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10 percent of Americans like Congress: Are they nuts?

US Congressional seal-450(CNN) – Our Congress sucks. This is truly one of the few things we agree on. In fact, a new CNN poll released earlier this week found that Congress has only a 10 percent approval rating.

When you think that 10 percent of Americans believe Congress is doing a good job, you have to ask yourself one question: Who are these people?! (Imagine this asked with true Jerry Seinfeld-esque exasperation.)

Congress is so dysfunctional that dictators in other countries are probably pointing at it as an example of why you should never have a democracy.

Yet, somehow, about 30 million Americans are looking at what Congress is doing and thinking: "I like what I see."


Black federal workers bear brunt of government shutdown

federal-worker-500Arnetta is a 40-something African-American woman living in the nation's capital who's been working about seven years on what folks sometimes call "a good government job."

"I'm a project manager with a leading science agency," the single professional said, noting the excellent benefits and a "high pay grade," thanks to a college degree and experience.

But like so many federal workers across the country, she is understandably frustrated by the Congressional budget impasse that has led to America's first government shutdown in 17 years.

The latest gridlock on Capitol Hill stems from a small band of House and Senate Republicans who have used the latest budget process to try to defund the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, which launched Tuesday.


Black men in pain need our help

Michaela Angela Davis-160"I was suicidal in college," a Harry Potter-looking hipster recently told me. The young man's words stunned me. It wasn't his age or gender or style that took me by surprise. It was because he's black.

Even though suicide is the third leading cause of death for black males ages 10 to 24, I had no immediate image, no ready reference for a young black man hurting so bad he wanted to die or for a black man so sick he was driven to kill.

The recent mass shooting by Aaron Alexis at the Washington Navy Yard was horrific and tragic. It made me think about the interior lives of black men – about how little anyone knows how black men feel when they're in agony or depression.


5 ways Obamacare benefits African-American women

obamacare black-women-400For the last few weeks, America has been told to brace itself for what is being billed as one of the biggest threats to hit the country in years: the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

A brief overview of some recent fearmongering headlines: "Obamacare Is Really, Really Bad for You, Especially If You're Young," "Sorry, Mr. President, There Is 'Serious Evidence' Obamacare Is Bad for Economic Growth" and "Obamacare – What's Already Gone Wrong."

But despite the scary headlines, there are some serious benefits to the new law, particularly for those in communities of color. The effects that the Affordable Care Act will have on African-American women are particularly noteworthy. Below is a list of five ways Obamacare significantly benefits black women.


Donna Brazile takes on food stamp critics

Donna Brazile-160After the vote in the House of Representatives to slash the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, I wrote a column against cutting food stamps. This column generated more than 5,200 online comments and hundreds of e-mails.

Comments reflected, not surprisingly, the tone and tenor of the political debate: a lot of partisan passion, some mutual understanding, animosity based on stereotypes and a lot of misinformation.

I would like to address some of the typical concerns that were expressed.


Lamar Odom’s downward spiral a familiar tale

lamar-odom-nba-400Watching an athlete's career slowly spiral out of control has become a familiar, and unfortunately rather common, story.

We remember the tragic cases of the great ones. Lawrence Taylor's battle with substance abuse (and to a larger extent, himself) is the standard example of watching an athlete fans revered, turn into a man fans revile. We never got to see the greatness of Len Bias, because a cocaine overdose robbed him of what should've been a Hall of Fame career.

These past three years, we've seen the slow and steady decline of the promising career of Lamar Odom. The news items around him have morphed from humorous, to perplexing, to simply depressing. After the latest Odom news – that he lashed out at his absentee father on Twitter for failing him as a child – it's fair to wonder if the next time we hear his name in the news, it'll be for an appearance in a courtroom, rather than on a basketball court. At 33 – ancient by NBA terms – Odom's professional basketball career is probably over.


