April 13, 2017
By Charlene Crowell
This year has brought a number of significant developments. A new Congress, the 115th in our nation’s history and similarly the 45th president have together begun a new era of government. From all indications, this new leadership seeks to create public policies and priorities that significantly alter what will remain as a governmental function. From education to environmental stewardship, health care and more, the governing toolbox of executive orders, regulation and legislation are all in use.
Despite these changing times, much of what has plagued Black America remains the same: a lack of wealth and ample access to opportunities that can virtually and permanently improve our lives.
No one needs another study that finds how Black America’s net worth is a fraction of that held by White Americans. We already know that Black families who send their children to college incur a larger family debt that includes multiple generations – the student, parents and even grandparents. And in that quest for education, each generation’s ability to maximize financial stability is at risk. Or that Black businesses and entrepreneurs often face predictable denials for loans that could bring jobs to their own communities.
It seems that in 2017, Black America’s number one need is to finally know and enjoy economic justice in all of its forms. We have already felt the brunt of predatory lending’s high costs that steal our hard-earned wages with triple-digit interest rates. Far too many of us are still denied access to mortgages even when credit profiles tell us that we should qualify for the most affordable and sustainable home loans. And then there are the car payments that have been packed by dealers who frequently mark-up interest rates and cram additional ‘services’ into loans that could have been purchased far more cheaply on their own.
Thankfully, the 49-member Congressional Black Caucus recently released a report with a title that was also a clear statement, We Have a Lot to Lose: Solutions to Advance Black Families in the 21st Century. Its 125 pages contain chapters that speak to our unique American experience while also proposing solutions to deliver us to the full bounty of what it means to be an American to people of all colors. While space will not allow me to explore the entire report, key elements of the chapter on economic justice deserve to be broadly shared and read.
“The racial wealth gap is widening,” states the report. “To gain wealth comparable to White high school dropouts, Blacks have to have completed high school and some college. This means that Black Americans need to invest more resources and time to achieve the same results as White citizens that have not had to make the same level of investment.”
In all, this chapter’s multiple proposals represent an alternative to that reflected in President Trump’s Budget Blueprint on how best to forgive education debts, ways to combat food deserts that rob entire neighborhoods of full-service grocery stores, strengthening financial regulation rules and more.
“The government should be investing in jobs programs, reasonable bank regulation, education, and health care to ensure economic vitality into the next century, not more tax cuts for the rich and less regulation of Wall Street. We tried those options in the 2000’s and all we got was a financial crash as thanks for it,” states the report.
A particularly innovative proposal is the CBC’s 10-20-30 Formula for all federal agencies. It would require each agency to commit 10 percent of their budgets to the 485 counties where 20 percent or more of the population has been living below the poverty line for the last 30 years. This proposal also calls for the Trump Administration to establish a federal interagency task force to coordinate poverty alleviation efforts.
Other proposals in this chapter address new ways of ensuring equal access to homeownership opportunities, the inclusion of items not normally considered by traditional credit scoring models such as mobile phone data and timely bill payments to increase lending.
Preservation of the Community Development Block Grant, which was proposed for elimination by the White House Budget Blueprint, and increased attention to truth in lending, credit access and the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) are also included.
In the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis, the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) released research on the state of consumer lending that spanned a range of loan and credit products. The report also found that consumers who were harmed the most by predatory lending were often Black and Latino.
“Abusive practices not only harm the family that loses its home to an unaffordable mortgage, the student saddled with excessive education loans, the person who pays thousands of dollars extra in kickbacks on their loan when they buy a car, or the consumer who receives a “fee harvester” credit card where the charges far exceed the credit extended; they also profoundly harm neighborhoods, communities, and cities, and hold back our entire economy,” wrote Sheila Bair, in the report’s foreword. Bair, president of Washington College since 2015 has also served as a senior advisor to Pew Charitable Trusts and served a 5-year term as Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation from 2006-2011.
“Trapping families in financial marginalization keeps them from succeeding and from making their full contribution to the whole community and economy,” Bair continued. “They are unable to advance and generate prosperity for themselves and are blocked from increasing the prosperity of others as well.”
Real, sustainable economic justice will not only improve the lives of those so often left behind; but also strengthen the nation’s economy as well. Sounds like something worth fighting for.
April 06, 2017
By Charles R. Stith
(Los Angeles) I just returned from a month long business trip to Africa. One of the questions I was asked everywhere I went was: “what can Africa expect from the Trump administration?” When I arrived home a few days ago I got an answer much different from the diplomatic response I tried to spin during the trip.
