The Justices and the scramble for cash

Many trends in American politics and government today make me worry about the health of our representative democracy. These include the decline of Congress as a powerful, coequal branch of government, the accumulation of power in the presidency, and the impact of money on the overall political process.

Recently, the Supreme Court’s five-member majority declared that it’s unconstitutional to limit the aggregate amount an individual can give to candidates, political parties, and political action committees. Campaign contributions amplify free speech, these justices maintain, and campaign finance laws violate the First Amendment: any limit on the ability of individuals to contribute to candidates is a restraint of free speech. The only legitimate cause for the government to step in is to fight blatant, obvious corruption; it should not act to limit access and influence by well-to-do donors. The result of this decision will almost certainly increase the impact of money on the political system.

The Supreme Court decision seems to be insensitive to this. Politicians need large sums to run for office, and they are keenly attuned to generous donors. Inevitably, this gives more political influence to the relative handful of wealthy donors who choose to “invest” in politics, and it dampens the influence of voters who don’t have the financial means to command attention.

Lawmakers, of course, insist that big donors get nothing in response for their contributions except, perhaps, for a little face time. I am skeptical of that claim. Money buys access that people without money don’t get, and access is nothing less than an opportunity to affect legislation. It is a rare politician who can remain entirely uninfluenced by large political contributions to his or her campaign. After all, members of Congress seek assignments to committees that are known to be useful for fundraising, and those wealthy individuals and interests spend large sums on wooing and electing politicians for a purpose: to get public policy favorable to their views and interests.

Over many years both inside and outside Congress, I saw very little outright corruption, but on a frequent basis I could see money’s disproportionate influence on the decisions of government and its distortion of our representative democracy. With their decision the justices may have expanded personal liberty, but they’ve done so lopsidedly: boosting the liberty of ordinary individuals who cannot afford to give to political campaigns gains them nothing in the way of political influence.

What can we do? My preference would be that the President and Congress step in and design rules of campaign finance that would reverse the growing influence of money on our campaigns, but that does not appear likely to happen. Indeed, even as we speak, opponents of campaign finance laws are preparing challenges to the remaining limits on individual contributions and to the easily avoided disclosure laws we already have. I’m certain they’ll get a sympathetic hearing in the Supreme Court.

Paradoxically, this may be our best hope. Because I also believe that Americans are growing tired of the outsized impact that great wealth enjoys in politics, and that a backlash to the Court’s decisions is taking shape. My sense is that growing numbers of ordinary voters are recognizing that money is a poison in our system. I fervently hope that support for public financing and for muscular disclosure laws will grow with time, because our politics will be more democratic, more honest, and more free if we reduce the impact of money on elections.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: NAACP and NBA owner Donald Sterling

Re: NAACP and NBA Owner Donald Sterling

The racist views of Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA team have been well known for years. Nevertheless, the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP was about to honor Sterling with a lifetime achievement award.

It has been reported that Sterling recently made a donation to the NAACP Los Angeles branch. How desperate is the NAACP for funds that they would honor the very person who insults them?

The NAACP needs to seek other revenue sources or they will forever be forced to accept the handouts of others, who disrespect them for taking or needing the handouts.

I suggest that the NAACP start their own companies and produce their own funds. Through ownership you create jobs, wealth, control and respect. Also you do not have to depend on your detractors for your survival.

Elie Parker

San Leandro, CA

Mental illness is our dirty little secret

— I’m tired, my sisterfriend says. I don’t know how much longer I can hold on. As I hear her I have a couple of choices. One is to tell her to get with her pastor and pray; the other is to tell her to get real with her illness. Running her to her pastor takes her to a familiar place. Pushing her to help takes her out of her comfort zone. When my beloved brothers and sisters share that they are stymied in the way they live their lives, I don’t mind praying and encouraging spiritual counsel, but I do mind ignoring the medicinal help that could assist my sisterfriend.

So my sister is sighing her pain, and I am wondering what to do. There are few that will hear a Black woman in a Black community, strumming her pain, questioning her faith. According to the National Associations of Mental Health more than 4 percent of African Americans have considered suicide. Most of them are African American women.

