Last month, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) sponsored a bill, S. 673, that would extend tax-exempt status to newspapers.
While seemingly innocuous and supportive of the many faltering dailies that abound these days, the legislation has serious defects stemming in part from a set of inaccurate and incomplete assumptions about the news media industry and the state of journalism -- two highly interrelated, but separate considerations.
Interestingly, there appears to be little to no substantive consideration for the struggling Black press and media produced for and by marginalized communities whose daily newspapers begun to die out shortly after desegregation some 40 years ago.
Perhaps if the editorial boards, newsrooms and press pools reflected the increasingly diverse demography of our nation the role of "ethnic media" in this discussion would not be so critical. However, in the years following the Civil Rights Movement, mass media have chosen not to recruit, retain and promote talent from communities of color at the level justice, quality and progress demand.
Fortunately, there exist a growing band of entrepreneurial, civic-minded folks within and beyond Black America who represent the increasingly power netroots community of journalists, artists, technologists, educators, activists, students and others who choosing to be the authors of our own collective fate.
We afro-netizens are leveraging the power of social media for civic advancement as did our abolitionist forbearers who were the proto-journalists of the early 19th Century.
This issue of the future of journalism is a red herring. Journalism is not in crisis; the commercial business model that has sustained modern print journalism is what these senators are most concerned about -- not necessarily about protecting and expanding representative voices of our society in furtherance of democracy.
Our cause must be to hold them (and ourselves) accountable for representing the interests of the people and communities served (poorly or otherwise) by media moguls, too many of whom became over-burdened by debt to remain viable in a fickle, evolving economy and industry.
Print publications will be around for awhile. Blogs and other web-based newspapers and such will continue to grow in popularity. But what matters most how well and quickly our news media represent the diverse demography and perspectives of the American people. If that's not part of their business model going forward, they deserve to wither on the vine, while those with more enlightened and sustainable models continue to flourish.
As part of a deal announced last November, Magic Johnson is appearing in a marketing campaign throughout the 2009 tax season for Jackson Hewitt, the franchise tax preparer notorious for preying on low-income people.
Magic appears in television ads, radio spots on urban stations and billboards in communities of color endorsing the “Money Now Loan” —one of the largest sources of high-interest tax refund loans in the nation.
The ads, streamed on www.JacksonHewitt.com, feature Magic talking about how his teammates helped him to succeed, and how everyone needs a little help sometimes.
“It’s money like Magic,” is the commercial’s tagline.
We admire him and hope he will stop this collaboration with predatory lenders.
Tax refund loans particularly target working poor families already being hurt by the economic crisis.
Two-thirds of refund borrowers are recipients of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), one of the few federal safety nets for the working poor.
Refund anticipation loans are secured by a taxpayer’s federal refund. Borrowers end up paying exorbitant interest (annual interest rates can range from 50% to nearly 500%) to receive what is billed as fast cash on their tax return.
Jackson Hewitt charges fees with an APR of either 134% or 140%.
“Refund anticipation loans are part of a spectrum of abusive, high-cost small loans that have plagued low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, draining hundreds of millions of dollars in wealth, too often through deceptive practices,” said Sarah Ludwig, co-director of Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project.
IRS data shows that 8.7 million taxpayers took out refund anticipation loans in 2007, costing them almost $1 billion in fees. Two-thirds of these borrowers are recipients of the EITC, which supplements the wages of low-income workers. An estimated 4.5 million people, including 2.4 million children, are lifted out of poverty as a result of EITC, making it the most effective government anti-poverty program. EITC recipients make up only 17% of all taxpayers, but are vastly overrepresented among tax refund borrowers.
Based on IRS data, consumer advocates estimate that about $523 million was drained from the EITC program by refund anticipation loan fees in 2007.
Jackson Hewitt, the second largest commercial preparation chain in the country, has been the target of several government lawsuits for its abusive practices.
In 2007, the California Attorney General won a $5 million settlement from the company for violating state and federal laws in marketing its tax refund loans to low-income customers. That same year, the Department of Justice sued five Jackson Hewitt franchises for preparing fraudulent tax returns that falsely claimed $70 million in refunds. When preparers inflate refunds, or if the IRS denies or delays the refund, the consumer still has to pay back the loan. On Feb. 20, Johnson announced another partnership with Rent-A-Center, another purveyor of high-cost lending whose rent-to-own stores can be found in low-income neighborhoods throughout the country.