At the recent African Global Economic and Development Summit held at the University of Southern California there were no Africans from the continent in attendance. The reason being, not one African that applied for a visa to attend the conference was granted one. Yes, you read the sentence right. Not one African from Africa was allowed to attend the conference on African economic development. This is as absurd as it sounds on a number of levels.
Let’s start with common sense. Hosting a conference on African economic development and banning Africans from attending makes as much sense as holding a seminar on fried chicken and telling Colonel Saunders he can’t come. Okay, maybe I could use a better analogy, but you get the point.
Even if one accepts the premise of Trump’s recent travel ban, the executive order only covers three African countries – Libya, Sudan, and Somalia. Business people from those countries thought it the better part of valor to not even apply for visas to attend. The people that applied for visas, and were denied, came from such countries as South Africa, Nigeria, and Ghana. South Africa has Africa’s strongest and most diverse economy. Nigeria is one of the U.S.’s major suppliers of oil. Ghana has one of the continent’s strongest democracies, as reflected in President Obama singling it out for his first trip to the continent during his first term as President. So, even based on the executive order, which some view as specious, the visa denials make no sense.
Beyond having no common sense or legal basis, this broad-based denial of visas to Africans interested in discussing trade and development with their U.S. counterparts makes no sense from an economic perspective. The value that countries like South Africa, Nigeria, and Ghana bring to the trade equation, aside, Africa is a place where some of the world’s strategic minerals are located. For example, graphite, which the U.S. and the U.K., have designated a “strategic mineral”, is found in abundance in places like Tanzania. Graphite is a critical component for batteries like those being developed by Tesla, a California based company. As a composite in airplane fuselages it makes planes lighter, it makes solar technology more efficient. Graphite is a new age mineral that is critical to the growth and development of the 21st century global economy. Need one say more about why such a travel ban makes no sense.
It might not be fair to lay the blame for the visa fiasco directly at the feet of the Trump administration, but what the new administration needs to appreciate is that the anti-immigrant fervor that seems to have been fanned by the president’s rhetoric is having an impact. It is not the sort of impact that will position American businesses to be competitive in the global economy. Beyond eroding any competitive advantage we might have, it concedes whole swaths of the world economy to countries like China.
Whether this wholesale ban was an unintended consequence of a poor immigration strategy, or not, this is the sort of thing the Trump administration needs to fix because it puts America’s leadership as the lynchpin of the global economy in jeopardy. With false starts and missteps like this, other countries are gearing up to fill the void we’re leaving. Or to put it another way, things like these recent travel bans won’t make America great it makes us look goofy
Ambassador Stith is the Chairman of the Pula Group, a U.S. based pan Africa company. He served as the U.S. ambassador to Tanzania during the Clinton administration and is a member of the Africa Advisory Committee to the U.S. Trade Representative.
March 30, 2017
San Francisco Chronicle
The Senate’s responsibility to advise and consent on a lifetime Supreme Court appointment is one I take extremely seriously. I know from personal experience — as a prosecutor and as a beneficiary of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education ruling desegregating our nation’s schools — that the decisions handed down by the court touch every aspect of our lives.
The court has the power to do enormous good. In its finest moments, it has lived up to the words engraved above its doors — “Equal Justice Under Law” — and made America more just. It did so in Brown. It has affirmed a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions. It has ruled marriage cannot be denied to anyone because of whom he or she loves. Every time you see a black child graduate from college, or a same-sex couple’s wedding — those are direct consequences of the Supreme Court’s actions.
But the court has, at times, fallen short. This institution that desegregated schools also gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, making it harder for communities of color to vote. This institution that enshrined marriage equality empowered corporations to pollute our political system with secret, unaccountable money.
Going forward, whether or not the court upholds justice hangs in the balance — and a new justice will decide its course. For instance, last year, the Supreme Court was just one vote away from devastating the right of teachers to collectively bargain for wages and benefits. With a fifth conservative vote against unions, the court would have harmed millions of middle-class Americans.
The stakes don’t get any higher. Some argue that if a nominee has a stellar legal resume, he or she is qualified to sit on the bench and our job is done. I disagree. As U.S. senators, we have an obligation to also examine a nominee’s legal approach and ask whether he or she considers the impact of those decisions on our society and the daily lives of our people.
President Trump’s nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, certainly has a paper resume that would impress legal scholars. But his rulings repeatedly have failed to achieve justice for all Americans.
Take the case of Alphonse Maddin, a trucker who got stuck on the road in sub-zero temperatures and abandoned his cargo to seek help. Because he left his truck, his employer fired him. Maddin sued and seven judges ruled in his favor. Only one — Judge Gorsuch — sided with the company. Luckily, Maddin won his case. But had Gorsuch prevailed, it would have been easier for some employers to fire employees without consequence. Imagine that — being fired for trying to save your life.