Mental health is our nation’s dirty little secret, and if it is whispered in the nation at large, it is a silent scream in the African American community. We are afraid, ashamed, frightened to own up to it, using our own lingo (s’kerd, shamed) to wrap ourselves around the fear that goes with “coming out” on mental illness.

So we are silent, even when we loose a warrior. Karyn Washington was a 22-year-old Morgan State University sister who committed suicide, last week. This young and brilliant one turned her pain into power when she created a website, “for brown girls” ( that lifted up and affirmed our brown skin girls. Karyn was a colored girl whose mental issues were apparently so severe that she chose to take her own life while affirming those of others. From all accounts Karyn experienced depression. How many feel it and don’t say it? How many nod and just don’t mean it? How many exhale, inhale and really reach out to a brother or a sister to listen, have a cup of tea, take a walk, or just reach out and touch?

The poet Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote, “We wear the mask that grins and lies that hides our cheeks and shades our eyes.” Many in our nation, especially African Americans, wear the mask. When we peek/speak/tweet from behind the mask we realize, yet if we were real, we would have to acknowledge in the words of Paul Lawrence Dunbar that to make a poet Black and bid her sing is to challenge her and her two realities. In the words of Sister Maya, “I know why the caged bird sings”.

I chose to focus on this because in one scant week I have spoken to African American women who have experienced depression or feel shackled by other mental health issues. They walk like they hold the world in their hands; sway like they are hearing drums from another continent, yet cry behind closed doors, like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. They are sad, ground down, depressed, and we play off their pain, trivialize it, instead of responding to it. We are losing too much genius when we play off the scourge of metal illness. We decide that it is their problem, not the problem of a nation that would inflict, rather than attempt to fix, mental illness. For all the care the Affordable Care Act has offered, we must ask if it has offered enough to combat mental illness,

We in the African American community have paid more and received less to be perceived as “normal” members of society. Despite injustices in Scottsboro, Groveland and other vile places in our nation, we have been expected to show up, with amazing dignity, ignoring the massacre of our sons or daughters with well-modulated emotion. Too many of us fear or fail to speak our pain. Poverty and mental health are correlated, yet the poorest of us see our pain as “par for the course” and we don’t speak about it. Whether African Americans are wealthy or financially challenged, mental health is elusive for some. And faith without works is dead, which means fall on those knees if it comforts you, then run to the doctor who may help you with medication and therapy.

Baby girl Karyn Washington inspired this column, and as I thought of her, others kept reminding me of their own pain and the ways it has been ignored. If you don’t get it, read from Terrie Williams’ Black Pain. And if you get it/read it, remind folks that this is not a sympathy issue, this is a public policy issue. So weep sister soldier, brother warrior. Those who bear the scars of mental illness have often fought longer, harder, and with the chemical imbalance that makes them feel it all so much more intensely. Mental health is not an embarrassment; it is a national health issue. It is a silent killer that we have yet to acknowledge.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Resident battles to overcome autism challenges

— Donte Lewis is a budding entrepreneur with just one wish. He wants to be as successful in his media interests as his mother Angelia Lewis is with her natural hair care business.

“I want to take my business to the next level, be more like my mom because she’s done such a great job building her company and being successful,” said Lewis, 24.

While his mother certainly has worked hard to succeed while raising two sons on the autism spectrum, even she concedes that her son’s battle with autism provides an obstacle that has never been easy to overcome.

Bullied in middle school and told later by a school counselor that he should consider dropping pursuit of a degree; Donte proved undaunted and stubbornly drew on the support of his family, friends and his belief in God.

“The Devil is a liar and you have to fight to your wits end,” he said.

That fight continued despite studies that suggest that as little as three percent of autistic children are able to recover and live normal lives. Even with regular therapy, which is often carefully designed educational and social activities, the vast majority are unable to lead regular lives, according to officials at the National Autism Association.

April is Autism Awareness Month and Donte has taken the to prove that success can be achieved. He operates his own small business, D.J. L’s Media Services, which specializes in videography, photography, video advertisements and journalism.

