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Blog Post Poverty, Opportunity, and the 2012 Presidential Election

 A recent forum in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, provided an in-depth discussion into the level of concern in the United States about poverty and opportunity, particularly concerning children. Spotlight on Poverty also looked at whether or not these issues will be factors in the upcoming presidential election. Overall, people believe strongly that equal opportunity for children of all races is very important; that not all children currently have full access to opportunity; and that presidential candidates’ views on poverty are very important. But, many think that neither the candidates nor the media are discussing poverty enough.

Feb 21 2012
Blog Post Building Community Through Equitable Access To Financial Services, Part 1: Banking In Immigrant Communities

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Photo by The Urban Snapper

I worked for several years as a Sous Chef at a well known Brooklyn restaurant. During the Black Out of 2003, three of the porters (from the Mexican state of Michoacán) stayed well into the night to help clean and put perishables on ice by candle light. Toward the wee hours, as we wrapped up, I offered to write them checks for all their help, but they didn’t have bank accounts. I was new to the city, and balked at how a person could function without a checking account. But they were not alone. Ensuring fair access to financial services for immigrants - including depository banking and loan lending (in particular mortgage lending) - is key not only to our economic recovery, but also to the well-being and stability of all of our communities. Limiting or discouraging access to mainstream banking services hurts all communities regardless of income.

Jun 20 2011
Blog Post Bi-Weekly Public Opinion Round Up - International Women's Day

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Mothers march on 100th anniversary of International Women's Day in San Francisco
photo  by Steve Rhodes

ON 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY, WOMEN STILL STRUGGLE FOR EQUALITY

 

Mar 11 2011
Page Public Opinion Monthly (September 2010)

Public Support for Policies for Equal Recovery and Opportunity

Looking at the road ahead, Public Opinion Monthly reviewed public support for policies, which promote equal opportunity for more communities in our society.

By Eleni Delimpaltadaki

Sep 29 2010
Blog Post Beware the Easy Answer

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about the state of affairs in America. His assessment was as follows: America never goes too far one way or too far the other. It’s like a sine wave; sometimes one side is up for a little while and the other side is down, then they switch. Despite this yo-yo phenomenon, overall he felt like things were improving.

Jun 16 2010
Blog Post A Government that Reflects America's Values

According to a 2007 poll, Americans define human rights as the rights to equal opportunity, freedom from discrimination, a fair criminal justice system, and freedom from torture or abuse by law enforcement. Despite the current political wrangling over how to reform it, a majority of Americans even believe that access to health care is a human right.

Mar 5 2010
Blog Post Big Banks Scam Students Out of Opportunity

The American Dream is perhaps our most powerful and enduring story. Through booms and busts, we insist (oftentimes in the face of overwhelmingly contrary evidence) that anyone who is willing to work hard can succeed. To the extent that the American Dream is a reality, it is due in large part to our secondary education system and the patchwork of loans, scholarships, and grants available for students. As sky-rocketing rates of student debt show us, though, these tools for expanding access to secondary education need retuning. There is talk of reform in Washington but, in a story that has become all too familiar, large financial institutions are standing in the way, protecting their profits at the expense of young people’s hopes and dreams.

Feb 15 2010
Blog Post Corporate Cash Breeds Inequality

When the founding fathers gathered to declare independence, they were responding to consolidated power in the form of the monarchy and the church.  The system that they designed to govern the United States was intentionally complex and diffuse, with checks and balances in place to prevent any single individual or group from exerting undue influence over the process.  This past Thursday, with their ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court violated these intentions, enhancing the influence of a small handful of very powerful institutions and providing them with the tools to crowd out diverse voices.

Jan 26 2010
Blog Post An American in Paris, and Beijing, and London...

During a series of trips through Europe and Asia that I completed last week, I was reminded that the Americans with Disabilities Act really is the Americans with Disabilities Act, and why our nation should be so proud of that milestone.

Nov 16 2009
Blog Post Possible Internet Regulations Threaten Opportunity

As reported Oct. 22 on NPR, current efforts by telecom providers threaten access to information and applications on the Internet. Possible changes by the Federal Communications Commission highlight these efforts, which pertain to what power internet service providers have in restricting access that conflicts with their own interest.

Oct 23 2009
Communications Talking Points: The State of Opportunity Report (2009)

This memo offers guidance for using the 2009 State of Opportunity in America report, which examines various dimensions of opportunity, including health care, wealth and income, education, and incarceration. While expanding opportunity in America remains a goal of policymakers and advocates alike, this report finds that access to full and equal opportunity is still very much a mixed reality. Our recommendations to address this reality offer concrete ideas for moving us forward together.

Apr 15 2009
Video Alan Jenkins on MSNBC Discussing the Economy

Alan Jenkins, executive director of The Opportunity Agenda, appears on MSNBC to discuss the economy and our new report, The State of Opportunity in America.

Apr 15 2009
Research Report: The State of Opportunity Report (2009)

This is the 2009 State of Opportunity report.  Here you may download the final report, the final report with accompanying charts, a synopsis, and each of the indicators individually.

Read more about the report here.

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Apr 1 2009
Research Report: The State of Opportunity Update (2007)

This is the 2007 update to the State of Opportunity report.  There are two files, the full chart of indicators and a summary.

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Mar 15 2009
Blog Post Come Fly With Me

The eye is one of the most complex organs in the human body. What was millions of years ago a simple concave receptor sensitive to ultra low frequencies of light has not just become an advanced organ that utilizes one-third of the nerve endings in the human body, but it has also become one of the most powerful influencers in the craft of rhetorical persuasion.  So much, that those who lack this basic faculty of perception face great obstacles in the pursuit of opportunity and equality.

Mar 5 2009
Blog Post Investing in Early Education Equality

Education is perhaps the closest thing we have to a social panacea.  When it works, it can fuel social mobility, economic productivity, crime prevention, and personal fulfillment.  And we know that the earlier a child enters school, the more likely he or she is to have a successful academic career.  So why is it so hard to make universal preschool a national priority?

Mar 3 2009
Research Report: State of Opportunity (2006)

SoO2006_0.pngIf the promise of opportunity is a core national commitment, it is essential to measure our success in fulfilling that commitment.  This report assesses the nation’s progress toward protecting and expanding opportunity for all Americans and encourages our policymakers, through bold leadership and innovative policies, to ensure the promise of o

Feb 15 2009
Blog Post An Internship Where We Pay You

In a piece for Slate.com, Timothy Noah writes about the disturbing phenomenon of putting coveted summer internships up for auction at elite private schools. Clearly this is putting those who cannot pay, but are well qualified for the position, at an immediate disadvantage. Opportunity is quite literally being sold to the highest bidder.

Feb 2 2009
Blog Post The State of Opportunity in America (2009) Released

The Opportunity Agenda is pleased to announce the release of our 2009 State of Opportunity in America report. The report documents America’s progress in protecting opportunity for everyone who lives here, and finds that access to full and equal opportunity is still very much a mixed reality.

Feb 1 2009
Blog Post The Promise of Opportunity

Taking another look at "New Progressive Voices," a collection of essays outlining a new long-term, progressive vision for America, today we turn to our Executive Director, Alan Jenkins', contribution.

The piece paints a bleak picture.  Alan outlines many of the problems facing regular Americans today.  Many people are having trouble getting a job that pays a living wage, paying for health care, and getting their children into quality schools.  Tying this together with the present high rates of incarceration, all signs point to a general lack of opportunity in America.

In keeping with goals of this essay collection Alan's essay, "The Promise of Opportunity," strives to give concrete solutions to these communal ills.  Alan's essay suggests making "opportunity" a metric by which to consider the viability of federal programs.

As with the environmental impact statements currently required under the National Environmental Policy Act, the relevant agency would require the submission of information and collect and analyze relevant data to determine the positive and negative impacts of the proposed federally funded project. Here, however, the inquiry would focus on the ways in which the project would expand or constrict opportunity in affected geographic areas and whether the project would promote equal opportunity or deepen patterns of inequality.

While the measures of opportunity would differ in different circumstances, the inquiry would typically include whether the project would create or eliminate jobs, expand or constrict access to health care services, schools, and nutritious food stores, foster or extinguish affordable housing and small business development. At the same time, [these Opportunity Impact Statements (OIS)] would assess the equity of the project's burdens and benefits, such as whether it would serve a diversity of underserved populations, create jobs accessible to the affected regions, serve diverse linguistic and cultural communities, balance necessary health and safety burdens fairly across neighborhoods, and foster integration over segregation.

To read the full article, click here.

Sep 23 2008
Blog Post Announcing "New Progressive Voices"

The Opportunity Agenda is pleased to help announce, on behalf of the Progressive Ideas Network, the release of a new collection of essays outlining a new long-term vision for America.

"New Progressive Voices: Values and Policy for the 21st Century" brings together leaders from a wide array of organizations, of different backgrounds, to present a bold, progressive agenda for America's future.  Integral to the project is a commitment, not to just presenting a new direction, but also realistic approaches to solving our collective problems.

From the collection's introduction:

In recent decades, progressivism has faltered. It was conservatives who developed and moved the big ideas, while progressives triangulated, tweaked, and tinkered. Since the 1960s, progressives have been running on the fumes of the New Deal and Great Society, confining themselves largely to narrow issue silos and poll-tested phrases and positions. Content to play defense in many of the major political battles of the day, they have all too often been cowed into submission by the vitality and confidence of the other side.

Now that is changing. Instead of obsessing about what we are against, progressives have begun to think about what we're for -- to prepare once again to play our role as agents of bold ideas and political and social transformation. Finding new confidence and imagination, we have begun to renew our intellectual capital. The essays in this volume draw on that new store of capital to sketch the outlines of a progressive agenda for 21st-century America.

Our own Executive Director, Alan Jenkins, contributed an essay to the collection.  You can read "The Promise of Opportunity" here.

Sep 18 2008
Blog Post Thursday Immigration Blog Roundup

•    On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a ground breaking executive order requiring all city agencies to provide language assistance services for people who speak Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Italian or French Creole.  According to The New York Times, this is the first time that all New York City agencies will be forced to follow the same standard in providing translation and language interpretation services to people who do not speak English:

Immigrant advocates and city officials say it is the most comprehensive order of its kind in the country. The mayor refused to be specific about how much the services will cost, saying only that it was a “relatively small” amount given the size of the city’s budget. He added: “This executive order will make our city more accessible, while helping us become the most inclusive municipal government in the nation.”

The Opportunity Agenda fact sheet Immigration Reform: Promoting Opportunity for All details the need for immigrants to have access to language assistance services in order to achieve their full potential. In providing immigrant groups with this access, Mayor Bloomberg has taken the entire city forward and empowered communities throughout New York.

•     Politicians have also been busy down in Washington, D.C. working to provide language assistance for immigrant families across the United States.  At noon today, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Congressman Mike Honda are introducing the “Strengthening Communities through Education and Integration Act of 2008.” In addition to providing English language literacy and civics education to immigrant families who are in the process of becoming citizens, the bill:

will help immigrant communities become a more integral part of the American fabric and maximize their social and economic contributions.

Legislation like this is crucial to aiding immigrants on their way to becoming U.S. citizens, and is a necessary part of treating immigrants like full and equal members of our community.

•    The aftermath of the ICE raids in Postville, Houston, and most recently Rhode Island, is still being felt in communities across America.  However, a Washington Post article describes how it is not only workers and their families feeling this strife – now, it is employers as well:

The crackdown's relatively high costs and limited results are also fueling criticism. In an economy with more than 6 million companies and 8 million unauthorized workers, the corporate enforcement effort is still dwarfed by the high-profile raids that have sentenced thousands of illegal immigrants to prison time and deportation.

