- Created on 09 April 2013
Even before President Obama released his budget proposal this week for the next fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, preliminary details about his plan to effectively cut Social Security cost of living increases has caused a firestorm among supporters who now feel betrayed.
Under the plan, Obama would shift the way federal benefits are indexed from the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to the “chained” CPI, gradually reducing benefit payments. Without getting overly technical, the chained CPI – a way of indexing living costs – has grown on average by about 0.3 percentage points per year more slowly than the official CPI. Social Security actuaries assume the gap between the two CPIs will continue to average 0.3 percentage points per year in the future;
Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich said in a MoveOn.org press release that
“Social Security is not driving the deficit, therefore it should not be part of reforms aimed at cutting the deficit.” He added, “The chained CPI, deceptively portrayed as a reasonable cost-of-living adjustment, is a cut to Social Security that would hurt seniors.”
White House officials point out that the chained CPI would not affect initial Social Security benefits because they are based on wages. It is the subsequent cost of living increases that would be affected.
According to an analysis by the Associated Press, Social Security benefits for a typical middle-income 65-year-old would be about $136 less a year under the new indexing. At age 75, annual benefits would be $560 less. At 85, the cut would be $984 a year. While that might not seem huge to some, it represents a significant loss of income from the elderly living on a fixed income.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) shares Robert Reich’s outrage.
“If Obama is serious about dealing with our deficit, he would not cut Social Security – which has not added one penny to the deficit,” Sanders said in a statement posted on his website. “Instead, he would support legislation that ends the absurdity of one out of four profitable corporations paying nothing in federal income taxes. He would also help us close the offshore tax haven loopholes that enable large corporations and the wealthy to avoid paying $100 billion a year in federal taxes.”
Social Security payments and COLAs are not limited to the elderly. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, approximately 6 million children under age 18 (8 percent of all U.S. children) lived in families that received income from Social Security in 2011. That includes children who received their benefits as dependents of retired, disabled, or deceased workers as well as those who live with parents or relatives who received Social Security benefits.
Democrats are irked that Obama is breaking a pledge he made in 2008 not to cut Social Security. And regardless of how he couches it, that’s the net effect of his action.
“You can’t call yourself a Democrat and support Social Security benefit cuts,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “… The president has no mandate to cut these benefits, and progressives will do everything possible to stop him.”
Critics note that any “savings” from the chained CPI would go into the government’s general fund, not the Social Security Trust Fund. Therefore, it does nothing to “strengthen” Social Security.
“It’s not the president’s ideal approach to our budget challenges, but it is a serious compromise proposition that demonstrates that he wants to get things done,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday.
As I have noted in this space before, Obama is an Apprentice Negotiator. We saw that in 2012 when Republicans goaded him into extending the Bush tax cuts. In a failing effort to garner Republican support, Obama keeps offering up programs cherished by progressives, sometimes before the negotiating begins.
President Obama’s new proposal also calls for placing a 28 percent cap on tax deductions and other exclusions. Because the change would raise taxes of the wealthy, GOP leaders are expected to reject the plan.
Social Security provides monthly benefits to more than 50 million retired workers and workers with disabilities, their dependents, and their survivors. Obama faces considerable opposition from his own party, largely because of the importance of the popular retirement program.
“Social Security benefits play a vital role in reducing poverty,” observed the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. “Without Social Security, 21.4 million more Americans would be poor, according to the latest available Census data (for 2011). Although most of those whom Social Security keeps out of poverty are elderly, nearly a third are under age 65, including 1.1 million children.”
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.
- Created on 08 April 2013
(CNN) -- "Thank you, Mr. President, you're not such a bad-looking guy yourself."
That would have been my response if I were California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who finds herself in the middle of a media dustup after President Obama introduced her as: "by far the best-looking attorney general in the country," at a fundraiser earlier this week.
Harris is a beautiful woman. She's also super intelligent and accomplished, which the president also noted. In fact, he lauded her professional merits first. So, I say take the compliment and move on. Or, if you're slightly embarrassed by the comment, give it back and move on.
President Obama's observation is not a major offense to women around the globe. Ridiculous flaps such as this one have always made me uncomfortable with calling myself a feminist, especially if that means I have to fly into a fit each time a man makes an awkward comment about a woman.