He says that he is currently seeking a part-time journalism job to help support his business endeavor. He keeps busy by filming birthday parties, weddings and other gatherings for family, friends and clients.

“I do all of my mom’s shows and other events,” he said.

Donte has earned an associates degree in IT-Multimedia at the ITT Technical Institute in Baltimore. He was inducted into the National Technical Honor Society and graduated with a 3.42 grade point average.

“It’s determination on my part,” he said. “I guess I’m always willing to go the extra mile and even though it’s challenging, I haven’t let autism stand in the way.”

There’s no known single cause for autism, but health officials said it’s generally accepted that it’s caused by abnormalities in brain structure and function. In many families, there appears to be a pattern of autism or related disabilities, further supporting the theory that the disorder has a genetic basis.

The characteristic behaviors of autism spectrum disorder could be apparent in infancy, but usually become obvious during early childhood ages of between 24 months to six years, according to the nonprofit, Autism Society.

Symptoms could include a baby not babbling, cooing or gesturing by 12 months old; has not uttered a single word by 16 months; does not say two-word phrases on his own by 24 months; or has any loss of any language or social skill at any age.

About 1 percent of the population of children in the U.S. ages 3 to 17 have an autism spectrum disorder and 1 to 1.5 million Americans live with autism while just 56 percent of students with the illness complete high school.

About a decade ago, Donte started a social club for young people with autism, called “Boys Nite Out,” where anyone on the spectrum can get together for lunch and encouraging interaction.

Recently, he wrote, produced, directed and starred in a show that he titled, “The Chunky Willis Show.”

“We just thought that it would be something that all of us with autism could relate to because most of us on the autism spectrum have a lot in common like movies, video games and sports,” he said.

“Boys Nite Out” has been a successful tool in helping Donte and his friends cope with the various challenges they face and it has helped to boost their confidence in their social lives, according to Donte.

“I always say that I may have autism, but autism doesn’t have me,” Donte said. “I just want everyone, every parent to know, that when their child has been diagnosed, it’s not a diagnosis that says they cannot achieve. They shouldn’t panic and think that they can’t do this or they won’t be able to do that. It’s challenging for sure, but we can still achieve and I’m going to be a success, God willing.”

Scholarships, mentoring bloom from family tragedy

— Aisha DaCosta and her siblings grew up on old-fashioned principals instilled in them by Jamaican-born parents: get an education, a good career and retire with a decent pension that will carry you through your golden years.

“Most Caribbean children can attest to the fact that when people ask, what is it that you want to do when you grow up, there are usually two answers. Become a doctor or a lawyer,” DaCosta said. “That’s probably true for most with an immigrant background because that’s how our parents defined security.”

However DaCosta, who lives in Baltimore says it’s important that young people and their parents begin to think outside of the box because times have changed. The formula of a good education, well-paying job and a sufficient retirement package could fall short of meeting the needs of a new generation.

“That plan worked for my grandparents, they received a pension from their employers and they were able to retire before they were 60,” she said. “When my grandfather passed away, my grandmother got his pension. But, that plan broke and it didn’t work for my mother and she’s approaching 65 now and certainly that plan isn’t working for me even though I enlisted in the military right after high school and became an officer who fought in the combat zone in Iraq.”

With that information and recalling the gallant but ultimately failed fight her sister, Kahdine Ann DaCosta, waged against breast cancer in 2004, DaCosta started, “I am OKah!,” in 2011, a nonprofit that serves the Greater Baltimore area by providing urban youth with opportunities through mentorship, education, and scholarships.

“The goal is not just providing the scholarships, but mentorship that fosters self-reliance, self-esteem, character building, and leadership and entrepreneurship,” DaCosta said.

When her late sister attended Morgan State University, DaCosta said one of the most obvious voids proved to be the lack of mentorship. “While she was there, my sister realized that although she could get money for college, she didn’t have the support system there that she needed.”

“Money isn’t always enough and, of course my sister passed away from breast cancer in February 2004 when she was just 26. Instead of doing things like breast cancer walks, I decided to memorialize her by picking up the dream that she left which was to start an organization that provides scholarships and mentorship.”

It took a few years, but momentum has started to build for “I am OKah!”