Food stamp cuts kick Americans when they’re down

brazilefoodstamps-600We are in the middle of a fight to preserve the dignity and grace that makes all of us Americans. We have big hearts and great souls. I know. I have seen them, felt them and watched them in wonder when my family was lost and unreachable in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

I cried, worrying for those I loved, heartbroken by what happened to our beloved Louisiana. And in the middle of that tough moment, the decency of people shone through in e-mails, phone calls and in person. Everybody was saying the same thing: "How can I help?"

This is what we do in times of struggle. We offer our hand and our love to pull someone up who's been knocked down by hard times and despair. It's just a fundamental rule in life and in any fight; you don't kick people when they're down.


President Obama still the ‘tough guy’ after Syrian deal

Jason Johnson-160In any movie, TV show or book, the toughest guy is always the one that never actually has to draw his weapon. In old western movies, you always knew who the tough guy was, he just walked into the bar and everybody started finishing their drinks and running.

You watch "The Wire" and all somebody had to yell was "Omar's coming" and folks scattered. By the time Samuel L. Jackson shows up in any scene most people are already looking for an escape route (even the snakes).

The point is, that in the movies, just like real life, the tough guy is the one who makes things happen without having to lift a finger; his mere presence or even the vaguest threat is enough to get things done.


Common Sense Rules: Black Boss Pays Price for Using N-Word at Work


There are few social ills in the African American community that can’t be solved by listening to a little bit of old Public Enemy. There’s  a great song on the Apocalypse 91 album called “I Don’t Wanna be Called Yo Nigga”  The song is pretty simple actually, it’s just Flava Flav (the pre - Flavor of Love version) rapping about how he and most black people don’t want to be called “Nigga” by anybody, under any circumstances.

How can you say to me, "Yo my nigga!"

Cursin' up a storm with your finger on a trigger

Feelin' all the girls like a big gold digger

Take a small problem

Make a small problem bigger

You say, "Yo; I ain't poor I got dough

You Don't consider me your brother no more?"

Goddamn kilogram, how do you figure

I don't want to be called yo nigga!

The point of the song is that no matter how common the term is amongst black people, and black culture it’s still stings and there are very, very few circumstances in which calling somebody “nigger,” or “nigga,” or “niggaz” is appropriate. Perhaps someone should have explained this to Robert Carmona, the head of the STRIVE work program. It might’ve saved him $30,000.

Rob Carmona, 61, is the founder and director of STRIVE an employment agency in East Harlem that focuses on helping convicted criminals find work and get back into the economy. Brandi Johnson, 38, was a STRIVE employee. Both are African American. It’s not hard to figure that the N-Word was going to come up eventually right?

Apparently on March 14 of 2012 Carmona went on a four-minute expletive and racial slur laden rant on Johnson about her workplace attire and professionalism. However this wasn’t the first time that Carmona had gone off on Johnson at work, and because her previous complaints had been ignored she secretly recorded the entire conversation. After the tirade, she claims she ran to the bathroom and cried for 45 minutes. On the stand in her workplace discrimination case she testified: "I was offended. I was hurt. I felt degraded. I felt disrespected. I was embarrassed," At this point this is still a simple discrimination suit, something that happens all of the time in America, just ask Paula Deen, or anybody who’s ever worked at Denny’s. But the reason ganered national attention is because Rob Carmona and his defense lawyers tried to argue that he was using the term “nigger” as a term of endearment,  and since nigger has different meanings in different contexts that he in fact wasn’t really creating a hostile work environment for Brandi Johnson.

When asked to be more specific as to why he called her nigger eight times in the span of four minutes Carmona testified he was trying to tell Johnson that she was being  "….too emotional, wrapped up in her[self], at least the negative aspects of human nature." You know…. being a nigger. Of course the jury didn’t buy his ridiculous story either, and Carmona will pay Johnson $25,000 in punitive damages and STRIVE will pay another $5,000 on top of that.