These were the president's exact words, according to a White House transcript from the fundraiser:
"You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you'd want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake. She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country --- Kamala Harris is here. (Applause.) It's true. Come on. (Laughter.) And she is a great friend and has just been a great supporter for many, many years."
Clearly, the president realized in hindsight that his comment didn't go over very well, and he has apologized. But I don't believe an apology was necessary.
It's impossible to believe that anyone could seriously call President Obama a chauvinist over this banter between friends. No matter your politics, you will have a hard time finding a president who has included women more in his agenda. What has he done for us lately? Let me recall just a few things:
- Appointed two female Supreme Court justices, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.
- Appointed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.
- Signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which restored worker protections against pay discrimination. The bill had failed in the Senate in 2007.
I have disagreed with the president at times, but if POTUS is sexist, then we need more men just like him; the world would be a much better place for women. In my book, when a person -- man or woman -- acknowledges someone's intellect and professionalism and then gives a lighthearted nod to her beauty, it's not sexist. It's just a compliment.
Throughout my career, I've had to learn how to deal with men, and a few women, who made it a point to always comment on my looks, or tell jokes about women working in sports. Early in my career, I admit, I was uncomfortable and wondered how to best handle the situation, not easy when you are many times the only woman in the newsroom. But even when I started out, I realized that context is everything, especially in the workplace, when talking about women and harassment.
Here's an example: One night, while I was working late in the office editing on deadline, a male co-worker stumbled into my cubicle in a drunken stupor, he slung himself on my desk and leaned into me, slurring: "Roxanne, you're so beautiful. Seriously, I've been watching you. ... Why don't you pay attention to me?"
Now, that was creepy. And clearly it was sexual harassment. My bosses and the human resources department quickly dealt with the guy. In fact, his behavior was reported by a male colleague, who witnessed the entire thing, before I could even make the call.
On another occasion, a senior executive speaking at an employee "town hall" meeting at work, pointed me out for a professional accomplishment, and then added: "Hey, Roxanne looks like that woman on the show, 'The Next Top Model.' " There was some laughter in the room but most of the women froze. I did not. I laughed and said: "Thanks, I'm glad you like my new hairdo."
Sure, I knew immediately that the comment was a little awkward. But I was in no way offended. And I did not want the executive, who had always been a champion for women in the workplace, to get any backlash for his comment. He didn't deserve the criticism.
Honestly, when he made that comment I was more worried that my female colleagues would be angry with me. Women might not want to admit this but we often hate women who look good, are smart and successful. Just think: Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, or Marissa Meyer, Yahoo! CEO. Maybe we've been conditioned to believe the stereotypes. But none of us will achieve true equality in the workplace until we end this animus toward one another and focus on how to truly achieve power.
Luckily, sometimes life isn't serious. Sometimes, we can laugh at ourselves and know that not every man is out to hold us down. And if we women are indeed confident in our abilities and our appearance -- no matter how we look on the outside -- then we should stop cowering every time a man notices us and makes a comment.
Stand up strong and take the compliment, but just make sure you're handling your business, because beauty is nothing without brains to match.
Editor's note: Roxanne Jones is a founding editor of ESPN The Magazine and a former vice president at ESPN. She is a national lecturer on sports, entertainment and women's topics and a recipient of the 2010 Woman of the Year award from Women in Sports and Events. She is the co-author of "Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete," (Random House) and CEO of Push Media Strategies.
- Created on 05 April 2013
In February, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which was the first bill President Clinton signed into law. President Obama hailed the law, as did current and former lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle. Indeed, it was a singular accomplishment for the nation – the first national law ever to help workers balance the dual demands of job and family.
That law is making a huge difference for the country.
Most directly, the FMLA allows about 60 percent of workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn, newly adopted or foster child, to recover from serious illness, or to help a close family member facing a serious health problem. When workers take leave under the FMLA, their health insurance continues and a job is waiting for them when they return.
In the 20 years since the FMLA became law, workers have used the law to take leave more than 100 million times.
The FMLA had indirect benefits, too, changing the culture by embedding in law that workers have family as well as job responsibilities. It helped create a climate in which work/family responsibilities became part of a national conversation. This has meant support for families from all communities, men as well as women, parents providing childcare as well as children providing eldercare.
It's made our workplaces more humane and family friendly.