“I think we’ve really caught some traction, especially this year because we’ve given out, to date, four $1,000 scholarships to children that have graduated from Baltimore area high schools and, this year, we’re on pace to give two more $1,000 scholarships,” DaCosta said.

In January, the organization opened what DaCosta dubbed an entrepreneurship financial rock star academy, which she says is an outgrowth of she and her sister’s own entrepreneurial blueprint.

The Financial Rockstar Academy provides entrepreneurship and financial literacy training to local students in grades four to 12. This year it already has provided courses to more than 64 students at Mars Estates Elementary in Essex, including opportunities for students to interview business owners and to develop ideas through classroom lessons and workshops.

In total, “I am OKah!” has distributed scholarships to students at McDaniel College, the University of Baltimore, Baltimore City Community College and the University of Miami.

“The tweaking of our parents’ plan is teaching children today from a young age how to take their thoughts, creativity and imagination and turn their innovation into income,” DaCosta said. “By this method, they will have several years of practice, with their parents’ support. It’s a good time to practice business. What we’re trying to do with entrepreneurship is use it in live as a proactive approach to help our children unlock their greatest potential and for them to not be afraid to step out of the box.”

She says that’s what her sister envisioned and she is committed to carrying that torch.

The organization’s first big gala titled “Be Amazing” is aimed at continuing DaCosta’s crusade against socio-economic barriers to success will be held on Saturday, May 17, 2014 at the Maryland Historical Society located at 201 W. Monument Street in Baltimore City at 7 p.m.

In repeating the theme from the organization’s 2013 annual report, DaCosta says that it’s important that will and skill are instilled in young children.

“The size of the expectations you hold for yourself fuels your willingness to put in a massive amount of effort into attaining your goals,” she said.

For more information about “I am OKah,” or to purchase tickets to the event, visit:

Songstress Ledisi to light up stage at Pier 6 Pavilion

With her fifth major studio album, “The Truth” and headlining a 30 city tour, it’s no surprise that eight time Grammy nominated singer Ledisi is shining like gold. Over the past year, the singer has embraced quite a few changes both professionally and personally that have added her already admirable career.

Ledisi is preparing to give it her all on stage at Pier 6 Pavilion in downtown Baltimore on Sunday, May 4, 2014. Scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. the concert will also feature performances from Leela James and The Robert Glasper Experiment.

It is evident the talented singer’s newly found happiness radiates through her spirit and performances. “I am freer at my shows this time around because I love all the music from this album and the new changes I have added into my performances. I’m dancing more with great choreography, jumping around on stage and just having fun. It’s not that I move around at previous shows, but now I have this completeness and I’m in a different space.”

The energy is also felt by her fans who eagerly attend to catch the good vibes. “The fans can sense my happiness and feel the music with me. However, what is most important is that I’ve overcome so much throughout my journey and now I’m on the other side. This is my truth.”

Always humbled and loyal to her fans, Ledisi took a moment to take a picture after a concert in Memphis, Tennessee with a fan who waited patiently to capture a memorable moment with the star. Ledisi promises to bring the same liveliness to her stop in Baltimore.

“When I come to Baltimore I’m going to give all of me as I have done in every other city. When artists perform in Baltimore, they have to bring their A game— so Baltimore I’m bring you my all.”

For more information about Ledisi and her tour dates, visit: You may also follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @ledisi.

African app company that trumped Apple to launch first black emoticons

— As in most aspects of life, timing in business is essential.

About one month ago, following complaints by celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Tahj Mowry over a lack a racial diversity in Apple’s emojis (the cartoon-like icons used to spruce up text messages), a company executive told MTV that the tech giant was working to update its set of characters.

The news quickly had Twitter buzzing as people joined the #EmojiEthnicityUpdate discussions — but that wasn’t the end of the story.

Without wasting any time, a Mauritius-based app company called Oju Africa announced a few hours later that it had already tackled the lack of racial diversity by introducing its own set of Afro emoticons on Google Play Store.

Oju Africa was officially launched at event in Johannesburg, South Africa, shown above, and has so far had 16,000 downloads, mainly from the U.S.

