my family that I can’t begin to express it. It has enabled me to meet many people and help me become the person that I am today,” McNeill said.

He also lauded BLSA Co-President, Davetta Selma and BLSA for their role in aiding and supporting Black law students.

The Black Law Students Association helps African Ameri­can students in the areas of providing clothing for interviews and also volunteer legal support for various organizations. The South­western Law School chapter of the BLSA is a member of the national BLSA chapter.

“This is really important to me because I realize the role Black Law School Association has in helping Black law students graduate and get jobs and overcome the years of discrimination in the legal field.”

McNeill explained to the audience his humble beginnings from North Carolina, where he was born by a river in the shadow of a billboard hoisting the images of the notorious members of the Klu Klux Klan.

“They were wearing sheets and the sign read, ‘This is Klan Country,’” he recalled.

“I saw them march and I walked pass white schools to the get to segregated school on the other side of town and sometimes with no lunch and no shoes. But to get to California and go to law school at Southwestern and get good jobs, the City Attorney, the District Attorney, be in private practice with the greatest lawyers ever. I believe that’s what they call over coming,” McNeill added.

McNeill followed in the footsteps of the late Mayor, Tom Bradley, who is among the most outstanding Black alumni to graduate from Southwestern Law School during its 100-year existence.

He served as a Deputy City Attorney for the City of Los Angeles and as Deputy District Attorney for the County of Los Angeles, was appointed to the Los Angeles County Commission on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs in 1993 by then County Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke, and served more than three 4-year terms until his resignation in 2008.

In addition he has also served as a Deputy County Assessor from 1963 to 1977. He served as a member of the Los Angeles County Capital Case Fee Committee from 1993 to 1998 by appointment of the Supervising Judge of the Los Angeles Municipal Court. McNeill was appointed to the Board of Directors of the California Science Center in Exposition Park by California Governor Gray Davis in 2001 for a four-year term.

Among his many achievements has been obtaining not guilty verdicts in murder cases as a criminal defense attorney, defending a pediatric dentist against more than 40 felony and 25 misdemeanor counts of child endangerment in a jury trial against the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office and also fighting for the rights of women.

His first case was when he was discriminated against. McNeill was told by whites that he could not live in their community because he was Black, but he vigorously fought and won and has been winning, mentoring and serving as a beacon of hope for Black law students ever since.

However, McNeill cites a moment when he first listened to and then marched with the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while a student in the South as one of his greatest achievements.

“It was in 1962 when I got the chance to listen to a speech in person at my school and then march with him from that school five miles over into the city to desegregate a lunch counter. I didn’t realize the significance at the time, but I was happy about it. I didn’t realize that I was marching with a person who would become one of the greatest persons who ever lived.”

For those organizations such as the Brotherhood Crusade and others that he has fought for pro bono, and the many former students who he gave their first job when no one else would, Mr. Robert H. McNeill Jr. may be considered the greatest person who ever lived.

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February 27, 2014

From left to right Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito, dean, Keck Medical School; Elizabeth Garrett, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at USC; Scott Evans, CEO of Keck Hospital of USC and USC Norris Cancer Hospital; Dr. Gregory L. Taylor, II, medical director of Keck Medicine of USC – Downtown Los Angeles; Laurie Johnson, executive administrator ambulatory services, Keck Medicine of USC; and Jan Perry, general manager, City of Los Angeles Economic and Workforce Development Department cut the ribbon on the new Keck Medicine of USC Downtown Los Angeles clinic location at a recent open house. The clinic is part of Keck Medicine of USC’s commitment to bring world-class care and physician specialists into the communities where people live, work and visit.  The clinic offers a range of medical services, including internal medicine, gynecology, dermatology, orthopaedics, urology, an executive health program, and imaging and mammography services.  With the availability of same-day appointments and expanded hours, Keck Medicine of USC is working to ensure that quality medical care is accessible for downtowners.