•    A story in the MetroWest Daily News calls attention to a local organization in Massachusetts, the MetroWest Immigrant Worker Center, that is defending the rights of immigrant workers in the U.S.  Immigrant workers are routinely subject to labor law violations, including the denial of compensation and overtime, as well as unnecessary injuries on job sites.  In addition, the article points out that all immigrants, including undocumented ones, have worker rights:

Contrary to what many people think, illegal workers have rights. Although in the country illegally, those who work are entitled to be paid for their labor and overtime. If they are injured on the job, they are eligible for workers' compensation coverage, said [Diego] Low, [director of the MetroWest Immigrant Worker Center] who has been advocating for immigrant workers' rights for the last 25 years.

•    A DMI Blog posting points to an extremely upsetting Associated Press report of a beating in a Pennsylvania town that left a 25 year old Mexican immigrant named Luis Ramirez dead.   

Hate crime or not, the killing has exposed long-simmering tensions in Shenandoah, a blue-collar town of 5,000 about 80 miles northwest of Philadelphia that has a growing number of Hispanic residents drawn by jobs in factories and farm fields.

Jul 24 2008
Blog Post Supreme Court Decision Offers Mixed Results for Immigration Reform

In a victory for immigrants’ rights, the Supreme Court handed down a decision allowing immigrants to file motions without fear of being deported for not voluntarily departing within a specific time period.  The case, Dada v. Mukasey addressed two conflicting sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act.  Section 1229c allows judges to grant immigrants who are told to deport the country permission to leave voluntarily within a specific period of time.  However, Section 1229a allows individuals to challenge a deportation order (in the event of any changed circumstances) but requires them to remain in the country while legal motions are pending.

The petitioner, Samson T. Dada, an immigrant from Nigeria, was married to an American citizen in 1999.  However, without adequate proof of marriage, the Department of Homeland Security alleged that he had overstayed his temporary immigrant visa and ordered his deportation.  An Immigration Judge granted Dada’s request to voluntarily leave the country within 30 days, a decision that the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirmed.  However, two days before he was supposed to leave, Dada found conclusive proof of his marriage, withdrew his request for voluntary departure and filed a motion to reopen his removal proceedings.  The BIA denied his request, claiming that Dada had failed to depart the U.S. within the allotted time period (while ignoring Dada’s withdrawal of his request to voluntarily leave).  The Fifth Circuit affirmed the BIA’s decision.

Jun 24 2008
Blog Post Monday Health Blog Roundup

•    An Associated Press story that appeared in numerous publications last week discussed the American Medical Association’s position on a tobacco bill currently before Congress.  The bill would, among other things, ban flavors in cigarettes.  Marketing campaigns for flavored cigarettes (such as mint, clove and vanilla cigarettes) usually target young people, and by banning the use of these flavors, Congress hopes to decrease smoking among youths.  However, the AMA is supporting the menthol exemption that the tobacco industry pushed.  African-American smokers typically prefer menthol-flavored cigarettes, and menthol cigarette advertising campaigns have traditionally targeted black communities.  The AMA has been criticized for supporting the exemption, since it leaves African-American smokers subject to manipulative marketing strategies:

Menthol cigarettes such as Kool were marketed during the 1960s in advertising campaigns targeting urban blacks, according to the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network. That group withdrew its support from the tobacco control bill last month over the menthol exemption and found allies in the former health secretaries.

The exemption harms the black community, said Robert McCaffree of the American College of Chest Physicians, the group that introduced the AMA proposal.

•    A recent posting on DMI Blog addresses the importance of making health equity a central focus of health care reform, particularly in the 2008 Presidential election.  If political leaders do not pay attention to the equality element of health care reform, the disparities in health care access and quality will not be dealt with:

It's a painful fact: people of color in the United States live sicker and die quicker--from the premature cradle to the early grave. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), African Americans can still expect to live 6-10 fewer years than their white counterparts, and they have the highest rates of death due to diabetes; heart disease; and breast, lung, and colon cancer than any other ethnic group. The numbers are similarly grim for Latinos and other minority groups.

•    Yesterday’s posting on The Health Care Blog brings up the similarities between the U.S. health care system and the Dutch health care system, and the notion that the U.S. could learn from the Dutch in its health care reform efforts.

•    Another posting on The Health Care Blog mentions The Talking Cure, the “Healthy Conversations” project that the research organization Demos has launched.  The project is designed to engage stakeholders in and outside of the National Health Service and discuss how to improve health care in the UK.

•    Thursday’s New York Times had a story on a government proposal to facilitate improved access to prescription drugs for low-income Medicare beneficiaries.  The Bush Administration introduced the proposal as part of the settlement in a national class action lawsuit brought by people who are unable to get access to the drugs they need:

Under the proposed settlement, filed Thursday with the United States District Court in San Francisco, federal Medicare officials promised to speed up the process of providing extra help to low-income people, who now could qualify within days, rather than weeks or months.

Jun 23 2008
Blog Post Six Years Later, Health Disparities by Race and Ethnicity Persist

Amidst the energy and momentum for health care reform in the United States, it is important to remember that getting an insurance card into everyone's wallet is not the same as guaranteeing equal access to quality health care.  Recent studies have shown that, in America, health is not just about having insurance or paying bills: it's also, unfortunately, about the color of your skin.

The Lancet, a journal of global medicine, published an article this last Saturday (free registration required) on persisting racial and ethnic disparities in health, six years following the groundbreaking Institute of Medicine study, Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care.  The Opportunity Agenda Research Director and primary editor of the 2002 IOM study, Brian Smedley, is quoted in the Lancet article:

“As the report's study director, I was pleased to see that Unequal Treatment
prompted a sober discussion in health policy, academic, and political
circles”, Brian Smedley, former senior programme officer at the US
Institute of Medicine, wrote in a blog to mark the latest issue of the
journal Health Affairs, which includes research on health
disparities. “But ultimately the report failed to prompt passage of
significant new federal legislation or spur the Department of Health
and Human Services to adopt its core recommendations. As a result,
little has been done, in my view, to systematically address the
problem.”

Citing some of the papers in the latest issue of Health Affairs, called Disparities: Expanding the Focus [paid subscription required], he said that some of the most shocking health care gaps that were not documented when Unequal Treatment
was published, were found in mental and oral health care. Meanwhile,
the biggest gains in life expectancy occurred among the best-educated
Americans.

Because of the failure of HHS to adopt recommendations to reduce disparities, and the stalling of major legislation in Congress to address disparities, many of the inequities identified half a dozen years ago are still prevalent.  In very real terms, this means that communities that often have the most need for quality health care are the ones that receive the least of such care. 

Jun 10 2008
Blog Post "Brave New Laws" by Alan Jenkins at OurFuture.org

Check out The Opportunity Agenda Executive Director Alan Jenkins' new column, "Brave New Laws," at the Campaign for America's Future blog, Blog for Our Future.  Jenkins discusses the need for new, proactive laws that recognize what technological advances and scientific research have clearly demonstrated--that many Americans are still at risk of discrimination:

May 7 2008
Blog Post Disappearing Food

Rising rents are not only displacing New York residents but their food as well.  As the New York Times reports, the city of eight million now has just over 550 moderately sized supermarkets, defined as at least 10,000 square feet.

The dearth of easily available fresh food isn't confined to poor communities but these areas are disproportionately affected.  A Health Department study from last year specifically compared the Upper East Side with Harlem finding a vast disparity in access to healthy foods.  Harlem has twice as many bodegas, or corner stores, than the Upper East Side but these stores typically offer less healthy food.  Only three percent of Harlem bodegas even sell leafy green vegetables.  Expanding to other food options, 16 percent of Harlem restaurants serve fast food compared to only four percent on the Upper East Side.

Predictably, the result is Harlem residents are three to four times as likely to be obese or have diabetes.  Yesterday's NYT article features an excellent citywide map (see below) showing the correlation of low supermarket density and incidences of diabetes.  Pay particular attention to the Bronx and the intersection of Queens and Brooklyn.

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May 6 2008
Blog Post Baking More Pie

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With a tongue-in-cheek ad declaring “Our prices are insane!,” last week’s Education Week section of the New York Times ran a cover story entitled “The Low Cost of College.”  Inside, an article by David Leonhardt describes a surprising trend among elite American universities.  They are actually reducing tuition and increasing aid for low-income and middle classed students.

Beginning next fall, schools including Dartmouth, Haverford, and Rice will offer grants instead of loans to lower income students.  They are following the lead of schools like Harvard, which announced in 2006 that parents making less than $60,000 would not have to pay anything toward their kids’ education.  And many schools are reaching out to middle class families too—Harvard announced in December that it would also offer significant financial aid to families making less than $180,000.

Leonhardt’s article points out that these efforts are extremely modest compared to the substantial decrease in low-income students at elite schools over the last two decades.  As we reported in The State of Opportunity in America, “since 1983…the increase in tuition costs at both public and private four-year institutions has greatly outpaced the increase in median family income.”

As Leonhardt’s piece correctly notes, increases in the federal Pell grant—which typically goes to families making less than $40,000—would accomplish far greater positive change, as would reforms that transcend these elite schools, like “preparing more low- and middle-income children to attend college, lifting the graduation rates at community colleges and large four-year colleges, and simplifying and expanding federal financial aid.”

The article falls short, though, when it comes to discussing the reasons why any of these changes are worth making in the first place.  Explaining that “there are several arguments for increasing economic diversity at elite colleges,” the article says (1) “it makes the universities more consistent with their self-image as meritocracies;” (2) these colleges “have come to play arguably a larger role in American society;” and (3) “recent research also suggests that lower-income students benefit more from an elite education than other students do.”

Is that really it?  Those reasons, it seems to me, are both cynical and narrow.  They are out of touch with the promise of opportunity that a quality college education represents for successive generations of Americans.  What about these reasons:

➢    A fundamental value in our society is mobility—the notion that where you start out in life should not determine where you end up—with access to college serving as a primary rung on the upward ladder of opportunity.  If the country’s most prestigious schools are effectively open only to the rich, the mobility ideal is thwarted, and these institutions’ public mission must be called into question.

➢    Economic diversity is crucial within institutions like these that train so large a share of our nation’s leaders.  Not only should those leaders hail from the breadth of our population, but their education should include learning from and with people from different backgrounds.

➢    It’s in our national interest to ensure that opportunity is available to everyone in our society.  Taping the genius of kids and communities that have traditionally been shut out of the American Dream will generate untold societal benefits—cures to deadly diseases, new technologies, economic and social advances—that we can barely conceive of today.

➢    With manufacturing jobs disappearing, empowering working class families to make the leap to a globalized, information economy through a top-notch education is critical to our success as a nation.

Why do the reasons matter?  Because if opening elite schools to low-income families is just about making Ivy League bureaucrats proud of themselves, or because poor kids may get an incrementally greater value than rich kids, then it's about others, not about all of us. 

Just as important, connecting financial aid polices to our national values and interests leads to other, more profound questions.  Like so many articles about higher education, the piece fails to ask how we can go beyond ways of dividing up the existing educational pie, and actually bake more pie.   Clearly, the future of our nation depends not only on achieving a mix of students from different backgrounds, but also on expanding educational opportunities so that every kid who can do the work has access to a school that taps her or his full potential.  Expanding opportunity and, therefore, shared prosperity, is where we should set our sights as a nation.

Apr 29 2008
Blog Post Lakota Secede from the US, Claiming Human Rights Violations
  • The Unapologetic Mexican has posted on the decision of the Lakota to secede from the United States. The Lakota Nation, which includes portions of Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming, has informed the State Department that it is withdrawing from all thirty-three treaties it has signed with the federal government, which it claims the US has not honored.  According to an article on The Raw Story:

Oppression at the hands of the US government has taken its toll on
the Lakota, whose men have one of the shortest life expectancies --
less than 44 years -- in the world.