In these times when there is so much rancor and so little consensus, it's important to keep in mind that passage of the FMLA did not come quickly or easily. It was a nine-year battle to get both houses of Congress to pass it at a time when we had a president who would sign it into law. It took an extraordinary coalition that included women's, civil rights, children's, health, labor, aging and other groups. The National Partnership led that coalition and the NAACP contributed mightily to its success. We proved that progress is possible, even in contentious times.
But for all we accomplished, it's important to remember that the FMLA was always intended to be the first step on the road to a family-friendly nation. And 20 years later, the country has not taken the next step. That's a real disappointment and a painful one, because workers in our communities are being cheated out of the policies they urgently need.
The good news is that a broad coalition continues to work for family friendly policies, because we recognize that the FMLA's unpaid leave is not sufficient to meet the needs of workers and families. Low-wage workers suffer the most. According to the Department of Labor's 2012 survey, most often workers who forgo leave do so because they can't afford to take leave without pay. That survey shows that, for every two workers of color who took FMLA leave, one needed leave but could not take it.
It's time – past time – to rectify that. The next step needs to be improving the law so it covers more workers who need to take leave for more reasons, and adopting a national paid leave insurance system that provides some wage replacement, so low-wage and part-time workers, too, can take family and medical leave when they need it most.
The country is ready. A bipartisan poll taken in November showed that, across all demographic lines, workers are struggling to balance their work and family responsibilities, and they want Congress and the president to consider new laws like paid family and medical leave insurance. African Americans, Latinos, women and young people — the very voters that decided the last election — felt strongest about the importance of congressional and presidential action: 77 percent of African Americans, 79 percent of Latinos, 69 percent of women and 68 percent of people under 30 considered it "very important."
They are right.
It's time to take the next step. In February, we celebrated. But now it's April, and 40 percent of the workforce still isn't covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, and tens of millions of workers, many of them low-wage, still can't afford to take the unpaid leave the law provides. When babies are born, illness strikes, or relatives need care, they either show up at work or risk losing their jobs.
We can do better. It's time to rededicate ourselves to this issue, deepen our resolve, make some noise, and demand that lawmakers take the next step. Making the nation more family friendly is the unfinished business of our time.
Shelton is Washington bureau director and senior vice president of policy and advocacy for the NAACP; Ness is president of the National Partnership for Women & Families.
- Created on 07 April 2013
William Leonard Roberts II is a clown. He’s a clown who has made a very good living pretending to be a notorious international drug dealer surrounded by guns, henchmen, champagne and women. He is the prime example of just how unreal hip hop has become.
The stories Roberts tells under his rap moniker Rick Ross are likely true stories about Rick Ross. They are not, however, stories about William Leonard Roberts. Roberts is a fake, a phony, an imposter. He began his career rapping in the first person about hustling, murder and a multi-million dollar, crime-fueled lifestyle that he saw on television.
Not only has he stolen another man’s name and life, but his raps push lies to Black children about how great it is to be a murderous drug dealer. Rappers have long ceased being role models in their rhymes, but one could at least ask for some authenticity and a bit of compunction.
The real Rick Ross, the one whose name Roberts stole (and is being sued for stealing), actually made millions of dollars working with Central American drug lords peddling crack cocaine to unsuspecting Black communities and spent 13 years in prison for it. He has been more than conciliatory about his actions and their deleterious effect on urban neighborhoods to this day.
The man who actually lived the life William Roberts raps about now spends his time working with communities to keep kids out of the streets and to dispel the notion that there’s anything glamorous about selling drugs.
The fake Rick Ross, the one who was really an Albany State football player and then a corrections officer during the time he raps about selling kilograms of cocaine and meeting with “the real Noreaga” who purportedly owes him “a hundred favors,” has made his money pushing a story of gangster make believe. But that was all fine and good, all part of the “rap game,” until his verse on the Rockie Fresh song “U.O.E.N.O.” (a cute way to say “you don’t even know”).
“Put molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it,” Ross rapped.
That stopped the presses. Because even though almost all the fake Rick Ross raps about is murder and profiteering from drug pushing, there’s still a line drawn at condoning rape.
You can rap about selling poison to children, murdering innocents and slapping prostitutes around all you want, but drugging a woman and raping her? That’s a bridge too far.
The fake Rick Ross has insisted that even though his lyrics have been “interpreted as rape” they really aren’t. This statement seems to come from two misunderstandings on his part.