To be honest with you, if every black person in America got paid $30,000 every time we’ve been called ‘’nigger,’ collectively or individually I think I’d stop complaining about reparations, but I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen. Already many press outlets are reporting this court ruling as some sort of major sea change in language, now that there is no longer this “double-standard” where black people can say “nigger” and white people can’t.

This is completely wrong of course and another example of the disingenuous double standard of race that we all still live under. The workplace is the workplace; you are not supposed to use foul language at any job, no matter what race you are, or who happens to be working there that day. If Carmona was a woman and had gone on a four-minute rant calling Brandi Johnson a “bitch” eight times and lost a discrimination suit, nobody would be calling this ruling a sea change in language or culture. Why? Because anyone with a lick of common sense and professionalism knows that words like bitch, faggot and especially nigger, may be okay when you’re joking with your friends and family, but those words never have, and never will have a place in a workplace that isn’t a recording studio or on the set of the newest Showtime drama.

Only white Americans who obsess over “not” being able to use the n-word and black people who don’t know any better, would view this court ruling as anything significant. The rest of us know better.

Of course Robert Carmona knew this from day one and simply got caught for being a verbally abusive boss. He could have saved himself $30,000 if he’d just listened to Flava Flav, nobody wants to be called “Yo nigger”.

Dr. Jason Johnson is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College and an analyst for CNN, HLN and Al Jazeera English.

He can be found at @Drjasonjohnson on Twitter and at www.drjasonjohnson.com

Aaron Alexis was someone’s son

shooter-1-400In 1963, President Kennedy submitted a "Special Message to the Congress on Mental Illness and Mental Retardation" with a plan to call to action private foundations, individual citizens and government agencies on all levels to act responsibly in addressing the needs of this population...50 years later where are we.

Those suffering from mental illness may not be "prisoners" in the mental institutions or insane asylums, but they are prisoners in their own worlds...the stigma, lack of resources and difficulty navigating a complex health care system perpetuate the problems of yesterday.

When will we address the way we are raising our young black men? When will we take time to talk to our friends and neighbors? When will we stop being scared and get involved? When will we become the village it takes to raise a child? Can we stop saying when and start saying now.


Is being fat normal?

Chef Timothy Moore-160Pants with expanding waistlines are sold in most stores now, and big and tall retail shops are popping up everywhere. More and more, society is moving toward the acceptance of being overweight and obese as "normal."

It's official that the United States is fat. According to the Centers for Disease Control, two thirds of Americans are obese. Even though some seem to be taking such news lightly and as if it's just a fad, it is no laughing matter. Millions of people die each year from overusing a fork, spoon and a latte.

I frequently talk with individuals who deny they even have a weight problem. They argue that God created them to eat and enjoy life to the fullest and not worry about the outcome. I've also found that overweight people often overlook their weight because they feel everyone looks like them.


African-American income remains lowest of any group

the-black-1-percent-500The U.S. Census just released the latest numbers on poverty in America. And it is not a pretty picture for the nation, especially for African Americans and other historically marginalized groups.

According to the latest stats, 46.5 million people are in poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth. That's 15 percent of the population, or more than 1 in 7. Childhood poverty stands at a whopping 21.8 percent.

But for African Americans, it is even worse. African-Americans suffer from a poverty rate of 27.2 percent – the highest of any group – compared to 25.6 percent of Latinos, 11.7 percent for Asians and 9.7 percent for whites. All of these poverty figures are much too high, but for African Americans and Latinos in particular, poverty is far, far too high. And it seems like a permanent fixture on the American landscape that presidents and other politicians will not or cannot tackle.


Gun control is not the answer

LZ granderson-160Another day, another mass shooting in America.

More blood, more tears, more knee-jerk rhetoric about finding a solution for a bunch of different problems.

Those who knew Aaron Alexis – the shooter who killed 12 and injured eight more at the Washington Navy Yard this week – said he was a quiet, shy man.

At one point he was studying Buddhism and meditated often.

A little more digging, and we find he had several gun-related arrests and a pattern of misconduct in the Navy, but he was honorably discharged.