Lakota teen suicides are 150 percent above the norm for the United
States; infant mortality is five times higher than the US average; and
unemployment is rife, according to the Lakota freedom movement's
website.

The Lakota were active leaders in the process of the UN's adoption of a declaration on the rights of indigenous people this past September.

  • Yesterday's protests outside New Orleans city hall saw residents
    attacked by the police with pepper spray -- and the council voted
    unanimously to demolish 4500 affordable housing units in spite of
    public opinion to the contrary.  Feministe and Too Sense have both reported on the day's events.
  • A family in California made a recent decision to take their seventeen-year-old daughter off of life support after CIGNA health insurance refused to pay for a liver transplant, claiming it was an experimental procedure.  A protest outside of CIGNA's office caused the insurance company to relent at the last minute, but the window of opportunity had already passed for Natalee Sarkisian and her health deteriorated further, impelling her family to let go.  Stories like Natalee's illustrate how imperative it is that we replace our broken health care system with an equitable system that will support the community rather than capital gain.
  • Tennessee Guerilla Women also linked to a story about a young Icelandic woman who was detained and imprisoned while entering the US on a recent vacation with friends.  Immigration agents claimed that Eva Ósk Arnardóttir had overstayed a visa by three weeks on her last visit to the US in 1995. Agents detained and then imprisoned her without sleep or food, denied her contact with the outside world, and shuttled her around chained up in public before finally sending her back to Iceland.

To begin with, because of the recent increase in border security, he
will not be able to land anywhere in the U.S. unless he would comply
with the Department of Homeland Security rule on advance passenger
manifests for flying private airplanes (and sleighs) (72 FR 53394,
9/18/07). Next, he will have to declare the value of all the gifts that
he is giving to the kids on the "nice list." That is in addition to the
strict search and X-ray of the bags in which he is carrying the gifts.
Because of the holidays, it may take U.S. Customs and Border Protection
a while to do all of this, so he can expect a few days before getting
the gifts back to be able to deliver them. Santa will have to obtain a
visa before entry into the U.S. Because we do not have a consular post
at the North Pole, he will have to go to a third country post for his
visa. He will have to have a valid passport before he can apply for a
visa. At the consulate he will be fingerprinted and photographed. Then
he will need to go through a security background check, which may take
a long time, sometimes up to a few years, to clear.

Dec 21 2007
Blog Post A Debate on Housing, Live from the New Orleans City Council
  • Louisiana news station WDSU is offering a live video feed from the New Orleans City Council meeting on the impending demolition of public housing.  In addition to those speaking at the meeting, hundreds of people are standing outside City Hall in protest of the lack of affordable housing in the region since the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina two years ago. Present-day inequities in New Orleans are often framed with respect to human rights; the demand for affordable housing is just one aspect of ensuring that residents have the social and economic security needed to provide for their families with dignity.
  • Bloggernista has reported that Congress has lifted a nine-year ban on using public funding to support needle exchange programs in Washington, DC.  Despite the fact that syringe exchange programs have proven effective in reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS, this ban had held firm while the capital city has the developed the highest rate of HIV infection in the nation, a true modern epidemic noted for its immense racial disparities.
  • The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog reposted an Associated Press article entitled 'State supreme court rules counties are liable for inmates' care,' including conditions that existed prior to imprisonment. It's great to see a court ruling in favor of the responsibility of the community to provide a basis level of health care for those in custody without other options -- this is a good step towards the recognition that all Americans deserve access to health care.

Justices voted 8-0 on Tuesday in favor of HCA Health Services of
Oklahoma, the parent company of OU Medical Center. The hospital sued
Oklahoma County commissioners and Sheriff John Whetsel over $2.2
million in medical payments for treating prisoners in the jail from
February 2003 through September 2006.

The county's argument was that much of the expense was to treat
conditions that predated the prisoners' arrests, Justice Marian Opala
wrote in the court opinion.

  • The DMI Blog analyzed a recent New York Times editorial on Arizona's new law intended to crack down on undocumented immigrants, offering praise for what it refers to as an 'example of smart immigration policy.' Author Suman Raghunathan expounds:

I am, in fact, waxing poetic on a stellar editorial in yesterday’s  Times.  This gem of a piece outlines in plain, centrist-liberal-speak why
going after employers who employ undocumented immigrants instead of
enforcing existing labor law makes for poor immigration policy.

What’s more, Arizona’s law (and believe me, there are many more in
the works across the country) will do nothing to address our nation’s
desperate need for smart and fair policies that welcome immigrant
contributions into our economy. Worse yet, it does nothing to bring
undocumented workers out of the shadows with a legalization program to
level the playing field on wages and labor conditions for all workers –
documented and undocumented, green card holders and US citizens.

Meanwhile, the Presidential election campaigns continue to work themselves into a fevered state, trying to say as little as possible on immigration policy (pick a party, any party) while sounding tough on undocumented immigrants (again, pick a punching bag, any punching bag). 

Here’s to hoping those high-falutin’ political operatives take a page from the Times’ editorial board’s playbook when they think about immigration. 

Dec 20 2007
Blog Post The Return of Redemption
  • Alan Jenkins' newest opinion piece is live on TomPaine.com. Entitled 'The Return of Redemption,' the piece contextualizes the recent crack sentencing ruling as well as the end of the death penalty in New Jersey as part of a larger shift in American values:

Together, these decisions reflect decades of difficult lessons:
about the folly of locking away people convicted of low-level,
non-violent offenses for decades; about how seemingly neutral policies
can have gravely discriminatory effects; and about the ineffectual,
discriminatory and dangerously inaccurate nature of the death penalty.

But information alone rarely leads to policy change, especially when
it comes to criminal justice policy. That political leaders could even
consider these changes in an election year speaks to a shift in public
values as well as public understanding. Each reform reflects a return
to the values of redemption and equality that are essential to a fair
and effective criminal justice system, and that polls and politics show are on the rise in our country.

  • RaceWire has shared a LA Times article on California's new plan for universal health care, a measure negotiated by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Fabian
    Nuñez (D-Los Angeles). On Monday the state Assembly approved the first phase of a
    $14.4-billion plan to extend medical insurance to nearly all residents by 2010. The legislation will provide subsidies and tax
    credits for people who have trouble paying their health insurance
    premiums.
  • Pam's House Blend has posted about a student at Southern Utah University who was denied housing because he is transgender. The university, which offers separate housing for men and women, demanded that Kourt Osborn provide the following in order to live in male housing:
  • a letter from the doctor that monitors his hormone treatment;
  • a letter from his therapist saying that he has gender identity disorder, or gender dysphoria; and
  • official documentation that he has had sexual reassignment surgery.

Like many transgender people, Osborn isn't interested in surgery or a clinical diagnosis of his 'disorder.' The post compares Osborn's situation with that of people of mixed racial backgrounds in decades past:

"When people do not fit into a structured, discriminatory and
binary system, the chances of discrimination against that person goes up."

Such is the case with Kourt. He is a person who does not fit into
society’s tidy binary system on gender. Because he has transgressed
society’s gender rules, the discrimination he faces on a daily basis —
including the denial of housing at a public university — is very real
and hardly ever subtle.

  • Finally, Firedoglake published a piece on media reporting (or lack thereof) on torture  in the United States. Blogger PhoenixWoman received a story in her email entitled CIA photos 'show UK Guantanamo detainee was tortured' from Britain's The Independent, which details the existence of photographic evidence proving that British citizen Binyam Mohammed has been abused while in American custody.  Mohammed's lawyers in the UK have expressed their worry that the photos will be destroyed, given the CIA's recent destruction of "hundreds of hours of videotapes showing the torture of detainees held by the US." Interestingly, while US-based CommonDreams.org has also picked up this story, Google News did not provide any matches for the article.
Dec 19 2007
Blog Post From Homeless to Harvard
  • The Angry Asian Man blog has posted a series of inspiring articles about
    a woman who is working towards a degree from Harvard University. Kimberly S.M. Woo is a single mother who was once a homeless drug addict. In the process of turning her life around she sought an education as a means of escaping poverty and creating a better life for her five-year-old daughter. Woo is a stellar example of the power of redemption as well as our potential for social mobility. Like thousands of Americans, Woo was given a second chance and has excelled; after a year working for Americorp she attended a community college in Boston for her Associate's Degree, where she earned a 4.0 GPA before transferring to Harvard.
  • This weekend saw a couple interesting articles about the politics behind skiing. Immigration News Daily has written about an Aspen Ski resort's efforts to find workers:

The Aspen Skiing Co.'s quest to find enough workers this winter led
recruiters to Puerto Rico, among other places. The company hired about
20 workers from the Caribbean island this fall to work in various
positions at its two lodging properties, The Little Nell hotel and
Snowmass Lodge and Club, according to Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle. The
Skico was forced to get creative this year when there was a snafu at
the national level with the H-2B visa program for temporary guest
workers. An exemption to the program expired Sept. 30, after Congress
failed to address comprehensive immigration reform.

And the Immigrants in USA blog did a feature called Niños on the slopes about a new Park City, Utah programs to provide local Latino children with access to the sport:

The Niños program, sponsored by St. Mary's Catholic Church, exists to
bridge the cultural divide between, generally speaking, the affluent
whites of Park City and the Latino immigrants who work in the posh
community's service industry.

"Here, in this town, skiing is
the great equalizer," explained the Rev. Bob Bussen, known as "Father
Bob," who tears down the mountain wearing his clerical collar. "If you
can ski, you're as good as anyone."

  • The All About Race blog has reported on an upsetting development in the Jena 6 case. It seems that the plea bargain the Mychal Bell accepted also included a promise to testify against the other five students facing charges:

With Bell being placed in the position of serving as the
star witness against the other teens, they are more likely to be
convicted if they refuse to follow Bell’s example and cop a plea. This
is the underbelly of an unfair judicial system. Upon entering his
guilty plea, Bell admitted that he hit the White student, knocking him
unconscious, and joining others in kicking him after he fell to the
floor. Therefore, the D.A. will be using the most culpable of the six
teens to obtain convictions against those who were less involved.
That’s the way the judicial system works – or doesn’t work.

  • The Happening Here blog has posted about a nurses' strike at St. Luke's Hospital in San Francisco's Mission District. We've previously mentioned
    the hospital's plans to close down in order to shift its services to a
    more affluent neighborhood.  The hospital has refused for months to
    negotiate a contract with the nurses union, who began striking last
    Thursday.
  • Lastly, the Inteligenta Indiĝena Indigenismo Novaĵoservo blog has advised us of a Washington Post article stating that the federal government has paid $1.3 billion in farm subsidies since 2000 to people who do not farm. While our government policies are never devoid of irony, these subsidies are a particularly painful instance of unequal treatment given the "go-it-alone" narrative of individualism that conservatives use to justify cutting back on social services. In reality, however, great societies are built by investing in the well-being of the community, which was understood well by the authors of the New Deal legislation, the GI bill and the HeadStart program.

 

Dec 17 2007
Blog Post President Bush Vetoes SCHIP, Again
  • The Huffington Post has linked to an article noting that President Bush has used the seventh veto of his administration in order to reject the revised version of a bill seeking to expand health insurance coverage for children.
  • Meanwhile, the New York state assembly is considering a plan to extend health care to all New Yorkers. The DMI Blog summarizes the proposed legislation:

In New York State, Child Health Plus and Family Health Plus
are pretty good programs. They allow participants to choose from a
variety of managed care plans that contract with the state to provide
coverage. Families making up to 150 percent of the poverty line pay no
premiums and there are no deductibles and few co-payments. Despite the
fact that people enrolled in these programs tend to be less healthy
than those enrolled in commercial plans, the premiums the state pays
are much lower and have remained virtually flat even as the cost of
private insurance has skyrocketed.