The first is that it’s obvious the fake Rick Ross has no idea what molly is. The drug is the crystal form of pure MDMA, a substance typically found in Ecstasy, and is known for its ability to reduce inhibitions and provide feelings of euphoria. But it’s not a sedative, so dropping it in a woman’s drink wouldn’t help you “take her home and enjoy that” without her even knowing.
Second, he apparently doesn’t understand that enjoying a woman without her consent is rape.
Rather than apologize for what he said, he’s been playing defense all week, attempting to blame listeners for interpreting his lyric about rape as being about rape.
"There was a misunderstanding with a lyric, a misinterpretation where the term 'rape' wasn't used,” he told a New Orleans radio station last week. “I would never use the term 'rape,' you know, in my records. And as far as my camp, hip-hop don't condone that, the streets don't condone that, nobody condones that.
“I just wanted to reach out to all the queens that’s on my timeline, all the sexy ladies, the beautiful ladies that had been reaching out to me with the misunderstanding,” he continued. “We don’t condone rape and I’m not with that.”
Then he took to Twitter to apologize for the way others had interpreted what he said.
“I don’t condone rape. Apologies for the #lyric interpreted as rape. #BOSS,” Ross tweeted earlier this week. He followed that up by directing a tweet toward Reebok, the company he has a contract with, and women’s group UltraViolet writing, “Apologies to my many business partners, who would never promote violence against women.”
There was just a rape case in Steubenville, Ohio, that illustrated to all of the U.S. that even when a woman (or girl, in that case) intoxicates herself it is still illegal for a man to “enjoy that” without her knowledge or consent.
Steubenville football players Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond probably didn’t think they were condoning or committing rape when they took advantage of a girl who had passed out at a party. But they’re serving at least a year in juvenile hall now, nonetheless.
There’s a lesson from that case that William Leonard Roberts obviously missed and its one that his fans would do well to remember. Far too many folks have this idea that rape is only something that occurs in back alleys when a masked man grabs an unsuspecting woman and violently takes her against her will. Most rapes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows and often someone the victim trusts.
There was a time when it wasn’t cool in hip hop to sell drugs. There was a time in hip hop when it wasn’t cool to disrespect women. There was even a time in hip hop when it wasn’t cool to drink expensive champagne and live in the suburbs. Those days are gone now. I just hope we aren’t witnessing the end of the time when it’s not cool to rap about date rape.
- Created on 04 April 2013
Editor's note: Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, the author of "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden -- From 9/11 to Abbottabad" and a director at the New America Foundation.
(CNN) -- On the evening of March 19, Tom Clements, the director of Colorado's prison system, was shot and killed when he answered the door of his home near Colorado Springs.
The slaying sparked a police chase that ended a few days later in Texas, with authorities finally killing the suspect, 28-year-old Evan Ebel, in a shootout. It was soon discovered that Ebel had been part of a violent white supremacist gang during the eight years he spent in Colorado prisons.
Clements was the latest victim of increasingly active violent right-wing extremists. While American politicians and the U.S. public continue to focus on the threat from jihadist extremists, there seems to be too little awareness that this domestic form of political violence is a growing problem at home.
From 2002 to 2007, only nine right-wing extremists were indicted for their roles in politically motivated murders and other types of violent assaults. But between 2008 and 2012, the number mushroomed to 53, according to data collected by the New America Foundation.
Fifteen right-wing extremists were indicted in 2012 -- including six who were involved in a militia in Georgia that accumulated weapons, plotted attacks on the government and murdered a young U.S. Army soldier and his 17-year-old girlfriend, who they suspected were planning to rat out the group to authorities. Seven claimed membership in the anti-government Sovereign Citizens movement and allegedly murdered two policemen in Louisiana. And two had gone on a murderous rampage the previous year, killing four people before they were arrested in California, where they told police they were on their "way to Sacramento to kill more Jews."
By comparison, in 2012, only six people who subscribed to al Qaeda's ideology were indicted on terrorism-related charges in the United States, confirming the trend of the past four years, which is a sharp decline in such cases that has been documented by the authors in previous pieces for CNN.com.
It's about time that politicians who are quick to talk about the threat posed by al Qaeda began paying attention to the shifting nature of the threats.