“As a lifelong Laker and Magic Johnson fan, I am extremely concerned that Magic would endorse Jackson Hewitt and their Money Now Loan. These loans do exactly the opposite of what Magic has done and supported in minority communities—these loans bleed money out of these communities, they deprive families out of hard-earned income and they keep minorities out of the financial mainstream,” said Roberto Barragan, president of Valley Economic Development Center in Los Angeles, which also provides a free site for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA).
VITA sites have played a critical role in helping to process EITC refunds for low-income taxpayers so they can keep more of their hard-earned money. Tax filers with a total household income less than $38,000 can have their taxes prepared for free at these sites and then directly deposited into their bank accounts. The IRS can electronically deposit tax refunds into tax filers’ accounts in as little as five to 10 days for free.
Kimberly S. Jones is the Policy Advocate for California Reinvestment Coalition, a non-profit organization founded in 1992 to advocate for the right of low-income communities and communities of
color to have fair and equal access to banking and other financial
Afro-Netizen has promoted books before. However, the timing of the publication of "The Green Collar Economy" by GreenForAll founder, Van Jones, the presidential campaign and what's going on between Wall Street, Main Street and MLK Boulevard highlights the importance of Jones' book.
You have heard Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi -- even Republican political figures reference "green collar jobs" in the rally cry for a new economy built on energy independence and a heightened environmental stewardship that for the next generation of American voters may become an inviolable non-partisan issue like Social Security or, dare I say, Israel.
Beyond the political rhetoric whose growing lexicon has now subsumed "green collar" this and "green economy that, is the actual substance and context that every voter -- every American -- should understand. Most especially, we as people of color must commit to understand and advocate for our integral inclusion and leadership in the shaping of the social policy and business development in the emerging "green economy".
As Jones articulates so well, the green economy's success depends on our early and broad involvement as people of color to ensure that the fruits of our country's labor in this area produce not just a more vibrant workforce, but secure the type of "eco-equity" that the mainstream American environmental movement has been conspicuously silent on.
So, without further ado, here's a taste of a groundbreaking book we all should read and spread the word about with as much zeal as we do the chain letters that (rightly or wrongly) compel us to think, feel or do something away from our computer screens.
Still not sure what the heck "green collar jobs" are and why we should care?
The possibilities are endless. Someone says “green jobs,” and our minds go to Buck Rogers.
Let’s be clear, the main piece of technology in the green economy is a caulk gun. Hundreds of thousands of green-collar jobs will be weatherizing and energy-retroﬁtting every building in the United States. Buildings with leaky windows, ill-ﬁtting doors, poor insulation, and old appliances can gobble up 30 percent more energy.
That means owners are paying 30 percent more on their heating bills. And it often means that 30 percent more coal-ﬁ red carbon is going into the atmosphere. Drafty buildings create broke, chilly people—and an overheated planet.
Another bit of high-tech green technology is the clipboard. That tool is used by energy auditors as they point out energy-saving opportunities to homeowners and renters. This job does not require much training and can be an early entry point into the booming world of energy consultation and efﬁciency. And one consultation can save an owner hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars annually.
Other green-collar workers can then follow up with other tasks for building owners: wrapping hot-water heaters with blankets, blowing insulation, plugging holes, repairing cracks, hauling out old appliances, replacing old windows with the double-glazed kind.
Other pieces of green tech are ladders, wrenches, hammers, tool belts, and nonslip work boots. Those are the space-age gadgets used by solar-panel installers every day.
The point is this. When you think about the emerging green economy, don’t think of George Jetson with a jet pack. Think of Joe Sixpack with a hard hat and lunch bucket, sleeves rolled up, going off to ﬁx America. Think of Rosie the Riveter, manufacturing parts for hybrid buses or wind turbines. Those images will represent the true face of a green-collar America.
Recently, a storm has brewed over allegations by popular radio host Michael Baisden that progressive advocacy group, ColorofChange.org, has defrauded one of the Jena 6 families.
It is a serious, unsubstantiated and ridiculous charge from a man who took the lead in the corporate radio community to advocate for and promote the Jena 6. But that said, while we're all entitled to differing opinions, we're not entitled to different facts.
Afro-Netizen unequivocally supports ColorOfChange.org. They represent the future and power of renewed civic engagement in our communities. They honor the spirit of generations of Blackfolk and other freedom-fighters who organized around the message instead of merely venerating a given messenger.