So why don’t we open these successful state program to every New Yorker, regardless of income?

That simple idea is the basis of New York Health Plus, a new universal health care proposal from Dick Gottfried, Chair of the NYS Assembly Health Committee.

Under Gottfried’s plan, any New Yorker could get free health
coverage from the state, and have their pick of the plans contracting
with the state. Everyone would also be free to opt out and keep paying
for their own private health care coverage. Businesses would no longer
have the burden of employee health care costs. The more than 2 million
uninsured New Yorkers would face no barriers to coverage. Gottfried
also argues that plans under New York Health Plus would have incentives
to offer higher quality care more preventive services, providing a
better choice for New Yorkers who already have insurance too.

  • The ImmigrationProf Blog has posted a piece entitled 'Another Slavery Report: Yawn?' which begins: "We have reported so much on slavery lately (here and here) that  we may have to give up on such reports as newsworthy." However, the Naples Daily News has just reported that a Florida family has been charged with forcibly holding 15 undocumented workers on their property and charging them for basic needs such as food and showers.  That these cases are increasingly reported on is further indication of the need for comprehensive immigration reform. Our broken immigration system is fostering abusive work situations that contradict the values of mobility, equality and security for which our nation stands.
  • The 'Just News' blog has posted another article on the University of Texas Law School Immigration Clinic. Advocates from the clinic have just filed complaints with the Office of Civil Rights and
    Civil Liberties at the Department of Homeland Security as well as the Texas
    Department of Protective Services in the case of an eight-year-old girl held at nearby Hutto detention center who was separated from her pregnant mother for four days. While keeping immigrant children in detention centers is a human rights violation in and of itself, removing the child from her mother went against ICE guildelines, according to the Houston Chronicle:

"ICE officials have previously said detaining families at the facility
is meant to help "children remain with parents, their best caregivers"
while they are processed for deportation. They also told the Texas
Department of Family and Protective Services that parents would be at
the facility with their children and would be responsible for their
care, so state regulation wasn't needed."

 

Dec 13 2007
Blog Post Housing is a Human Right
  • The Facing South blog has provided us with an update on the impending demolition of public housing developments in New Orleans. According to Monday's Times-Picayune, a city committee has refused to approve the demolition of
    one of the four public housing complexes slated for destruction by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The matter will now go before the city council. At Monday's meeting, protesters were seen holding banners that said "Housing is a human
    right
    ."
  • Prometheus 6 has also posted a wealth of information on the housing crisis in New Orleans. As the public housing battle rages on, bloggers are referring to a 2005 Washington Post article which reported that Representative Baker of Baton Rouge was overhead saying "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did." Additionally, there's a new video out on YouTube which does a great job of illustrating the housing conflict:

  • Jack and Jill Politics also mentions that the organization Color of Change (known for their work with the Jena 6) has posted an online petition to support a Senate bill that would reopen housing in New Orleans, guarantee a right to return for public housing residents, and provide housing assistance to renters. Curiously, Louisiana Senator Vitter is responsible for blocking this bill.
  • The ImmigrationProf Blog posted a great article on the work that the University of Texas Immigration Law Clinic is doing to improve conditions for children living in the Hutto immigrant detention center.  Other than last week's holiday toy drive, the clinic has filed a series of lawsuits to ensure that children are housed in "the least restrictive conditions possible" and that the facilities meet certain basic standards in their care and treatment.
  • And in today's pop culture news, from the LA Times blogs, a popular character in children's books will be featured in a new television series that will also educate kids about immigration issues:

After a three-decade-long hiatus, Paddington Bear
will return to children's lit only to find he's not as welcome as he
was in 1958. In a new set of stories by 81-year-old Paddington creator
Michael Bond, the refugee bear will face questioning by British
immigration authorities. But Bond promises that all will turn out well
in the end for Paddington who is, of course, a model immigrant,
regardless of his legal status.

Dec 12 2007
Blog Post The US Promises to Rehabilitate Prisoners, but Continues to Confine Them at Higher Rates
  • The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog has posted a New York Times article stating that nearly "one in every 31 adults in the United States was in prison, in jail or
    on supervised release at the end of last year."  The article continues with the findings of a new Department of Justice report:

An estimated 2.38 million people were incarcerated in state and federal
facilities, an increase of 2.8 percent over 2005, while a record 5
million people were on parole or probation, an increase of 1.8 percent.
Immigration detention facilities had the greatest growth rate last
year. The number of people held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement
detention facilities grew 43 percent, to 14,482 from 10,104.

The data reflect deep racial disparities in the nation’s correctional
institutions, with a record 905,600 African-American inmates in prisons
and state and local jails. In several states, incarceration rates for
blacks were more than 10 times the rate of whites. In Iowa, for
example, blacks were imprisoned at 13.6 times the rate of whites,
according to an analysis of the data by the Sentencing Project, a
research and advocacy group.

These statistics of mass incarceration and racial disparities highlight the fact that our government policies are failing to offer a second chance to citizens and immigrants alike.  Instead of spending millions of dollars to confine millions of people, we should invest in their personal development. In human
rights law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights
provides that “the penitentiary system shall comprise
treatment of prisoners the essential aim of which shall be their
reformation and social rehabilitation” -- and the United States has pledged to uphold the values in this United Nations treaty.

  • Over at The Huffington Post, Mike Garibaldi Frick has posted an interview with street artist and free speech activist Robert Lederman.  Lederman "was arrested over 40 times by the Rudy Giuliani administration for
    exercising his free speech and sued the city of New York to strike down
    permit requirements for artists in public spaces." The post discusses the way government restrictions on public spaces interfere with our constitutional rights -- and human rights -- to self-expression, a cornerstone of our democracy.

Though American democracy promotes "freedom of expression," regular
citizens are effectively blocked from creative and free speech public
space uses unless they have considerable financial or political
influence.

Opposition groups, nascent movements, students, artists and all
citizens need safe, free public space in which to communicate and
develop. Planned events, spontaneous gatherings and ongoing meeting
places that are autonomous from entrenched government and corporate
interests are vital to a free public speech. The health and well-being
of a true democracy requires free access to open public forums.

The post also includes a YouTube video of the interview with Lederman:

The Democratic Party finally released what appears to be their official strategy/talking points intended to counter the Republican immigration wedge.

The strategy in essence revolves around a few key concepts:

  • The Republicans are using the immigration issue for political gain

The Republicans had plenty of time to fix immigration and didn't

The Republicans have been unable to secure the border

The Republicans are using fear and bigotry to scapegoat immigrants

The scapegoating isn't working

Of course there's one glaring omission in this strategy …. there isn't any sort of a alternative plan proposed.

Nowhere
is there a word about what in fact the Democrats are going to do about
immigration. Not even the usual vague call for "comprehensive reform
that secures our border while providing a path to citizenship to
undocumented immigrants." And you can just forget about specifics.

In the absence of this vision, Migra Matters proposes its own strategies:

There have to be other, more complex, and comprehensive ways of controlling immigration:

  • Things like adjusting free trade agreements so they don't foster poverty in sender nations.

  • Things
    like working with foreign governments in sender nations to ensure that
    they not only respect human rights, but worker rights and economic
    justice.

  • Things like examining and reforming our
    immigration codes to make them more practical, fair, and reflective of
    economic realities.

  • Things like fixing our immigration
    bureaucracy so it can efficiently and humanely process the flow of
    immigrants in a timely and effective manner.

And these are but just a few of the things that should be talked about. There are many, many more.

 

Dec 7 2007
Blog Post Undocumented Immigrant Honored in Arizona
  • Latina Lista wrote about yesterday's ceremony in Arizona to honor Manuel Jesus Cordova Soberanes, the man who saved the eight-year-old boy who spent a night in the desert after his mother died in a car accident. Given that Cordova gave up his opportunity to find work in order to ensure the boy's safety, "U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. wants to reward Manuel for his
    selfless act of kindness with a special visa that would allow him to
    come to work in the US."  Grijalva's aide Ruben Reyes admitted the chances of having a such visa issued are slim, but spoke of the importance of recognizing Cordova's generosity:

"We think he actually brings another tone into the
discussion of immigration. Unfortunately the discussion of immigration
is (mostly) negative but with his acts of heroism it counters so many
of the other negative aspects," Reyes said. "It brings a face of
dignity, humanity and a bond that the two countries can share and he's
a shining example of that."

Author

There is no doubt Manuel is that and so much more when you compare
him to the critics of illegal immigrants in this country whose rhetoric
is violent and hate-filled.

Yet, if Rep. Grijalva really wanted to help Manuel, why not award
the man enough money to help him do something constructive in his
hometown so that he doesn't have to leave his own children again?

Grijalva already knows the chances for a special visa are next to
nil for passage. So, basically the Congressman is dangling another
false hope in front of Manuel to give the appearance of helping him
when in reality, he's not.

And in the end, Manuel will still have disappointment and poverty — along with, a certificate of heroism.

  • The Inteligenta Indiĝena Indigenismo Novaĵoservo blog reposted a New York Times article on 'Brazilians Giving Up Their American Dream.'  Hundreds of middle-class Brazilians who had immigrated to the US years ago in search of social and economic security are now choosing to return to Brazil.  For undocumented Brazilians, life has become too difficult to justify the risk of staying, when they are unable to obtain driver's licenses and there is no comprehensive immigration reform in sight.  As the American dollar loses value and Brazil's economy is booming, it seems only logical to follow the job opportunities back to the Southern hemisphere.
  • Too Sense has given us an update on the Jena Six case: While it looks like the six students will all be accepting plea bargain agreements, the victim of the beating has just brought suit against "the adults accused of beating him, the families of the juveniles
    allegedly involved and the board of the school where the attack
    occurred."
  • Prometheus 6 linked to a Birmingham News article about the local school district's decision to acquire and distribute 15,000 of the new $200 XO laptops which were created to increase computer access in the developing world. According to they city's mayor Larry Langford, "We live in a digital age, so it is important that all our children
    have equal access to technology and are able to integrate it into all
    aspects of their lives...we are proud that Birmingham
    is on its way to eliminating the so-called 'digital divide' and to
    ensuring that our children have state-of-the-art tools for education." While the laptops are available for purchase in the US (for every laptop bought, another goes to a child in a developing country), this is the first reported large-scale purchase for use within the country -- and one which highlights inequalities in access to technology within our nation.
  • The Huffington Post has reported on today's Supreme Court hearing on "whether the detainees at Guantánamo have habeas corpus rights - a
    cornerstone of civilization and a principle established 800 years ago
    in England, giving prisoners the right to challenge the basis of their
    detention in court."  The ACSBlog is also covering the case, which is a matter concerning basic human rights in America.
Dec 5 2007
Blog Post Birth of a Movement

"The forum was revolutionary in at least two ways. First, it was
organized not isolated issues, but around shared values and a
progressive vision. And second, it featured real people—grassroots
leaders from around the country—sharing their stories and asking the
candidates pointed questions.

The grassroots leaders who took the stage voiced again and again the
ideas that embody Community Values—that "we are all in this together,"
that "we are all connected" and "share responsibility for each other,"
that we "love our neighbors as we love ourselves," and that it's time
to reject the "politics of isolation" and embrace the "politics of
connection."

But it was their diverse and compelling personal stories that brought that message home in vivid color."