Credit: Courtesy Oju Africa

Oju Africa was officially launched at event in Johannesburg, South Africa, shown above, and has so far had 16,000 downloads, mainly from the U.S.

The company said it had been working on the icons since late 2012 and was planning to officially launch them on April 10. Yet, the social media hype after Apple’s response prompted them to speed up their release date — trumping market-leading companies in the process.

“Within a couple of hours of seeing that, we put our press release out and we already claimed ownership — that we have actually developed this already,” chief executive Alpesh Patel told CNN. “It’s very important for us, as a small African company, to make it known to the world that we were the first to do it.”

The emoticons are designed to work on all Android platforms, and will shortly be available on iOS. The company, a division of mobile devices brand Mi-Fone, says that so far there’ve been more than 16,000 downloads, the majority of which have come from the United States.

CNN’s African Start-Up caught up with Ugandan-born Patel to find out what’s been the response to the Afro emoticons, his plans for the future and why he wants to see Oju on the packet of cereal boxes.

CNN: Why did you decide to launch the Afro emoticons?

Alpesh Patel: it’s something that we thought about since late 2012. We decided to do it because of our core business, Mi-Fone. We had a look at the offerings in the market and said what can we do to make our phones more African; what can we do with the software, because all of the phones are kind of looking the same now.

We actually looked at it and said “you know what, there’s actually a lack of black smilies” — every phone that we looked at had yellow smilies so we said “why can’t we have some smilies, or some emoticons, that are more relevant to the people that we supply to?”

The reason we launched it three weeks ago is because of this petition from Miley Cyrus and MTV — petition to Apple CEO complaining about the lack of racially diverse emoticons and Apple said “yes, we’re going to look into it.” But within a couple of hours of seeing that, we put our press release out and already claimed ownership — that we have actually developed this already. We’re the first ones in the world to do it and people should work with us and use our emoticons because they represent people of color in a very nice way, they’re not derogatory at all.

CNN: How do you feel about beating tech giants?

AP: I don’t think really it’s about beating anyone to it — I just think that it’s very important for us as, a small African company, to make it known to the world that we were the first to do it. Big companies work with small companies all the time. We would like the big companies to work with us.

We’ve developed something very unique, very innovative. It’s been a big hit over the last three weeks and we feel that it will really help lift African innovation into the global audience because really not much things come out of Africa which you can sell overseas, most of the stuff will start from overseas and into Africa.

CNN: Are you afraid your emoticons might fall out of favor when bigger companies release their own icons?

AP: No, the big companies have the muscle anyway, they’ll do whatever they want to do. At the end of the day, we will just continue with what we’re doing, we don’t have those budgets and resources like they do so really today it is about who makes the loudest noise, but at least we were the ones to make the noise first.

We’re just going to keep on saying to people, “why do you want to actually go and develop and waste money when you can go right now to the Google Play Store in Android and download the Oju Africa app for free?” There’s no need to go and reinvent the wheel — it’s already available and it’s out of Africa where it’s even better than someone in London or New York doing this. We’ve actually done this in Africa.

CNN: How many downloads have you had so far?

AP: We’ve had 16,000 downloads and most of them are from the U.S. — we’ve had downloads from very seasoned markets and they’ve looked at it and said “hang on a minute, wow, this is a really cool innovation but it’s coming from Africa.” You know innovation is not something that belongs to the West, so we’re very happy with what’s happened but obviously we’ve got a long way to go.

CNN: Do you think that there should be more cartoon characters from Africa?

AP: Oju is an iconic African character — if you look at the main logo with the tongue sticking out, he’s a cheeky, very friendly, cool African character that also works in digital by the smilie, but also works in non-digital by a traditional character licensing.

Today Africa does not have its own Mickey Mouse, does not have its own Hello Kitty, there is no African character brand, and we said “hang on minute, we’re sitting on something that has huge potential worldwide. I mean if you can imagine an Oju cereal packet like Coco Pops with Oju collectibles, if you can imagine Oju nappies for babies, an Oju chocolate bar, an Oju toy — the possibilities are endless and this is what I believe really will help lift Africa.