ColorOfChange.org promotes and thrives on decentralization, diffusing influence and resources to individuals from all walks of life to get involved in ways that the cults of charismatic leadership discourage and corporate media fear.
I do not know Micheal Baisden, nor listen to his show (and rarely listen to corporate radio). So, this is really not a counter-attack. Because, really, this is not about whether Baisden is "good or bad". It's analogous to the common expression, "Do you see the glass as half-full or half-empty?". Because in actuality, any many contexts, the best answers come from related, but unasked questions like, "What's in the glass?" and "Who's glass is it?"
Michael Baisden may not be an employee for ABC Radio, but as long as ABC doesn't kick him off the air, he's doing their bidding. And doing their bidding is essentially producing consistently high ratings to increase their advertising rates and revenues towards maximizing shareholder value for what is a publicly-held media titan -- one of only a handful of such behemoths that is strangling our democracy and so-called "free speech".
ColorOfChange.org is a progressive, independent and under-resourced non-profit. It is a labor of love by its stakeholders, manifested as an innovative civic enterprise whose potential is only limited by the commitment, creativity and energy of its ever-growing membership.
ColorOfChange.org is an honorable and vital member of 21st Century freedom-fighters with whom Afro-Netizen stands shoulder to shoulder.
Interestingly, on Michael Baisden's own website, he chose to highlight his Jena-related activity with a photo of him & Rev. Al Sharpton, while giving no mention to ColorOfChange.org nor the Black netroots community whatsoever who predated his on-air efforts to promote the Jena 6 affair.
But again, this matter is bigger than both Baisden and ColorOfChange.org.
This is about whether we allow corporate media to facilitate COINTELPRO 2.0 to divide and conquer the emerging Black netroots community.
Many entrenched Negroes who have poo-pooed those of us in the Black netroots community as lap dogs of "white liberal activists" (read: MoveOn.org), are afraid that they will have to become accountable to the rhetoric they have almost begun to believe after all these years without the antiseptic of transparency.
The reality is, Afro-Netizen need not name names in this regard. But toward interested readers doing their own research on who's promoting whose agenda, as my late hell-raising activist maternal grandmother (inspiring the moniker "Geronimo" by Baltimore politicos) liked to remind me sternly: "Consider the source!" (Not unlike the ever sanguine pearl: "Follow the money.")
This is why media literacy is so important to disadvantaged communities who do not genuinely control their own media. Because if we knew who owns what and what they are are about, the current and future Baisden-like fiascoes would be taken for what they are: distractions from the much larger threat of media consolidation at the expense of widening and amplifying the diverse, autonomous voices of communities color.
And for all the good things Baisden may have said or done around Jena and other salient issues, if you haven't heard him mention "media literacy", "media consolidation" or "media justice", now you know why.
There is a side of me that remembers the days when the number of Black CEO’s sat squarely on zero. That side of me moans, softly, over the departure of Stanley O’Neal as Merrill Lynch’s top executive and board chair.
But the unapologizing truth is that I mostly feel anger toward Merrill Lynch, for its role in the sub-prime crisis that has claimed O'Neal's job and, more tragically, the homes and happiness of tens of thousands of foreclosure victims.
My beloved community of Brooklyn – known to many as the center of the African diaspora, because of its hundreds of thousands of residents who are natives of the Caribbean, the United States and the Mother Continent itself – has been a special victim of this crisis created by greed.
Hundreds of Black families there, and countless thousands elsewhere, are bracing for the foreclosure hatchet to come down on the necks of their financial lives.
A bit of history. Going back a few years, money-hungry investors plying Wall Street and Main Street sought other corners on which to place their bets; and they turned to little cubbies inhabited by struggling souls who were, largely, people of color, cash-short workers looking to purchase a home or simply make repairs to one. These loans were “bundled” into packages and passed up the ladder, in schemes in which Merrill Lynch and others were key players.
The evidence of roguishness in this crisis has been mounting.
Recently, the New York State Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, said in a law suit that Washington Mutual schemed to get selected real estate appraisers to put higher price tags on properties to be purchased by “sub-prime” borrowers. And more recently, the New York Times reported that banks and lawyers across the nation have been bilking these borrowers as they crash toward foreclosure.