"Poor and working people in New Orleans and across the globe are living
on property that has become valuable for corporations. Accommodating
governments are pushing the poor away and turning public property to
private. HUD is giving private developers hundreds of millions of
public dollars, scores of acres of valuable land, and thousands of
public apartments. Happy holidays for them for sure.

For the
poor, the holidays are scheduled to bring bulldozers. The demolition is
poised to start in New Orleans any day now. Attempts at demolition will
be met with just resistance. Whether that resistance is successful or
not will determine not only the future of the working poor in New
Orleans, but of working poor communities nationally and globally. If
the US government is allowed to demolish thousands of much-needed
affordable apartments of Katrina victims, what chance do others have?"

  • Rather than stand trial, Mychal Bell of the Jena Six has elected plead guilty to a juvenile charge of second-degree battery.  Skeptical Brotha
    has explained that Bell will serve eight more months in prison, as the
    eighteen month sentence will honor the ten months he has already spent
    in jail.
  • The last couple days have seen a few stories on human trafficking in the US.  Angry Asian Man has reported on a trafficking ring just busted in Vermont, and the New York Times has written about a newly-surfaced case of modern-day slavery on Long Island.
  • Finally, a number of immigration blogs have commented on the upcoming reality TV-show called "Who Wants to Marry a US Citizen."  With a new take on reality television, programming which blends contemporary political issues with the classic dating series, the show "aims to show love knows no borders. Besides, that is what America is about: a multi-cultural nation."  The Unapologetic Mexican has cited our 'national obsession with immigration' as pointing to the need for comprehensive reform of immigration policies.
Dec 4 2007
Blog Post Heartland Forum Highlights Support for Community Values
  • As mentioned previously, this Saturday saw the Heartland Presidential Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, an opportunity to talk with candidates about 'real issues facing real people in our communities' with attention to our values and policies of interconnection. You can watch a webcast of the forum on the Center for Community Change's Movement Vision Lab blog. Additionally, The Huffington Post linked to a Des Moines Register article on the event, and Adam Bink over at Open Left liveblogged summaries of statements made by each of the participating candidates: Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Dodd, and Kucinich.
  • The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog has reposted a Texas Observer article about the challenges faced in the expansion of drug courts in Texas.  While courts geared towards rehabilitation and redemption (rather than simply inflicting prison time) are much more effective than traditional courts in helping people overcome addiction, court practices vary widely according to the judge on the stand.

"Bennett and Leon Grizzard are the two judges who oversee Travis County's drug diversion court. They steer addicts into a court-supervised treatment program instead of prison. In the past decade, drug courts like the one in Travis County have successfully handled nonviolent defendants with drug and alcohol addictions—if success is defined as increasing public safety at the least cost to the taxpayer. People who complete drug-court programs rarely tumble back into substance abuse. According to four drug-court judges surveyed, about 10 percent of program graduates commit new crimes—a recidivism rate roughly one-fifth that of traditional probation routines. That means drug courts can ease the strain on overcrowded prisons and save taxpayer money. A study of the Dallas drug court by Southern Methodist University showed that every government dollar spent on diversion courts saved taxpayers more than $9.

Though criminal justice reform groups have advocated drug courts for years, Texas until recently lagged behind the rest of the country.

...

But as drug courts become more widespread, it appears that—like the narcotics they were created to fight—the courts can be abused. State and federal governments have instituted few regulations and set up no oversight. Judges have wide latitude to decide people's fates. In the hands of the right judges, the drug court model performs marvelously. Other judges appear to have trouble reconciling their punitive role with this new therapeutic one. The U.S. Department of Justice designed a set of guidelines and best practices—but they're the criminal justice equivalent of blueprints without building codes. The guidelines suggest that judges receive ongoing training and partner with treatment programs and community groups.

Because drug courts grow mostly from the local level, there is little standardization. Texas law broadly defines a drug court, but places hardly any restrictions on what judges can do. There is no oversight specifically for the drug courts. A recent case in Houston demonstrates the potential risks behind the courts' expansion. Judge K. Michael Mayes of Montgomery County is facing a federal lawsuit by a defendant who claims his treatment in Mayes' drug court was arbitrary and violated his rights to due process."

  • Firedoglake has written a post on a bill under consideration in the Senate known as the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act.  This Democratically-authored legislation, which has already passed the House by a large margin, has many progressives questioning its vague definition of 'ideologically-based violence,' arguing that this law would be a step towards a fascist state in which citizens can by prosecuted for 'thought crimes.' We must remember that democracy in America is dependent upon our ability to raise our voices, on our rights to free speech and fair elections.  Any law that seeks to contradict our capacity to participate fully in our communities is a violation of our human rights.
  • In a related story, the Latina Lista blog has been the subject of a recent spam attack, bad enough that the site's commenting feature has temporarily been disabled.  Offering "Anything and Everything from a Latina Perspective," the blog often discusses issues of immigration, American history and culture.
Dec 3 2007
Blog Post Framing the Immigration Debate
  • The ImmigrationProf Blog has revisited a 2006 essay by George Lakoff and Sam Ferguson about the language we use when discussing immigration.  Here's the abstract on the Rockridge Institute's website:

"Framing is at the center of the recent immigration debate. Simply
framing it as about “immigration” has shaped its politics, defining
what count as “problems” and constraining the debate to a narrow set of
issues. The language is telling. The linguistic framing is remarkable:
frames for illegal immigrant, illegal alien, illegals, undocumented
workers, undocumented immigrants, guest workers, temporary workers,
amnesty, and border security. These linguistic expressions are anything
but neutral. Each framing defines the problem in its own way, and hence
constrains the solutions needed to address that problem. The purpose of
this paper is twofold. First, we will analyze the framing used in the
public debate. Second, we suggest some alternative framing to highlight
important concerns left out of the current debate. Our point is to show
that the relevant issues go far beyond what is being discussed, and
that acceptance of the current framing impoverishes the discussion."

  • In other immigration news, Burger King is under fire for its refusal to join McDonald's and Taco Bell in an agreement to pay historically-underpaid migrant workers in Florida an extra penny per pound of tomatoes picked. Also, a federal court in Canada ruled in favor of a lawsuit challenging the Safe Third Country Agreement, which had designated the US as a
    "safe third country" for asylum-seekers, meaning "if they make it to the
    U.S. before entering Canada can be returned there."  The court found that "the United States fails to comply with Convention on Torture or Article 33
    of the Refugee Convention and [therefore] the U.S./Canada safe third country
    agreement was flawed as there was no ongoing meaningful review mechanism."
  • The DMI Blog points to this week's New York Times coverage of the successes of a re-entry program in Brooklyn which offers counseling, drug testing, and work and training programs to former inmates.  Re-entry programs not only support the value of redemption, or the right to a second chance, but they are also effective in helping people reintegrate into the community and remain there.  According to a recent study of the comAlert program,

"ComAlert graduates are less likely be
re-arrested after leaving prison and much more likely to be employed
than either program dropouts or members of the control group.
Participants who complete the Doe Fund work-training component do even
better. They have an employment rate of about 90 percent, somewhat
higher than the ComAlert graduates generally and several times higher
than the control group."

  • Finally, Jack and Jill Politics offers further analysis of inequities in Wednesday's CNN/YouTube Republican debate, as compared with its Democratic counterpart:

Of 34 total questions aired, 24 were from white men (including 2 cartoon versions) in the GOP debate.
That's 71%. For the Dem debate, counting was a little more challenging
since one video aired combined video submissions from several people.
Still I'd estimate 22 of 38 questions aired were from white men (I did
not count the snowman as white because snow does not have an ethnicity)
or 58%.

Further, there were 8 questions shown that featured African-Americans during the Democratic debate and a measly 2 in the GOP debate. Hmm.

Also, strikingly -- astonishingly, no questions whatsoever during the GOP debate on:

Healthcare in America
Katrina
Climate Change or Environment
Darfur
Iraq Troop Withdrawal
Afghanistan and Pakistan -- Resurgence of the Taliban
Racial Profiling
Voting Machines and Voting Rights
The Failure to Capture Osama bin Laden

Nov 30 2007
Blog Post As Elections Near, We Need to Hear Candidates Debate Community Values
  • The Huffington Post offers an introduction to last night's CNN/YouTube debate for Republican presidential candidates, noting that "people from across the country submitted more than 3,500 videos posing
    questions" to the candidates, of which 40 were selected to be broadcast during the debates.  The Opportunity Agenda was among those submitting questions, with four videos created for the purposes of promoting community values in our nation's political debate.  Mike Connery has written two posts about the debate over at Future Majority, the first offering a comprehensive summary of the event and the second publicizing the fact that CNN did not coordinate with YouTube at all in order to select the forty questions that were aired.  By single-handedly shaping the content of the debate, CNN was able to bypass the debate's original intention, that of providing a voice to a diverse group of Americans.
  • In other event news, the Heartland Presidential Form will be held this Saturday December 1 in Des Moines, Iowa, only weeks before the Iowa caucus.  Five of the Democratic presidential candidates will be in attendance at the forum, the focus of which will not be on specific issues but on progressive vision and values.  According to the website:

The Iowa Heartland Presidential Forum is part of a new nationwide Campaign for Community Values
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Center for Community
Change is - and hundreds of grassroots partner groups - are
coordinating this groundbreaking effort to challenge the "go it alone"
mentality that has dominated politics and build a new politics for the
common good.

'Tis the season for presidential politics, and with it, the debate over what values propel voters to the ballot box.

A
recent debate in Florida claimed to represent and display the interests
of so-called "values voters." The dissection of the nation's "moral
values" took up a good bit of ink following the 2004 elections. And
we're all familiar with the "family values" that guided policy
throughout the '80s and '90s. But in all this talk of values, why are
so many core American values consistently missing?

Instead of concentrating on people's individual moral decisions, or
their family life, we should focus on our collective values, the ways
we can move forward together and the policies that work toward the
common good. We need to reintroduce to the debate the ideals of
equality, opportunity and fairness. And we need to acknowledge that our
individual stories and circumstances add up to a national community
best positioned to solve our problems together. In short, we should be
talking about our community values.

Nov 29 2007
Blog Post We Need Immigration Reform, Not Immigration Raids
  • The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog reposted a New York Times article entitled 'Immigrant Workers Caught in Net Cast for Gangs.'
    A night-time raid of residences in Greenport, New York in September was
    aimed at targeting gang members, but of the eleven arrests, only one
    man was 'suspected' of gang affiliation. Local residents have
    complained about the injustice of needlessly tearing families apart:

“This is un-American,” said Ms. Finne, 41, a Greenport native, echoing
other citizens who condemned the home raids in public meetings and
letters to The Suffolk Times, a weekly newspaper. “We need to do
something about immigration, but not this.”

  • Immigration News Daily and the ImmigrationProf Blog both reported on the appeals court dismissal of a lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) brought by some of the 361 noncitizens arrested on immigration charges during the New Beford, Massachusetts raid. While the First Circuit court "affirmed the dismissal based on lack of subject matter
    jurisdiction based on provisions of the REAL ID Act...[it] expressed hope that ICE would learn from the case and employ
    less 'ham-handed ways' in enforcing the law in the future."
  • In a similar case, Immigration News Daily also posted a news story about a Brazilian woman who was held in jail while her two-month-old baby continued to cry and refuse baby formula in lieu of breastfeeding.  While deportation proceedings will likely continue due to the woman's expired visa, this month's new ICE guidelines on nursing mothers have ensured that
    Danielle Souza Ferreira has been released and reunited with her children for the time being.
  • The ImmigrationProf Blog wrote about an article in yesterday's Los Angeles Times which stated that "undocumented immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries
    are 50% less likely than U.S.-born Latinos to use hospital emergency
    rooms in California, according to a study published Monday in the
    journal Archives of Internal Medicine." While everyone has a right to medical care without regard to immigration or citizenship status, this report does provides counter-evidence to the claim that undocumented immigrants are responsible for draining our health care system.
  • The HealthLawProf Blog highlighted another New York Times article "charmingly" titled 'In Hospice Care, Longer Lives Mean Money Lost.'  The story discusses the irony that the financial success of the hospice industry depends on the timely demise of its clientele.  We should review government policies that are discouraging to those providing crucial care for the elderly and the sick in our communities.

