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House Panel Studies Slavery Reparations Ahead of Key Vote

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A U.S.congressional panel Wednesday began a much-anticipated debate on federal slavery reparation payments to African Americans, ahead of a historic first vote on an issue gaining momentum during the nation’s intensifying discussions over race.

The House Judiciary Committee kicked off hours of late-night discussion about a bill that would create a commission to study and develop reparation proposals for Black people.

But it faces major challenges in a closely divided Congress, where no Republicans have joined the more than 150 Democratic sponsors of the measure.

The first version of the bill was introduced more than 30 years ago but never advanced. It addresses the period of slavery and discrimination in the United States from 1619 to the present day, and would establish a commission that will study and propose remedies including financial reparations.

Texas Democrat Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, the bill’s chief sponsor, said such a commission would be a long-overdue effort to confront the stark societal disparities occurring in Black communities today, and recommend solutions.

It would provide a “road map for the truth of the brutality and the onerous and terrible burden placed on African Americans, and this nation, by slavery,” she told the committee.

Lee, who is Black, also delivered a message to her Republican colleagues: “Do not cancel us tonight,” she implored.

“Do not ignore the pain, the history — and the reasonableness of this commission.”

President Joe Biden met Tuesday with members of the Congressional Black Caucus at the White House where they discussed the reparations issue.

Lee, who attended the meeting, said Biden remained “committed” to the bill.

Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler said the legislation is intended to “begin a national conversation about how to confront the brutal mistreatment of African Americans during chattel slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and the enduring structural racism that remains endemic to our society today.”

But Nadler stressed that the measure makes no conclusion about how to properly atone for and make recompense for slavery, segregation and their shameful legacy.

Republicans acknowledged the evils of slavery, but they nonetheless spoke out against the legislation, with some criticizing the commission’s expected $20 million cost.

“I would very much caution against going down this road,” House Republican Chip Roy told the session.

“It takes us away from the important dream of judging people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.”

Wednesday’s debate comes during the high-profile trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is charged with the murder of George Floyd.

The Black man’s death last May triggered protests highlighting the country’s difficult challenges over race.

Approximately four million Africans and their descendants were enslaved in the original colonies and the United States between 1619 and 1865, a history that some lawmakers described Wednesday as “the original sin” of the United States.

The bill says that in the decades following slavery, the government helped create “persistent systemic structures of discrimination on living African Americans.”

Black Americans continue to suffer “debilitating economic, educational, and health hardships” compared to white Americans, the bill notes, including an unemployment rate more than twice that of whites, and an average of less than 1/16 of the wealth of white families.

Last month, local lawmakers in Evanston, Illinois voted to give funds to Black residents as a form of reparations for housing discrimination, thereby becoming the first US city to take such action.

Under the plan, qualifying residents will receive $25,000 to use towards home improvements or mortgage assistance.

The move could become a model for other US communities as racial injustice has risen up the political and public agenda.

Should the judiciary committee advance the measure, it would likely receive a floor vote in the House.

But the Senate hurdle is higher. At least 10 Republicans would need to join all 50 Democrats in order for the bill to pass the chamber.

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Trump: No ’24 Run Yet ‘for Campaign Finance Reasons’

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Former President Donald Trump teased a run in 2024 to return to the Oval Office, telling Candace Owens on Tuesday he is merely holding off an official announcement “for campaign finance reasons.”

“The answer is I’m absolutely enthused,” Trump told “Candace” in an exclusive phone interview. “I look forward to doing an announcement at the right time. As you know, it’s very early, but I think people are going to be very, very happy when I make a certain announcement.

“You know, for campaign finance reasons, you really can’t do it too early because it becomes a whole different thing. Otherwise, I’d give you an answer that I think you’d be very happy with.”

Owens also joked about being Trump’s vice presidential nominee.

“Are you going to run in 2024, and if so, can I be your vice president?” Owens asked.

“That’s very interesting,” Trump responded. “What a good choice that would be. That would be fantastic.

“You would be fantastic, and I really appreciate the job you do and everybody does.”

Owens is an outspoken and well-liked Black conservative woman who recently turned 32 years of age, meaning she would be the constitutionally requisite age of 35 to be on the presidential ticket in 2024.

Trump has already been recognized as a clear favorite to win the Republican primary, as a straw poll conducted at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this year showed Trump as the favorite with 55% support, followed by Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis with 21%, and South Dakota GOP Gov. Kristi Noem with 4%.

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Corrupt Dem Politician Sheldon Silver Released From Prison on Furlough

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Sheldon Silver, a former Democratic New York Assembly speaker whose political career ended on corruption charges, was released from prison Tuesday after serving less than a year of a six-and-a-half-year sentence while awaiting a final decision on whether he can serve the rest of his sentence there in home confinement. 

The Bureau of Prisons declined to comment on Silver’s status.

“For privacy, safety, and security reasons, we do not discuss release plans for an inmate to include furlough status where applicable,” the bureau said, according to The New York Times.

The federal Bureau of Prisons didn’t provide details or a reason for the transfer, but Congress gave the Justice Department expanded powers during the coronavirus pandemic to release inmates on furlough and home confinement to prevent them from catching the virus behind bars.

