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Law

Democrats Sue for Trump Tax Returns

WASHINGTON INFORMER — The chair of the House Ways and Means Committee filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the IRS and the Treasury Department to gain access to President Donald Trump’s tax returns.

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The chair of the House Ways and Means Committee filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the IRS and the Treasury Department to gain access to President Donald Trump’s tax returns.

The suit, which was filed by Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and now heads to federal courts, comes after an initial request in April to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the IRS over the tax records.

Trump claims has claimed since the 2016 presidential campaign that he cannot release his returns publicly because he is currently under audit by the IRS.

Mnuchin told Neal in a letter last month that the request for the president’s tax returns “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”

This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer

Black History

Freedom’s Journal: The First Voice of Black America

The four-column weekly publication was printed every Friday. Stories covered foreign and domestic news, editorials, births and deaths in the local black community, weddings, advertisements, and notices for retailers and companies that did not discriminate. Featured were articles on countries such as Haiti and Sierra Leone.

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Freedom’s Journal, Vol. 1 No. 1, March 16, 1827. Courtesy Library of Congress (sn83030455).

It was 1827, a time when white publishers didn’t run obituaries of African Americans. Politics, sports, money and social issues were reported from the perspectives of whites only.

That same year, John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish founded Freedom’s Journal in New York City. It was the first black-owned and -operated newspaper in the United States. The days of major papers snuffing out the voices of Black America were ending.

The four-column weekly publication was printed every Friday. Stories covered foreign and domestic news, editorials, births and deaths in the local black community, weddings, advertisements, and notices for retailers and companies that did not discriminate. Featured were articles on countries such as Haiti and Sierra Leone.

To encourage Black achievement, it printed biographies of renowned Black figures such as Paul Cuffee, Touissant L’Ouverture and Phyllis Wheatley.

Also included were editorials expressing contempt of slavery, racism and other injustices suffered by Blacks. At the same time, many white papers openly supported slavery and racially biased acts. Boston writer David Walker, an agent for the paper, penned “David Walker’s Appeal,” dubbed the most radical of all anti-slavery documents. In it, he called for slaves to rebel against their masters.

According to Nieman Reports, “Russwurm and Cornish placed great value on the need for reading and writing as keys to empowerment for the Black population and they hoped a Black newspaper would encourage literacy and intellectual development among African Americans.”

The publishers sought to broaden readers’ awareness of world events while acting as a beacon to strengthen ties among Black communities across the U.S. During the paper’s heyday, subscriptions were $3 per year and circulated in 11 states, the District of Columbia, Haiti, Europe and Canada.

In 1827, Cornish resigned from the publication, leaving Russwurm as the sole editor. Cited were differences regarding African-American colonization of Africa. According to Nieman Reports, “Russwurm had begun to promote the colonization movement led by the American Colonization Society, which wanted to free African-American slaves and offer them the opportunity of transport back to Africa.”

The newspaper’s position was unpopular with its readership. Subscriptions quickly declined. By March of 1829, the loss of circulation forced the paper to cease publication.

After the paper shut down, Russwurm emigrated to Liberia. It was the area established on Africa’s western coast to receive those recruited by the American Colonization Society. There, Russwurm became governor of Liberia’s Maryland Colony.

In 1829, Cornish re-entered the newspaper world with a goal to revive Freedom’s Journal, renaming it The Rights of All. But in less than a year, the paper failed. Freedom’s Journal had boasted a lifespan of two years. In spite of this short-lived history, its enormous impact on antebellum Black communities would live on as progress of the Black press continued.

Despite its troubles, Freedom’s Journal was instrumental in spawning other papers. Three decades later, more than 40 Black-owned newspapers were operating throughout the U.S. All 103 issues of Freedom’s Journal are available on the Wisconsin Historical Society website.

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Crime

Congress Begins Hearing on January 6 Capitol Riot

This week’s hearing represents the first official Congressional probe into how the incredible breach occurred on January 6, and political tensions surrounding the riot have only flared since then. Republicans have sought to evade any meaningful probe of what took place, but Congress started work to get to the bottom of it this week.

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USA Today Newpaper Photo Courtesy of Little Plant via Unplash

A congressional panel investigating the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol Building began hearings this week, starting with testimony from Capitol police officers who were on scene that day. Televised on several networks, officers shared emotional testimony about being assaulted, tased, struggling to breathe, and more as they sought to prevent rioters from running over the Capitol building.

Officers also shared feelings of betrayal from Republican lawmakers who have downplayed or even denied the violence that occurred on January 6. “I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room,” Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officer Michael Fanone testified. “Too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist or that hell actually wasn’t that bad. The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”  The MPD are the police for Wash., D.C.

Lawmakers were emotional as video from the riot was replayed. “The main reason rioters didn’t harm any members of Congress was because they didn’t encounter any members of Congress,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), thanking the officers for their service. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) who has repeatedly broken with her Republican colleagues to condemn the riot, also said she had “deep gratitude for what you did to save us.”

This week’s hearing represents the first official Congressional probe into how the incredible breach occurred on January 6, and political tensions surrounding the riot have only flared since then. Republicans have sought to evade any meaningful probe of what took place, but Congress started work to get to the bottom of it this week.