Hundreds of hospice
providers across the country are facing the catastrophic financial
consequence of what would otherwise seem a positive development: their
patients are living longer than expected.

Over the last eight years, the refusal of patients to die according
to actuarial schedules has led the federal government to demand that
hospices exceeding reimbursement limits repay hundreds of millions of
dollars to Medicare.

Nov 28 2007
Blog Post The Katrina of Public Health
  • The Huffington Post published an opinion piece yesterday on health equity entitled The Katrina of Public Health. Author Jayne Lyn Stahl begins:

Some alarming, awe-inspiring, news today out of Washington, D.C., and
no, it's not Trent Lott's resignation. The results of a study, the
first of its kind, of HIV cases in the nation's capital are out, and
they show that AIDS has reached "epidemic" proportions in D.C. (WaPo)

In the five-year test period in question, ending in 2006, while
African-Americans comprise roughly 60 percent of the city's population,
they account for more than 80 percent of the more than 3,000 HIV cases
that have been identified. Ninety percent of women residents who tested
positive for the disease are African-American. And, nearly 40 percent
of reported cases were among heterosexuals showing, in the words of a
District administrator, that "HIV is everybody's disease" in D.C.

The presence of an epidemic of this magnitude so close to 1600
Pennsylvania Avenue can't help but make one wonder if federal policy,
or non-policy is at the nucleus of this health catastrophe. Yet, where
is the public outrage that a campaign of misinformation,
disinformation, or information/education blockade should claim the same
demographic casualties as that of Hurricane Katrina.

Stahl continues to cite the government policies that have contributed to DC's epidemic, public health negligence compounded by the absence of needle exchange programs in the area:

On this administration's watch, more than $100 million in grants have
been allocated for abstinence-only education programs. The president
pressured the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to eliminate,
from its Web site, anything that might promote the efficacy of using
condoms to prevent STDs, and AIDS. Roughly 90 percent of the $15
billion set aside for fighting HIV globally has been made available to
domestic groups for use in their ongoing worldwide campaign to promote
abstinence, and to discourage the use of condoms in the fight against
HIV/AIDS.

  • The Republic of T has highlighted a recent decision by Florida's Palm Beach Community College to provide health insurance coverage for employees' pets but not their domestic partners.  With the rationale that “Your pet is a member of your family — his quality of life is important to you,” the college trustees have provided employees with a 5 percent discount and
    group rates on a range of health insurance plans for their pets, covering "wellness care, vaccinations, X-rays,
    surgery and hospitalization (although pre-existing conditions may not
    be covered)." Yet in August the college opted not to extend the same affordable benefits to same-sex partners of their employees, despite the fact that it would not have cost them anything to do so.
  • Immigration News Daily discussed a new trend in which foreign consulates have begun providing health care services for immigrants in the US without medical insurance. Both the Salvador and Mexican consulates in Washington, DC are offering medical services, and are expanding the health programming around the country in collaboration with the Hispanic Institute for Blindness Prevention.
  • Immigration News Daily has also reported on a new initiative by Latino organizations in the US to register one million new Latino voters before the 2008 elections.  The coalition is hoping that current affairs such as the health care, education, the Iraq war and immigration will drive many voters to the polls for the first time.
  • Latina Lista has posted about Mexican TV network Azteca America's decision to produce and include English classes in its US programming.  The Spanish-language network does not intend to imply support for an English-only America but to recognize the benefits of a multilingual society. According to Luis J. Echarte, chairman of Fundación Azteca America and the Azteca America network:

Spanish-language television is often a first-stop and
point-of-reference for information for recently arrived immigrants. Our
community looks to us for guidance on immigration, legal changes, and
natural disasters, to name a few examples.

There’s no doubt that our community can better assimilate
themselves and increase their economic and political power with
increased linguistic skills.

Nov 27 2007
Blog Post US Military Asking Wounded Soldiers to Return Signing Bonuses
  • Mirror on America reports that the US military has been asking soldiers wounded in combat to return the signing bonuses they received upon joining the armed forces. As the military is exhausting those Americans who are willing to sign up for duty, it has begun offering up to $30,000 in signing bonuses which it has then asked to be refunded when soldiers who have lost limbs, hearing or eyesight are no longer able to serve out their commitments.  In the case where America's foreign policies are proving responsible for the destruction of its own citizens, our country should honor and respect these sacrifices with additional support from the community, not less.
  • Ezekiel Edwards at the DMI Blog has written about a client and personal friend who was able to triumph over a drug and alcohol addiction that had brought her into contact with the criminal justice system.  Edwards uses her example to illustrate the difficulties people face when they are trying to make a new start:

It took her a number of months to find any sort of work. The road to
employment is difficult enough as a poor African-American woman with
little formal education, currently taking GED classes, but with a
criminal record, it becomes outright impassable. She finally found a
part-time job working four hours a day, five days a week, at $9 an
hour. She arrived 20 minutes early every day. After six weeks, she was
fired without explanation. Now she is looking for work again.

She cannot afford her rent, and is looking for public housing, but,
again, her criminal record (all for nonviolent offenses) limits her
options. She is trying to do the right thing, trying to become
gainfully employed, trying to further her education, trying to find
affordable housing, trying to spend time with her daughter, and, most
of all, trying not to drown herself in the bottle by remaining in her
program, but society is not making it easy, or even somewhere in
between easy and frighteningly difficult, to move forward. Even after
all she has gone through, there is no relief in sight.

  • The Pro Inmigrant blog has posted about a new coalition between the American Jewish Committee and a group of Mexican-American advocates to fight discrimination and demand comprehensive immigration reform in the US. Working with the idea that Jewish Americans who have successfully assimilated can and should help today's immigrant populations, the AJC just co-sponsored a three-day workshop with Mexico's Institute for Mexicans Abroad. According to Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhán, whose grandfather came to Mexico from Armenia,

"Now, more than ever, we must underscore a self-evident truth:
Migrants are not a threat to the security of the US...They are important actors in
the fabric of what makes America great."

  • Along this same theme, the ImmigrationProf Blog has linked to a new report by UC Davis economist Giovanni Peri which found that "high immigration
    cities experienced higher wage and housing price growth. Immigration
    had a positive productivity effect on natives overall, but important
    distributional effects. Highly educated natives enjoyed the largest benefits while the less educated did not gain (but did not lose much either)."
  • The 'Just News' blog quotes an AP article discussing the fact that a serious backlog in the processing of citizenship applications may prevent thousands of residents from voting in the 2008 presidential elections. Hopefully this media attention will encourage immigration authorities to expedite the process so that all Americans will have a voice in electing our national leaders.
Nov 21 2007
Blog Post A Real Values Debate
  • Alan Jenkins' newest piece is live on TomPaine.com. Entitled 'A Real Values Debate,' the opinion begins:

"Progressives have long been criticized for talking issues and
constituencies at the expense of vision and values. Linguist George
Lakoff has argued for years that progressives have ceded the moral high
ground to their detriment. And Thomas Frank has documented how
conservatives tell a larger story that connects with working people at
a values level, even while undermining their economic interests.

That critique has never been fully accurate. The continuing human
rights movements led by people of color, women, gay people, and
immigrants have always been rooted in the values of freedom, equality,
dignity and opportunity. As Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center for
Human Rights has said, "there's a reason why Martin Luther King Jr.'s
greatest speech was not called 'I have a complaint.'" The modern
environmental movement, too, speaks not only of our individual
interests but also of our moral responsibility as stewards of the earth
and its inhabitants.

But it is also true that progressive political discourse has
increasingly moved away from a discussion of shared national values and
toward a patchwork of issues and narrow policy fixes. That dynamic has
certainly played out this presidential election season, with last
month's "Values Voters Summit" priming candidates' commitment to
conservative values while progressives largely haggled over the details
of policy proposals.

But that's about to change. On December 1, a coalition of Iowa social justice groups will host the Heartland Presidential Forum: Community Values in Action,
in Des Moines, Iowa. Just four weeks before the Iowa caucuses, it will
be a presidential forum focused not on specific issues, but on
progressive vision and values."

  • The Inteligenta Indiĝena Indigenismo Novaĵoservo blog has reposted a Crooks and Liars piece about a Washington state assisted living facility that is evicting its residents that are on Medicaid.  Unlike other states, Washington does not have a law to protect its vulnerable senior citizens against such decisions by profit-minded nursing home corporations.
  • Prometheus 6 has posted about a New York Times article on the increasing presence of international medical crews providing health services in the US to the 47 million people without medical insurance, or 15 percent of the American population. One such service known as Remote Area Medical, or RAM, works most often in "Guyana,  India,  Tanzania  and Haiti," but has been noted for their expeditions in rural Virginia, where members of the community have begun lining up at 3am in order to be seen by medical workers.
  • In election news, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is proposing a plan to make community colleges free of cost for American high school graduates, a move that would greatly increase opportunities for many of our young people.  Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani has indicated his support for a 'virtual' border fence run by high tech surveillance, a policy which would not address the need for more comprehensive reform of our immigration and trade policies.

"Human rights are defined, most notably in the U.S. Bill of Rights. They

are defined because the Founding Fathers realized that if they were

not defined, they would be more likely to be abrogated or lost

entirely. The Founding Fathers understood the temptation on the part

of governments to give and remove human rights arbitrarily, because

they had experienced such things before the Revolutionary War -- in the

Stamp Act, in the quartering of British soldiers on American

households, and in illegal searches and seizures, in no taxation

without representation. They recognized that although British Law

customarily acknowledged various human rights, it was essential to

name, codify, and write them down to make it less likely that they

could be taken away."

Nov 20 2007
Blog Post Congress Approves of Giving a Second Chance, While New York Reviews Disenfranchisement Policies
  • The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog has posted about last week's House vote on the Second Chance Act, legislation that aims to address the needs of individuals reintegrating into the community after time spent in prison. The bill passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support in a vote of 347-62, and it is expected that the Senate will consider the same legislation before the end of the year.  Based in the spirit of redemption, the idea that we all deserve the support we need to make a new start,

"H.R. 1593 would provide grants to States and local areas to create or
strengthen the systems that help adults and youth transition into the
community when they are released from incarceration by providing drug
addiction and mental health treatment services, job training and
education opportunities, housing and other necessary services."