At the time of Silver’s sentencing last summer, his lawyers asked that he be allowed to avoid prison and serve a term of home confinement because of his history of cancer and chronic kidney disease. They argued that imprisonment would increase his chances of becoming ill or even dying from the coronavirus.

Nearly 25,000 prisoners have been placed on home confinement by the since last March amid the pandemic. More than 7,000 were under home confinement as of Tuesday, according to the agency’s statistics, reports The Times. 

Yuh-Line Niou, a Democratic assemblywoman who represents the area Silver once did, told the New York Post: “no New Yorker should die from the pandemic while in jail.”

“We should be taking steps for all incarcerated New Yorkers in at-risk populations to be safe from Covid-19,” Niou said. “Our prisons have been and are still hot spots for the virus, and we need to remain vigilant about combating coronavirus in our prison system.

Silver was seen by media going into his Manhattan apartment building later Tuesday. Wearing a gray cap and blue face covering, he sat in a wheelchair as he was taken into the residence.

A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, which prosecuted Silver, said it sent an email to the Bureau of Prisons on Monday opposing his furlough.

Lawyers who have represented Silver at trial and at the appeals court either said they no longer represent him or did not respond to email and voice messages.

Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, was once one of the three most powerful state officials in New York. He was the Assembly’s leader for more than two decades before his abrupt ouster in 2015 after the corruption allegations emerged.

He was ultimately convicted in a scheme that involved a type of illegal back-scratching that has long plagued Albany. He supported legislation that benefited real estate developers he knew. In return, they referred tax business to a law firm that employed Silver, which then paid him fees.

Appeals kept Silver out of prison for years. His initial 2015 conviction was overturned on appeal before he was convicted again in 2018. Part of that conviction was then tossed out on another appeal, leading to yet another sentencing in July.

Under the bureau’s guidelines, priority for home confinement is supposed to be given to those inmates who have served half of their sentence or inmates with 18 months or less left and who served at least 25% of their time. But the bureau has discretion about who can be released.

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Bill Gates and Melinda Gates are splitting up after 27 years

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Bill Gates, co-founder and former CEO of Microsoft, and his wife, Melinda French Gates, said on Twitter on Monday that they will split up after 27 years. The two will keep working together on philanthropic efforts, which have addressed education, gender equality, and health care.

“After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage,” Bill and Melinda Gates wrote in a statement that Bill Gates tweeted out.

“Over the last 27 years, we have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives. We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life.”

The decision reflects a personal change at the top of American business.

Bill Gates led Microsoft as CEO from its founding with Paul Allen in 1975 until 2000, leaving Steve Ballmer to run the company, while Bill Gates became chairman and chief software architect. In 2008 Gates gave up his day-to-day role at the company to spend more time on the nonprofit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Last year Bill Gates stepped down from Microsoft’s board as the coronavirus became a force around the world. He began spending more time on the foundation alongside Melinda Gates. The two are co-chairs and trustees of the foundation, which launched in 2000.

Bill and Melinda Gates both worked at Microsoft. She had been a general manager at the software company, where she worked on products such as the Encarta encyclopedia, according to her LinkedIn profile. The two met at a dinner for Microsoft employees in 1987. “It took him quite a few months before he asked me out,” Melinda Gates later said. Bill Gates had weighed the pros and cons on a blackboard, and in 1994 the couple were married in Hawaii.

Financial details of the Gateses parting ways are not yet clear. Bill Gates owns 1.37% of Microsoft’s outstanding shares, which are worth more than $26 billion, according to FactSet. The couple was creators, along with Warren Buffett, of the Giving Pledge, a program that requires participants to give away more than half of their wealth.

At one point the couple decided to move $20 billion worth of Microsoft stock to the foundation as they sought to increase their commitment to philanthropy, Bill Gates wrote in a 2019 blog post. Today the foundation has more than $51 billion in assets, according to a tax filing, making it one of the world’s wealthiest foundations.

“In the case of Melinda, it is a truly equal partner,” Bill Gates said in the 2019 Netflix documentary “Inside Bill’s Brain.” “She’s a lot like me in that she is optimistic and she is interested in science. She is better with people than I am. She’s a tiny bit less hardcore about knowing, you know, immunology, than I am.”

In 2015 the two began pursuing areas they were interested in. Bill Gates established Breakthrough Energy, an initiative to slow climate change that includes a venture arm, and Melinda Gates created Pivotal Ventures, a company that makes investments to foster equality.

For Valentine’s Day in 2020, Bill Gates posted a photo on Instagram showing him standing with his arm around Melinda Gates. “I couldn’t ask for a better partner on this journey,” the caption said.

Each year for more than a decade the Gateses have published a letter about their foundation work. In the latest one, published in January, they reflected on the impact of the pandemic, beyond supporting the development of vaccines. “For us, the days became a blur of video meetings, troubling news alerts, and microwaved meals,” they wrote.

Bill Gates is the world’s fourth-richest person, behind Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, LVMH’s Bernard Arnault, and Tesla’s Elon Musk, according to Forbes.

The announcement comes two years after Bezos said he and his wife, MacKenzie, were getting divorced. Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are among the world’s richest people, and Amazon and Microsoft compete in the cloud computing business. Amazon said earlier this year that Bezos would be stepping down from his post as CEO and that cloud chief Andy Jassy would succeed him.

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