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March 06, 2014

LAWT News Service

Officials from the California Wellness Foundation (TCWF) said they are pleased to announce the appointment of their first African American Woman President & CEO Judy Belk.

“Belk is a seasoned leader with more than 25 years of senior management experience in the philanthropic, government, nonprofit and corporate sectors,” they said.

“She currently serves as the vice president of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) and has played a pivotal role in building it into one of the nation’s largest independent nonprofit advisory firms.”

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February 27, 2014

By Freddie Allen

NNPA Washington Correspondent

 

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016 would lift nearly 1 million low-wage workers out of poverty, according to a recent report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Although a majority of low-wage workers are White, people of color would be disproportionately affected by an increase in the minimum wage. Blacks work in low-wage jobs at higher rates than Whites, according to federal statistics. Blacks account for 11 percent of the workforce, but 16 percent of workers that would see their wages increase.

“When you look at the CBO report, part of what stands out is that the CBO confirms that many millions of workers with low or modest incomes would get significant income gains,” said Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Even after factoring in the CBO’s estimates on the employment effects, there are still very substantial income gains for the bottom and the middle of the population and these income gains are achieved for virtually no budgetary cost.”

Even though the CBO predicted that 500,000 low-wage workers might lose their jobs, 16.5 million workers would directly benefit from seeing an increase in the minimum wage. Economists estimate that another 8 to 10 million workers would see their wages increase as a result of a “spillover effect.”

Families living below the poverty line will get a $5 billion bump in their income, about 20 percent of the estimated $31 billion. Roughly a third would go to families making three times above the poverty line.

According to the Census Bureau, more than 27 percent of Blacks live in poverty compared to less than 10 percent of Whites. Nearly 40 percent of Black children live in poverty.

According to the CBO report, raising the minimum wage would affect low-wage workers in two ways.

“Most of them would receive higher pay that would increase their family’s income, and

some of those families would see their income rise above the federal poverty threshold,” stated the report.

The CBO report continued: “But some jobs for low-wage workers would probably be eliminated, the income of most workers who became jobless would fall substantially, and the share of low-wage workers who were employed would probably fall slightly.”

Although the CBO report suggested that up to a million jobs could be lost, if the minimum wage were raised to $10.10 per hour, many economists agree that the effect of wage increase would be minimal.

“In a review of over 60 studies that look for statistical linkages between minimum-wage increases and job losses, economist John Schmitt reports that the most accurately measured results cluster around zero: some studies find that raising the minimum wage has a small negative effect on employment, a smaller number find that it has a small positive effect, and most find no significant effect,” stated a report by the Center for Budget and Public Priorities.

In January, the Economic Policy Institute advocated for increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 in a letter to President Obama and Congress. More than 600 economists, including seven Nobel Prize winners signed the letter, according to EPI.

Keeping his promise to use his pen or phone in a year of action to help American families, last week President Obama signed an executive order to raise the minimum wage of federal contract workers.

In a policy brief detailing President Obama’s executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers, White House officials cited a study that showed when Maryland passed a similar law for state contract employees, competition between companies increased, driving a higher quality of service.

Contrary to common stereotypes most low-income workers are not teenagers working for extra pocket change for clothes and fast food on the weekends.

According to a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, titled “Low-wage Workers Are Older and Better Educated than Ever,” the average age of low-workers is about 35 and only about 12 percent were teenagers in 2011. A majority (60 percent) of low-wage workers are 25-64 years old. More than 30 percent of low-wage workers have some college education and roughly 10 percent have a four-year college degree.

The CBO also found that employment prospects for high school dropouts and Blacks in their 20s would be largely unaffected by changes in the minimum wage.

Lawrence Katz, an economist at Harvard University, said that raising the minimum wage would have significant benefits for low-skill workers, especially Africa Americans.

“Our best estimates suggest essentially no impact on employment and a large improvement in wages for disadvantaged workers,” said Katz.

Katz added: “Overall, it’s a substantial win for minority workers.”

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