  • The same blog also covered a recent report by the Brennan Center on felony disenfranchisment in New York state which found that "87% of those currently disenfranchised in New York are Latino and African American."  The state's sentencing structure is currently under review for its early Nineteenth Century laws that still effectively deny the right to vote to people of color.
  • Also, a successful doctor and his entrepreneur wife are facing sudden deportation proceedings in Pennsylvania after a small error was found in the documents they used to apply for American citizenship. Although Pedro and Salvacion Servano have been in the US legally for twenty-five years, and have come to embody the American Dream in their family life and contributions to their community, they are currently fighting to appeal the mandate that they report to ICE the day after Thanksgiving in order to initiate deportation proceedings to the Philippines.
  • Finally, the Immigrants in USA Blog featured two articles on the value of a multilingual society. Statesman.com wrote about the tensions involved when a California school district announced its intentions to provide bilingual education to all students, and mercurynews.com published an opinion piece on the value of learning English but not losing the language of one's cultural heritage. Given that "many folks pay thousands of dollars to acquire a second language," linguistic diversity is an undeniable advantage to our community and our economy in an increasingly interconnected world.
Nov 19 2007
Blog Post Spitzer Drops Plan to Provide Drivers Licenses to Undocumented Immigrants Nov 15 2007
Blog Post 'Reckless Optimism': People Really Are Able to Turn Their Lives Around
  • The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog has reposted an interesting New York Times article
    on an innovative program providing prenatal care for homeless women in
    San Francisco. With nineteen years as a non-profit agency, and a staff
    of fifty-three people, half of whom have been homeless in the past, the
    program is a model of the core value of redemption, or the idea that we all deserve the support needed for a new start:

"The Homeless Prenatal Program has evolved from its original mission
of helping destitute women give birth to and then keep healthy babies
to become a resource dedicated to stabilizing entire families. It
offers what this particular woman excitedly described here as 'a
plethora of services' for mental health, housing and substance abuse
problems. It combines those with an array of alternative health
approaches not usually available to the poor, like yoga, massage and
chiropractic treatments.

'People call me a reckless optimist, and you have to be to do this
kind of work,' said Martha Ryan, founder and executive director of the
Homeless Prenatal Program. 'But I see enough success. I see people
really able to turn their lives around, and I see their children be
able to move forward and have a different life.'”
 

  • The Huffington Post has a great piece up by Sally Kohn of the Movement Vision Lab on the writers' strike. Speaking of the absence of the community frame in television or film media, Kohn praises the writers for joining together but contributes a larger cultural analysis of what has shaped our values of individualism:

"If you turn on your TV today or sit for a matinee at your local
cineplex, you'd wonder whether it's an entirely different crop of folks
holding the pens behind the scenes. After all, much of the shows and
movies they write promote extreme greed, competition and the notion
that we have to pull ourselves up from our individual bootstraps ---
NOT that we're all in it together, in solidarity. While most of us in
real life, like the striking writers, have learned that we can't
succeed without the help of others around us, most reality TV shows from American Idol to Survivor tell us that the only way to the top is fierce competition against one another.  Meanwhile shows like Desperate Housewives
tell us that selfishness is good and there's no such thing as too much
greed and status --- mind you, the same greed that is keeping the
Hollywood execs from sharing the wealth with writers. And in countless
movies, writers resort to racist and homophobic 'humor' that helps
further divide our country rather than unite us together."

  • The DMI Blog has written about the Coalition to Raise the Minimum Standards at New York City Jails, a multi-organizational campaign that achieved a number of victories this year as "the Board of Corrections (BOC) proposed a number of changes to the
    Minimum Standards for New York City Correctional Facilities" which cover rules and regulations for city jails. Author Ezekiel Edwards reports that while the BOC was not swayed on every issue of importance to prisoners and their families, significant progress was made in preserving and improving conditions of incarceration: "As a result of the Coalition's relentless efforts, the BOC voted
    against the 'overcrowding' policy, against putting those in need of
    protection in 23-hour solitary confinement, and against reducing
    Spanish translation services." 
  • Feministe has a new post entitled 'Housing is a Human Right' which provides information on upcoming protests against the fact that all public housing units in New Orleans are slated for demolition after a recent federal court ruling. The Facing South blog has also posted about the controvery over the formaldehyde-laced trailers provided as temporary housing -- while Gulf Area families have been living in the trailers, FEMA has cautioned its own employees against entering them.
  • Finally, Latina Lista has reported on a DailyKos post by the author of the Migra Matters blog called 'A progressive plan for immigration reform,' referring to the resource as "the most insightful, certainly most thorough and step-by-step approach into fully understanding the immigration issue." Given his opinion that immigration is the new topic du jour, author Duke1676 prefaces his summary with "I figured it might be a good time post up a diary that sums up
    everything I've learned in my past three years here posting on
    immigration issues." With some 454 comments by readers, it's worth a read.
Nov 13 2007
Blog Post All Things Being Equal: Instigating Opportunity in an Inequitable Time

"One year from now, our country will choose a new president. And
while the candidates have debated extensively on individual issues like
health care, the war, the economy, and the environment, they have
offered far less in terms of a positive, overarching vision for our
country that both addresses and transcends individual issues.

While candidates' positions on the issues of the day are crucially
important, it's equally important to take their measure on what George
H. W. Bush called "the vision thing":
the clarity of ideals, values, and principles that inspire and shape a
president's approach to a broad range of issues, including ones that no
one could have anticipated on the day he or she was elected.

A new book by The Opportunity Agenda
offers such a vision on the domestic front; one to which we hope the
presidential contenders of both parties will respond. Not surprisingly,
that vision centers on opportunity, the idea that everyone deserves a
fair chance to achieve his or her full potential. In the book "All Things Being Equal: Instigating Opportunity in an Inequitable Time,"
a dozen leading thinkers paint a picture of what opportunity means in
our society, where we are falling short, and what must be done to
instigate opportunity for all. Their vision bridges myriad
issues—education, employment, housing, criminal justice, immigration,
health care, human rights—and disciplines—public health, economics,
criminology, law, sociology, psychology, education, social work. The
authors provide a clear and hopeful path to the future, a wake-up call
to our nation's current and future leaders, and concrete solutions that
promise to carry us forward.

As I've written before in this column, opportunity is not just a set of national conditions, but a body of national values:
economic security, mobility, a voice in decisions that affect us, a
chance to start over after missteps or misfortune, and a shared sense
of responsibility for each other-as members of a common society.
Analyzing their own and others' research through the lens of those
values, the authors of All Things Being Equal warn that opportunity is
increasingly at risk for all Americans and, therefore, for our country
as a whole. They find that many communities are facing multiple
barriers to opportunity that cannot be overcome through personal effort
alone. But, most importantly, they find that we have it in our power as
a country to turn those trends around."

  • The Immigration Equality blog has posted about yesterday's confirmation of Michael Mukasey as US Attorney General, after a long struggle in the Senate Judiciary Committee over his unwillingness to label waterboarding as illegal and torturous. The blog also notes that his position on the matter is being interpreted by some as a way of insulating the Department of Justice from future lawsuits or charges against government officials for human rights violations.

Racial_diversity_in_staffs_2

The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog reposted a recent New York Times article on the Surge Seen in Number of Homeless Veterans.  While many veterans have ended up the sort of post-traumatic stress disorder which often correlates with homelessness, it's unusual that veterans would show up in shelters as soon after deployment as have the most recent batch after duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Sexual abuse is another factor which correlates with homelessness -- the article states that "roughly 40 percent of the hundreds of homeless female veterans of recent wars have said they were sexually assaulted by American soldiers while in the military."

Finally, the Too Sense blog posted a graph of the racial diversity in campaign staff among the top 2008 presidential candidates.  While Clinton's staff is the most diverse, Giuliani's staff is 100% white.
Nov 9 2007
Blog Post WITNESS Launches 'The Hub' For Human Rights Media
  • In exciting new media news, human rights organization WITNESS has just launched The Hub, a global platform for human rights media and action or "a YouTube for human rights."  According to the website:

"The Hub is a grassroots-driven, participatory media website that
enables anyone anywhere in the world with access to the internet to
upload, share, discuss and take action around human rights-related
media and resources. Through the Hub, organizations, networks and
groups around the world are able to bring their human rights stories
and campaigns to global attention.

The Hub has three main areas: See It – where you can view and interact with human rights media uploaded by the Hub community; Share It – where you can create and join groups or discussions that coincide with your interests or expertise; and Take Action – where you can get involved to make a difference,  and activate other users around your campaigns and events.

The Hub is a project of WITNESS.
WITNESS uses video and online technologies to open the eyes of the
world to human rights violations. We empower people to transform
personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting
public engagement and policy change."

  • Another favorite bit of news this week is that the FBI has apparently been tracking sales of Middle Eastern food in San Francisco grocery stores in hopes that it will lead to terrorist communities. So far there have been no reports of falafel consumption leading to arrests.
  • Immigration News Daily has written about a study just released by the University of Florida which claims that news laws intended to crack down on undocumented immigrants are actually having the opposite effect.  Based on interviews with a community of Brazilian immigrants, the report has concluded that "restrictions to keep illegal immigrants from entering the United States
    are having the perverse effect of encouraging those who are already
    here to stay by any means necessary." It is time for the US to abandon these policies of isolation in order to engage in comprehensive immigration reform that will create a fair and just system to provide everyone in America the opportunities needed to achieve their full potential.
  • The 'Just News' and ImmigrationProf blogs both touched upon a case in Arizona in which an undocumented high school student was found in posession of marijuana, his school called the cops who then called the border patrol, and the student's entire family was deported.  After significant protest by fellow students, "the Tucson police has changed its policy: no longer will they call the
    Border Patrol to schools or churches, though they will share
    information." In addition, immigration law  professor Kevin Johnson discusses official agency policies surrounding arrests at school:

"The Border Patrol has a policy saying that Border Patrol agents, who
work for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, must have written approval
from a supervisor before conducting any enforcement-related activity at
schools or places of worship. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement—which falls under a different
branch of the U.S. Homeland Security Department than Border Patrol—has
a policy that 'arresting fugitives at schools, hospitals, or places of
worship is strongly discouraged, unless the alien poses an immediate
threat to national security or the community.'"

It's reassuring that the Tucson community has been able to bring about the procedural changes they felt were necessary to ensure that their schools will be a safe and secure learning environment.

  • Bloggernista posted about yesterday's vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which passed the House by a vote of 235-184.  While this vote is important and historic for its extension of fair workplace practices to lesbian, gay, and bisexual communities, Pam's House Blend guest author Autumn Sandeen has declared that she is "not celebrating" given the bill's failure to include 'real or perceived gender identity' in the list of protected identities.
Nov 8 2007
Blog Post Writers Guild Fighting for Fair Pay While TV Networks Threaten To Cut Jobs
  • There has been a lot of discussion on The Huffington Post about the Writers Guild of America strike that started on Monday, as TV networks and screenwriters failed to reach an agreement before the end of their previous contract. Union members are essentially demanding that networks begin to distribute profits from new media airings of their work, but have made little headway in negotiations on the issue. In a move that will endanger the financial security of many Americans, some networks are now threatening large-scale firings of their employees. According to an opinion in the LA Times:

"A day after Hollywood's writers went out on strike, the major studios
are hitting back with plans to suspend scores of long-term deals with
television production companies, jeopardizing the jobs of hundreds of
rank-and-file employees whose names never appear in the credits.

Assistants, development executives and production managers will soon be
out of work, joining their better-paid bosses who opted to sacrifice
paychecks as members of the Writers Guild of America. At some studios,
the first wave of letters are going out today, hitting writer-producers
whose companies don't currently have shows in production."

  • Migra Matters has done an interesting post on the results of yesterday's election in Virginia, where the Republican party had chosen to make an immigration crackdown its biggest campaign selling point.  Curiously, the Democrats appear to have gained control of the state Senate, leading the author to advise us with respect to upcoming national elections: "If the Republicans were looking at immigrant-bashing as a silver bullet
    to stem the national tide against them, surely tonight's results in
    Virginia will should give them second thoughts."
  • The House of Representatives has begun debate on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a measure to extend federal workplace protections to those targeted for their sexual orientation.  Pam's House Blend discusses the fact that a coalition of civil and gay rights organizations announced their support yesterday for the current version of the bill which does not include the same protections for transgender individuals, thus leaving the LGBT community divided.
  • The Sentencing Law and Policy blog featured an editorial in today's New York Times about the Second Chance Act, a bill which has had bipartisan support in Congress since 2004 but has yet to move through the legislature. The Times describes the need for the government policies to support redemption, or the idea that we all deserve a second chance:

"If past patterns hold true, more than half of
the 650,000 prisoners released this year will be back behind bars by
2010. With the prison population exploding and the price of
incarceration now topping $60 billion a year, states are rightly
focusing on ways to reduce recidivism. Congress can give these efforts
a boost by passing the Second Chance Act, which would provide crucial
help to people who have paid their debts to society....