Fanone, who rushed to the scene to assist, told the panel he was “grabbed, beaten, tased, all while being called a traitor to my country.” He suffered a heart attack following the assault. Daniel Hodges, also a DC officer, described foaming at the mouth while rioters crushed his body between doors and beat him in the head with his own weapon. He said there was “no doubt in my mind” that the rioters were there to kill Congressmembers. Another officer, USCP officer Harry Dunn, said a group of rioters screamed the N-word at him as he tried to keep them out of the House chambers. When the day had ended, he said, he sat in the Capitol Rotunda and cried.

Rioters stormed the Capitol Building on January 6 to prevent the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory. Then-President Donald Trump had egged on supporters to march on the capitol to “defend their country.”

Video showed rioters breaking windows and climbing through doors to get into the Capitol Building and, once inside, into the House Chambers where Congress members were conducting business. The head of the Capitol Police resigned the next day. Dozens of rioters have been charged in federal court, oftentimes using pictures and videos that they had posted themselves on social media. Others were reported to police by friends, relatives, or co-workers who recognized them in pictures and videos.

Earlier this week, lawmakers said they had reached a deal on a $2 billion spending package that would add more security resources. USCP officials have said they have long been spread thin due to a lack of funding.

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Activism

Free School Meals for All Here to Stay in California

With 1 in every 6 children facing hunger in the U.S., California is the first state to promise that every public school student — all 6 million of them – will get free school meals.

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Nancy Skinner

With 1 in every 6 children facing hunger in the U.S., California is the first state to promise that every public school student — all 6 million of them – will get free school meals.

The universal school meals program, which will launch in the 2022-2023 school year, is part of the landmark state budget agreement reached between Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature last month. Days later, Maine became the second state to commit to offering a universal school meals program with the signing of its budget.

The program ensures that all students will be offered breakfast and lunch at their school, which state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said is “essential to learning.” Skinner has led the effort to establish a universal school meal program.

“We know that many California children are food insecure, and if you’re hungry you cannot learn well,” Skinner said. “The whole point of school is learning, and everything we can do to create an environment that allows children to thrive and learn is what we need to do.”

Skinner introduced a bill in March that would have established a universal school meal program. After the program garnered bipartisan support and the California Department of Finance forecast unexpectedly large projected revenues, lawmakers opted to include it in the state budget rather than as a separate bill.

The final agreement between Newsom and the Legislature calls for $650 million through the Proposition 98 fund each year to reimburse school districts starting in 2022, as well as $54 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year to supplement state meal reimbursements. Proposition 98 is the formula that determines what portion of the general fund goes to community colleges and K-12 schools.

The state program is set to begin in the 2022-23 school year because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has already committed to paying for school meals for all students through the 2021-22 school year.

The USDA has reimbursed districts for providing free meals to all students since the start of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, districts were only reimbursed for feeding students who were enrolled in the National School Lunch Program. Advocates said being able to feed students without having to check whether they qualified for free lunches allowed districts to serve more families at a time when many faced hunger and hardship.

Waiving the eligibility requirements allowed the Oakland Unified School District, for example, to distribute as many as 18,000 grab-and-go meals a day during the pandemic, said spokesman John Sasaki.

“That just goes to show the need that was there,” Sasaki said.

Previously, as part of the National School Lunch Program application process, families had to disclose their household income, how many people lived in the household, their children’s immigration status or if their children were homeless or runaways. Some families feared giving out that information, and students may have felt embarrassed to receive a free meal while others paid for it.

Schools in New York City began serving free meals to all students in 2017 after finding that some students would rather go hungry than admit they didn’t have enough money to pay for lunch. The decision followed a national outcry over “lunch shaming” — publicly shaming students for unpaid school meal bills, or even school staff throwing away their lunches rather than allowing them to eat.

Advocates believed that though 3.9 million students – 63% of California’s student body — participated in the program, the need was actually much higher.

“It’s such good news that everybody gets food with no strings attached, but to be able to do it in a way that nobody is called out is the best thing about this,” Sasaki said. “We want to make sure kids are never given a hard time for being who they are or being in the situation they are in.”

Districts will still be asking families to fill out household income eligibility forms, however. That’s because the number of families in the district that make so little that they qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program remains a key factor in the state’s Local Control Funding Formula. The formula gives additional state funds to districts based on the number of low-income students, English learners, foster children and homeless youth they serve.

Tony Wold, the West Contra Costa Unified associate superintendent of business services, said the district was concerned that fewer families would fill out the household income eligibility forms because they didn’t have to in order to receive free meals. That could have potentially led to a reduction in supplemental funds for the cash-strapped district. To help solve the problem, the district had outreach workers call families directly, explaining why it was important for families to submit the information.

The outreach workers’ “big lift” resulted in more families filling out the forms than the previous year, Wold said, which kept the district’s unduplicated pupils percentage constant. That statistic measures the share of a district’s students who are low-income, homeless, foster youth or English learners — all of which drive the Local Control Funding Formula.

Outreach workers at Oakland Unified emphasize to families who are skeptical about the forms that they determine how much money goes to the classroom, Sasaki said.

California School Boards Association spokesman Troy Flint said the organization anticipates it will be harder for districts to collect income eligibility forms with the new universal meals program. The association hopes the state will provide some support to schools’ “diligent and creative efforts” to collect the forms, though the group isn’t calling for any specific change.

“This administration has prioritized steering additional money toward high-need students, particularly into concentration grants, so there’s reason to believe they might be willing to work toward a modification here,” Flint said.

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