In another case, a college professor named Grace Hwang was diagnosed with cancer. The university provided her a leave of absence to get treatment, but refused to extend that leave even though her doctor said she needed more time to get well. Judge Gorsuch called the university’s decision “reasonable” and rejected her lawsuit. Grace died last summer and her family recently wrote, “His decision was heartless. It removed the human element from the equation. It did not bring justice.”
The rest of Judge Gorsuch’s record also shows he’s willing to favor corporations over the American people. He believes companies can impose their religious views on employees and deny women birth-control coverage. And he has been hostile toward federal agencies that protect American workers and consumers.
Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the civil rights hero who argued Brown and inspired my career, once bluntly defined his judicial philosophy, saying, “You do what you think is right and let the law catch up.” In simple terms, Justice Marshall appreciated that the ultimate goal of the law was justice. By stark contrast, Judge Gorsuch has consistently valued narrow legalisms over real lives. I must do what’s right. I cannot support his nomination.
March 30, 2017
By U.S. Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-La.)
Chairman, Congressional Black Caucus
On January 31, President Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. If confirmed, Gorsuch’s lifelong appointment to the court would have serious consequences for all Americans, but especially African Americans and vulnerable communities. Judge Gorsuch has displayed hostility to the rights of minorities, women, people with disabilities, and workers, which is why the Congressional Black Caucus submitted testimony recently opposing his nomination. His judicial record on race and related matters and constitutional and equal rights litigation does not merit our support or the support of the Senate.
All interpreters of the law should be committed to fairness and justice, not a specific legal philosophy of judicial interpretation. Judge Gorsuch’s commitment to “originalism,” or, interpreting the Constitution in a way that’s consistent with the intent of those who wrote it, often results in him ruling in favor of the big guy instead of the little guy, the strong instead of the weak, and the majority instead of minorities. From 2007 to 2016, Judge Gorsuch issued 14 published judgments related to employee discrimination cases. Nine of those decisions were in favor of the employer. We need a Supreme Court justice who will judge cases on the merits, not based on his or her personal philosophies.
For example, Judge Gorsuch believes that police officers should be granted qualified immunity, which prevents law enforcement and other government officials from being held accountable for the excessive use of force. In the case of Wilson v. City of Lafayette, Gorsuch decided that a police officer was entitled to qualified immunity from an excessive force claim arising from the use of a stun gun that ultimately killed a young man. In three other cases involving police accountability, Gorsuch ruled in favor of police searches of vehicles without a warrant, minimizing the Fourth Amendment protections against unauthorized search and seizure.
Judge Gorsuch’s ruling in police accountability cases are particularly troubling given the increasing number of shooting deaths of so many unarmed African Americans by the police, and recent Department of Justice investigations that have found that police departments across the country have had a “pattern and practice” of racial discrimination.
In addition to his poor judicial record on police accountability, Judge Gorsuch has a poor judicial record on workers’ rights. His record is one of supporting employers over employees, even in the case of employees with disabilities. In Hwang v. Kansas State University, Judge Gorsuch ruled that “showing up” for work is an essential job function and that the Rehabilitation Act should not be used as a safety net for employees who cannot work. This case focused on a professor employed by Kansas State University who was diagnosed with cancer, and, after treatments that weakened her immune system, requested an extension due to a flu outbreak on the campus. Judge Gorsuch denied her request and sided with the university, compromising her health and recovery.
He has a similar record when it comes to reproductive rights. In two cases, he sided with companies that wanted to deny women reproductive healthcare.
The judicial branch has the power to interpret the laws of the land, and thus, impacts every American’s way of life. This is especially true for the highest court in the land. Because of the decisions rendered by the Supreme Court, African-Americans have been granted the opportunity to attend the school of their choice, women have been granted reproductive health rights, and workers have been granted safety and security from exploitative labor practices. Judge Gorsuch’s record in each of these areas raises concerns. His commitment to “originalism” also raises concerns. The Constitution is a living and breathing document that is meant to evolve with our society and it should be interpreted as such.
As the Senate evaluates Judge Gorsuch’s judicial record, it is imperative that Senators focus on consistency. Judge Gorsuch has consistently used the bench to protect corporations, and limit the rights of minorities, women, and workers. Consequently, the Congressional Black Caucus opposes his nomination and urges the Senate to do the same.
Congressman Richmond is the 25th Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and represents the 2nd District of Louisiana. On Twitter, follow the caucus at @OfficialCBC and follow Congressman Richmond at @RepRichmond.