In comparing the two sources of domestic terrorism, it's striking that the jihadists charged with crimes were much less likely to have actually carried out a violent attack before they were arrested.
According to data gathered by the New America Foundation, 207 people motivated by al Qaeda's ideology of violence against American targets have been indicted in the U.S. on terrorism-related charges since 9/11. But only about 5% of those were indicted for their roles in violent incidents, whereas of the 139 right-wing militants indicted in the United States since 9/11, just under half had engaged in a violent attack before they were arrested.
The word "terrorism" is not often used in the charges leveled against these right-wing militants, simply because laws in the United States primarily define terrorism as the work of a designated foreign terrorist group.
But the New America data shows that domestic terrorists motivated by non-jihadist ideologies now pose a similar or even greater threat than those who admire al Qaeda. We define non-jihadist terrorists to be those who carry out or aspire to carry out acts of politically motivated violence, and who fall into the following categories: right-wing extremists who oppose the government, subscribe to a neo-Nazi ideology, or oppose homosexuality or abortion; left-wing extremists; violent animal rights activists; and violent environmental activists.
Over the past several years, acts or plots of non-jihadist terrorism have derived almost entirely from right-wing extremists like the soldiers' militia in Georgia and the anti-government group in Louisiana. Of the 54 non-jihadist terrorists indicted between 2010 and 2012, 47 were right-wing extremists.
Seven were leftists or animal rights extremists. For instance, three were participants in Occupy Chicago, a leftist political movement, and were indicted on terrorism charges last June for plotting to throw Molotov cocktails at President Barack Obama and other officials during a NATO summit in Chicago. Their lawyers say an undercover government agent had urged them to plot the attacks and build the firebombs.
Since 9/11, at least 29 people living in the United States have been killed by right-wing extremists, while 17 have been killed by jihadist extremists, the majority of whom died in one incident: the 2009 massacre at Fort Hood, Texas. Of course, this story would be much different if al Qaeda recruit Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab had detonated a bomb hidden in his underwear aboard Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009.
But it would also be much different if city workers hadn't spotted a suspicious backpack left on the route of a Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Spokane, Washington, in January 2011, in which white supremacist Kevin Harpham had hidden a bomb packed with fishing weights coated in rat poison. Or if police hadn't discovered a napalm bomb and several other live, wired explosives in the suburban Cleveland home of right-wing extremist Matthew Fairfield in April 2010.
And of all the people indicted on terrorism charges in the United States since 9/11, no jihadist suspect has ever acquired or attempted to acquire chemical, biological or radiological weapons, while at least 11 right- and left-wing terrorists either obtained such materials or made serious attempts to do so.
In 2003, federal agents discovered "nearly two pounds of a cyanide compound and other chemicals that could create enough poisonous gas to kill everyone inside a space as large as a big-chain bookstore or a small-town civic center" at the home of Judith Bruey and her husband, William Krar, according to an Associated Press report. Alongside the arsenal of chemical weapons were about 60 pipe bombs, several machine guns, remote-controlled bombs disguised as briefcases, and anti-Semitic, anti-black, and anti-government literature, the report said.
Although the feds had been tracking Bruey and Krar in the mid-90s, their case fell through the cracks when the events of 9/11 turned law enforcement's attention to jihadist terrorism. The couple was only found out when Krar tried to mail a package of counterfeit birth certificates to an anti-government militia member in New Jersey, but got the address wrong. That mistake resulted in a tip to local police.
A report from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point released in January found that, "In the last few years, and especially since 2007, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of attacks and violent plots originating from people and groups who self-identify with the far-right of American politics."
In a report that was much criticized at the time, the Department of Homeland Security predicted in 2009 that the nation's election the previous year of its first black president, along with a severe economic downturn that created disenchantment with the government among poorer populations, had the potential to radicalize greater numbers of right-wing terrorists. The same report warned that increasing numbers of returning military veterans as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down provided those on the far right with a vulnerable population to target for radicalization.
The New America Foundation data shows that about 20% of the right-wing extremists indicted since 9/11 had spent time in the military.
The New America data supports the Department of Homeland Security's assessment of the growing threat of right-wing extremist groups. American politicians and the public should become more aware of the fact that while the threat from al Qaeda-inspired terrorists is much diminished at home, the threat from right-wing militants continues to rise.
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David Sterman assisted with research for this report.