I, for one, don’t even like to refer to all this as the sub-prime loan crisis. I prefer to call it the predatory loan crisis, because these financial institutions effectively acted as predators, using brokers to find decent but often gullible people willing to take out loans at exorbitant rates and on shylock-like terms that were, too often, way beyond their means to repay.
The result of the predatory loan scandal has been the meltdown that we have seen lately across the country, a broad-based case of things-falling-apart. It is causing deep personal pain in communities like the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn – New York City’s most populous and most Black borough.
In New York City, it is anticipated that about 14,000 homes will have foreclosure actions filed against them by the end of this year, and the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens will account for more than 72 percent of those filings.
The neighborhoods most affected will be the Black areas of those two boroughs, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Flatbush in Brooklyn, and Jamaica and Rochdale in Queens. (These projections were made by the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, or NEDAP, which seeks to “promote community economic justice, and to eliminate discriminatory economic practices that harm communities and perpetuate inequality and poverty.”)
What’s also unsettling here is that there are some who continue to gain from the pain of these victims of predatory lending. In New York City – as overall real estate prices continue to rise – lovely brownstones of Bedford-Stuyvesant are becoming bargains for whites and other upper-middle income workers looking to own a home.
So I say to Black people in New York and elsewhere, and to housing advocates: Be vigilant and take arms (metaphorical arms!) against this sea of schemers dressed in suits and ties.
As for Stanley O’Neal, his executive sunset will likely be laced with gold. Not to make accusations, but perhaps some act of contrition on his part would be in order, like a contribution to some fund assisting victims of predatory loans.
Just a thought.
Ron Howell is a veteran journalist and neophyte blogger. Over the years, Ron has been a reporter -- domestic and overseas -- for Newsday, The Associated Press, Ebony Magazine, The New York Daily News and The Baltimore Evening Sun.
According to Black Enterprise, Urban Trust Bank may be locating some of its banks in Wal-Mart stores. While such arrangements with banks is not new for Wal-Mart, it would represent a first, as Urban Trust Bank is a Black-owned financial institution.
While this may be a good thing for Bob Johnson, Urban Trust Bank and Wal-Mart, how good will this arrangement be for everyone else -- most notably, the communities who suffer from Wal-Mart's very presence in their neighborhoods?
In a recent article published in The Wall Street Journal, writer Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg talks about the business of segregating books -- specifically Black books.
Here's a sneak peek:
"You face a double-edged sword," says Mr. Massey, 33 years old. "I'm black and I'm published by a black imprint, so I'm automatically slotted in African-American fiction." That helps black readers to find his books easily and has underpinned his career. At the same time, he says, the placement "limits my sales."
The article goes on . . .
As a practical matter, segregating books by race and culture makes it less likely that black writers will hit the national best-seller lists -- whites make up a majority of book buyers -- limiting their chances of earning bigger paychecks. Nadine Aldred, who writes as Millenia Black, says that writer Jennifer Weiner might not have become a best-selling author if her books had been sold exclusively in a Jewish-American section. Ms. Weiner, whose books include "Good in Bed" and "Little Earthquakes," agrees. "If my books were perceived as Jewish 'chick lit,' there would be a narrower appeal," she says.
If only it were that simple. Few things are, and the Black haircare market in urban America is no exception.
Watch the following video vignette for yourself and see how this compelling 6-minute documentary directed by high school filmmaker Rebecca Christian for the San Diego Asian Film Foundation's Reel Voices Documentary Project will raise as many questions as it seeks to answer.
. . . "niggas and Black people", to quote from one of comedian Chris Rock's more popular and controversial stand-up routines, when an employee of this restaurant chain allegedly chose to discriminate against Rock's mother and sister recently.
According the Associated Press, . . .
The mother of black comedian Chris Rock said Tuesday she will sue a restaurant chain after she was seated but ignored for more than a half hour at one of the chain's restaurants along the South Carolina coast.
Rose Rock said she and her 21-year-old daughter were the only blacks at the Cracker Barrel chain's Murrells Inlet restaurant in April. Rock said she asked the manager about the delay and was told she and her daughter could have a free meal.
"He never called over the waitresses and asked why did these people sit here for an hour without service?" she said. "The only thing he said was we could have a free meal and neither of us wanted to eat."
To ensure that this matter will be handled delicatedly in the press, Mrs. Rock will be joined by Rev. Al Sharpton (he says sardonically).
Founded in 1969, Cracker Barrel operates 547 restaurants in 41 states, and has been embattled by a series of racial discrimination lawsuits.