CNN: What is the role of mobile in helping in the development of African countries?

AP: Mobile is basically what makes Africa go round today, what makes Africa work today. We never had any fixed infrastructure so Africa has come from nothing to wireless and in that process we’ve been able to develop some superior networks in Africa compared to the ones in the western world.

The mobile phone has become central to everyone’s life — contrary to popular belief the world is not round anymore, it’s actually a four-inch screen for most mass market African consumers because this is where they’re going to do all their business.

Milena Veselinovic contributed to this report.


™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

COMMENTARY: Divert, deny, distract

— In beating a hasty retreat from Cliven Bundy, their onetime Lonesome Cowboy icon, Republicans have resorted to a familiar tactic: divert, deny, distract.

Divert attention by claiming the “media” made a story out of Cliven Bundy. The “media” plucked him out of obscurity, baited him with questions about race, and then blew the story out of proportion.

Deny having defended, supported and promoted Bundy — despite the recorded evidence — with faux outrage and feigned offense.

Divert by talking about how much the only racism left in America is the talk about racism. That’s one of the points Tara Wall makes in her op-ed attacking CNN for its coverage of Bundy and his self-declared “Range War.”

But sticking our fingers in our ears and saying “I can’t hear you” didn’t make problems go away when we were 5-year-olds on a playground. And saying that if we just stop talking about race, there won’t be any racial bias, doesn’t make it so.

Look, I get it. Talking about the racial reality in America makes some powerful people uncomfortable. It shows in Chief Justice John Roberts’ argument that a nonexistent colorblindness justifies the Supreme Court’s gutting of affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act.

Most Americans aren’t hateful, and many who are, like Cliven Bundy, don’t see themselves in the mirror. But there’s still a racial bias in this country that holds back talented Americans who aren’t white.

What Justice Sonia Sotomayor said about the judiciary applies to all of us. If we believe in the guarantee of equal protection, then “we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society.”

“Wishing away” leads to a denial, and denial of history is, unfortunately, part of Tara Wall’s appeal to history. Yes, President Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, but a hundred years later the Republican Party wasn’t Lincoln’s.

Richard Nixon became president by courting Americans upset by integration, intentionally fueling the racial divide.

In his first speech after winning the Republican nomination in 1980, Ronald Reagan, said he believed “in states’ rights.” This at the Neshoba County Fair, just a few miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered.

In 2005, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman formally apologized for this “Southern Strategy.” This would have been great, if only they’d stopped using it. But they haven’t.

Here’s the proof. Or more proof. Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” said pretty much the same thing Cliven Bundy did. Republicans didn’t chastise him. They celebrated him. In fact, some Republicans invited “Duck Dynasty” cast members to this year’s State of the Union address to show their support.

The Republican Party and its allies supported Bundy’s cause célèbre with their actions and rhetoric from the beginning.

Before he wondered if “Blacks might not be better off as slaves,” Bundy received support and encouragement from three Republican senators, two of them (Ted Cruz and Rand Paul) with presidential ambitions. Nevada’s Republican senator, Dean Heller, referred to Bundy and his supporters as patriots before retracting.

And then there’s the list of state and local Republicans around the country who supported Bundy, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, another presidential aspirant.

Bundy felt comfortable lecturing a reporter about race and slavery because for weeks he’d been puffed up by right-leaning media outlets, potential Republican presidential candidates, and current GOP officeholders. That’s why he was even on the media’s radar.

And speaking of the media, here’s another dot to connect.

In April, before this most recent controversy sparked, Fox News mentioned Cliven Bundy 458 times. Sean Hannity — who said Bundy was a “friend and frequent guest” — interviewed Bundy at length, more than a half-dozen times, about his confrontation with the federal government.

It was all part of a concerted effort to turn a racist welfare rancher into a folk hero.

Why? and others report that “Hannity receives major funding and large ad buys from Koch-affiliated Heritage and Tea Party Patriots.”

That’s significant because the Koch Brothers and their affiliates want to “transfer control of federal lands to states” so that they can “use the land in whichever way is most profitable to them such as mining, drilling, and other resource extraction.”

It’s a shame a little racism gets in the way of profits and power grabs.

That Republicans eventually got around to denouncing Bundy’s racist, pro-slavery statement, after conspicuous silence, doesn’t change the fact they have a history of promoting people like Robertson and Bundy. It doesn’t change the fact that they’re still advocating an agenda fueled by hatred and fear.

It’s time for Republicans to stop posing and look in the mirror. They can’t light a fire under a pot and then feign outrage when it boils over.

Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of “Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pots in America.” She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.


™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Ryan tries to clear air with Black Caucus, but poverty divide remains

— It was a much-anticipated summit between Rep. Paul Ryan and the Congressional Black Caucus.

More than a month after the Wisconsin Republican ignited an angry backlash over comments that many viewed as racially insensitive, the House Budget Committee chairman sat down with members of the group to clear the air.

But Wednesday’s session on Capitol Hill didn’t bridge the gulf between Ryan’s philosophy of addressing poverty and that of the black caucus – whose members defend many of the current federal anti-poverty programs that Ryan’s proposed budget would cut.

The black caucus chair, Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat, stood next to Ryan after the closed-door meeting and thanked him for coming. But then she said bluntly that the meeting “didn’t get a whole lot accomplished.”

She said while the black caucus and Ryan both are concerned about poverty, “we just disagree on how we address the problem.”

Controversial remarks

Ryan opened the meeting explaining his comments a few weeks ago on a radio program – which triggered the invitation to sit down with the group — didn’t come out the way he intended, according to a Democrat who attended the session.

During a March interview with conservative commentator Bill Bennett, Ryan, who has been working on alternative ways to address poverty, said there is a “tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”

Many African-American leaders called the comments racially charged and the blowback prompted Ryan to swiftly admit his remarks were “inarticulate.”

Fudge referenced the controversy to reporters.

“There was some concern about comments that have been made about the culture in which we find this poverty, but we have agreed today that it is across the board. There is no particular place or people who experience poverty at a different rate than others,” she said.

Didn’t say sorry

Democrats who attended the meeting said Ryan didn’t say sorry, and wasn’t asked for an apology.

He told members that sometimes what he’s thinking in his head doesn’t come across the way he wants and admitted that in the debate going forward, he needed to do a better job at explaining his position.

Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin, characterized Ryan’s presentation as trying “to walk back” what he said, but she said there are still some black caucus members who believe Ryan was expressing his true feelings.

Moore told reporters she thinks the meeting helped open a door to continued dialogue.

Ryan explained after the meeting “the point I’ve been making all along is that we are marginalizing and isolating the poor in our communities and we need to stop doing that as a country.”

Ryan, the 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate and a potential White House hopeful next time around, argued “the status quo doesn’t work” and said the point of the session with the black caucus was to improve “the tone of the debate so that more people are invited to this debate.”

Challenged on his budget

But Ryan also acknowledged that major differences on “macroeconomics and budgets” still existed.

Rep. Jim Clyburn, a Democrat from South Carolina and the top ranking African-American in the House, said he believed Ryan was sincere, but pointed to his proposed budget and said flatly “if he stands by his resolution than he can’t be serious about the discussion we had today.”

CBC members challenged Ryan about the more than $900 billion in cuts to discretionary programs in his budget, saying they didn’t mesh with his stated commitment to helping the poor, pointing specifically to his effort to repeal Obamacare and target social welfare programs in his proposal.

According to Moore, Ryan “punted, saying it was members on the House Appropriations Committee who get to decide which federal programs would actually see cuts.”

Ryan’s work on poverty issues dates to the 1990s when he was an aide to the late GOP vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, who headed a policy group called “Empower America.” Kemp visited poor neighborhoods and pushed proposals to earmark federal and private resources to “empowerment zones” to lift people out of poverty.

Over the past year, Ryan has traveled to a dozen communities around the United States to learn about efforts to reduce poverty and promote more economic opportunity through mostly charitable organizations.

He is expected to unveil his own anti-poverty plans this summer. But it’s unclear if he will introduce legislative proposals or just some concepts to continue the debate about the Republican party’s alternatives to current federal policy.


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