The Second Chance Act would add to what the country knows about the
re-entry process by establishing a federal re-entry task force, along
with a national resource center to collect and disseminate information
about proven programs....  The programs necessary to help former
prisoners find a place in society do not exist in most communities.
The Second Chance Act would help to create those programs by providing
money, training, technical assistance — and a Congressional stamp of
approval."

  • Last up, blogger Sudy is working on a video project to "feature, support, and highlight the work done by feminists of color."  She's included a preview of the video on her site which has been cross-posted by Vox et Machina.

Nov 7 2007
Blog Post San Francisco Hospital Closure Will Deny Health Care Access to Underserved Communities
  • The Happening Here blog has a new post up on a newly-announced hospital closure in San Francisco's Mission District.  While a hearing will be held next week on the plan to shut down St. Luke's Hospital, author Janinsanfran notes:

"Opponents of the closure quickly discovered unearthed evidence that the impact
of CPMC's plan would be to dump most of their Black, Brown and charity
care patients. CPMC wants to build yet another North of Market Street
hospital on Cathedral Hill, while leaving the South of Market area
entirely to the care of the over-crowded, under-funded county hospital."

Decreasing access to medical care for communities of color and low-income communities is a reality in New York City as well, as illustrated by our google map mash up Health Care That Works. This process continues despite the fact that the majority of New Yorkers agree that health care is a human right.

  • Feministing has blogged about a recent Kansas City ruling on women's access to contraception, in a lawsuit in which women had alleged discrimination because AT&T refused to provide health insurance coverage for birth control for female employees. The appellate court ruled that "contraception was not 'related to' pregnancy for purposes of the law" and therefore AT&T's actions did not comprise discrimination.
  • The Facing South blog has posted about the recent introduction of the Gulf Civil Works bill in Congress, legislation aimed at addressing the problem that "there are still about 100,000 fewer jobs in the Gulf than there was pre-Katrina." In the spirit of the New Deal construction works, the program would create these jobs working on much-needed public infrastructure projects. According to Stephen Bradberry,
    head state organizer of ACORN Louisiana, the region’s largest
    association of low and middle income families,

“Communities across the Gulf Coast suffer from crumbling roads and
water systems, ill constructed flood protection, and closed police
stations, fire house, schools and hospitals...We have an opportunity
to jumpstart the recovery by empowering communities with the resources
they need to lead.”

  • Finally, Ezra Klein has written an insightful piece on Affluence vs. Security.  Discussing whether or not American living standards are getting better or worse, Klein says:

"I haven't quite worked this theory out yet, but my sense is that economic status has been cleaved free of economic security.
So the sort of goods that signal affluence -- iPods and iPhones and
laptop computers and plasma televisions -- are becoming much cheaper,
more broadly accessible, and thus more widely owned. Lots of people,
particularly young people, can thus claim economic status. The
trappings of our wealth are all around us.

Yet economic security is quite a bit further from reach. It's
impossible for me to imagine how I'll ever buy a home. Further
education for me and eventual education for my kids are far beyond what
my salary seems able to bear. And let's not get into health care. Point
being: The affluence I can easily purchase into my 20s seems liable to
crash right into the security I discover is out of reach in my 30s.

Meanwhile, from where I sit, the American Dream is a pretty weak force.
White picket fences aren't the culturally transmitted vision of
prosperity. Electronics are. Awesome stuff
is. We're seeking goods, not security. And we can buy goods. Which
makes us feel prosperous. And if you feel prosperous, if you consider
yourself affluent, you can't merge that self-conception with economic
insecurity, and thus it's hard to consider yourself part of a coalition
in need of economic reform, or more advantageous public policy. By
offering status without security, folks lose the class discontent that
would turn them into a constituency for the security. And so they don't
get it."

Do we agree that true economic security remains elusive for our younger generations? What can we do to bolster the American Dream, to promote policies that will create opportunities and stability for everyone in America?

Nov 5 2007
Blog Post Crime is Not an Isolated Action, in New Orleans and Beyond
  • Bill Quigley at the Black Agenda Report has written a piece on the apparent meltdown of the criminal justice system in New Orleans, where violent crime rates are hovering at seven times the national average. Quigley speaks of the integral relationship between socioeconomic security and crime rates:

"Crime is not an isolated action. It is impossible to fix the crime problem if
the rest of the institutions that people rely on remain deeply broken....Only when the criminal justice system is supported by a
good public education available to all children, sufficient affordable housing
for families, accessible healthcare (especially mental healthcare), and jobs
that pay living wages, can the community expect the crime rate to go down."

  • The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog has highlighted a community in Western Massachusetts in which those without the financial means to post a few hundred dollars in bail are held for months before their trials. While eighty-five percent of women being held have substance abuse problems, and many have families to care for, the county has opted to spend thousands of dollars each month to keep women in newly-constructed jails rather than offer treatment programs that would offer inmates a chance at rehabilitation and redemption. Author Lois Ahrens notes that "holding women and men who are too poor to make bail results in
    devastating consequences: more jail building, greater impoverishment of
    the poor, and continued criminalization of addiction and mental illness."

Jack and Jill Politics has alerted us to the fact that the Bush administration is working with the Senate to discontinue federal downpayment assistance for first-time homebuyers. Some striking statistics from the post: "From 2000 through 2006, more than 650,000 buyers got their down payments through nonprofits" working with this program, and "the move to get rid of downpayment assistance programs will bar approximately 40% of African-American homebuyers from utilizing Federal Housing Administration insured loans. Also affected are potentially 30% of Latinos."
  • We'd previously noted that the California wildfires had resulted in undocumented immigrants turning themselves in to the border patrol because they feared for their safety. A number of blogs, however, have exposed other effects of the fires on immigrant communities. The Black Agenda Report has discussed raids of the displaced people at Qualcomm stadium as well as farmers not permitting their workers to evacuate. IntraPolitics talks about how the San Diego Sheriff's department is checking for ID among people returning to their homes, and continues to the draw further comparisons between the wildfires and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina:

"The policies undertaken by law enforcement and developers in these
regions of natural disasters, in my opinion, is part of a general
scheme to displace the poor and minority property owners and renters.
The backlash against social programs designed to help people obtain
affordable housing, combined with the expected pitfalls of subprime
mortgage lending, have placed us in a crisis of vulnerable populations
losing the small allowances of economic power and self-determination
they've had."

  • 'Just News Blog' and the ImmigrationProf Blog have covered the story of 'a new low' in immigration raids: harassing a Latino community on their way to and from church services. Local law enforcement officials have been setting up roadblocks along two streets in Mount Olive, North Carolina in order to request documentation of churchgoers, many of whom are employed at the Butterball slaughterhouse two miles away.
  • Finally, in honor of the holiday, Racialicious has a very interesting post up entitled 'Reasons I Hate Halloween,' which discusses the prevalence of costumes that "reinforce the eroticized and/or dangerous stereotypes associated with Muslim and Middle Eastern men and women." Author Fatemeh Fakhraie provides a variety of examples to support her discomfort with the use of these stereotypes as 'dress-up' options.
Oct 31 2007
Blog Post Spitzer Reaches Agreement with Federal Government on Licenses for Immigrants
  • After announcing his intention to provide driver's licenses without respect to immigration status, New York's Governor Spitzer reached an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security to offer a tiered licensing system that will exclude licenses for undocumented immigrants from operating within the confines of the Real ID Act intended to curb terrorism, essentially ensuring that the licenses can not be used for official purposes such as identification at the airport. Angry that Spitzer's reversed decision will "push immigrants further into the shadows," a coalition of immigrants rights advocates held a protest yesterday outside the governor's New York City office.
  • Consideration of the DREAM Act in Congress seems to have had some unintended consequences on an immigrant family: Angry Asian Man reports on the recent arrest of the family of Vietnamese college graduate Tam Tran.  Tran had testified before a House subcommittee in May, urging representatives to support a path to citizenship for immigrant students, and was quoted by USA Today earlier this month.  Three days later, her parents and brother were arrested and charged "with being fugitives from
    justice, even though the Trans have been reporting to immigration
    officials annually to obtain work permits." It's unfortunate that Tran's family is paying the price for her having spoken for what she believed in, that our nation can do a better job supporting the potential of all its young people.
  • Also related to legislation introduced by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, Culture Kitchen notifies us of the pending Child Soldier Prevention Act, a measure to end military and other support to nations that employ children in their armed forces. According to Ishmael Beah who spoke at the University of Buffalo, "9 of the 20 countries with known child soldiers in combat have received military aid from the United States." Beah's newest work, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs Of A Boy Soldier explores the prevalent issue of child soldiers which runs contrary to basic human rights doctrines such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that decrees a secure and peaceful existence for all children.
  • The DMI Blog has written about a new program to increase graduation rates, in which high school students take college courses while finishing high school. A recent report by the  Community College Research Center (CCRC) concludes that "Students who participate in dual enrollment – or those who take
    college courses for credit while still in high school – are nearly 10
    percent more likely to pursue a bachelor’s degree." A New York Times article about the report notes that “the study…also found that low-income students benefited more from such programs than other students did” and that New York state is planning to implement the dual enrollment program. Author Maureen Lane is hopeful that implementation of the program will provide "an
    opportunity to break barriers to college for poor and low-income
    students."
  • Marian's Blog has highlighted an upcoming documentary by Martin Luther King III entitled "Poverty in America." Airing on American Life TV on November 14-15th, the documentary provides King a method of asserting his belief that "We can build a society where everyone gets a fair chance
    to succeed, despite the circumstances of their birth. That's what my
    father fought for, and that's what I'll fight for."
Oct 29 2007
Blog Post As Americans, We Value Supporting the Vulnerable in our Communities
  • Yesterday saw the Senate's failure to pass the DREAM Act, thus ending further attempts to pass the legislation this year.  In an era in which college costs are rising at twice the rate of inflation, undocumented students who have grown up in this country are left without the means to finance their educations or gain the legal work status that would enable them to achieve their potential or productivity. The bill was sponsored by Senator Durbin, who described the youth in question as
    "'without a country'...though the U.S. is the only home these children
    know, it is an uncertain future that the government has condemned these
    students to live." Suman Raghunathan at the DMI Blog has just written about Smart Public Policies on Immigration, concluding:

"It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that local communities are going
to have to develop their own practical approaches to immigration policy
and make sure they trickle up to the feds, who remain more obsessed
with border fencing than with figuring out how to see immigrants
(particularly undocumented ones) as important economic contributors and
vital parts of our community."

  • Congress also voted to confirm nominee Leslie Southwick as a federal judge in the fifth circuit.  A good number of bloggers have expressed disappointment over his confirmation, including Pam's House Blend and Firedoglake, and the ACSBlog linked to a New York Times article on the vote.  Many progressives had called upon Southwick's history of homophobic and even racist rulings to argue that he will be biased and unfair in a region of the United States that has a strong history of structural inequality.
  • President Bush stated yesterday that he has every intention of vetoing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), regardless of whether or not it includes the protections for transgender individuals that are under consideration in Congress.  The legislation is intended to ensure that no Americans are unfairly targeted or dismissed in the workplace on grounds of their sexual orientation and gender identity.  Such an act by Bush would further contribute to a lack of security among the LGBT community as it remains unable to access basic and equal workplace protections.
  • People are starting to organize in order to help those displaced by the Southern California wildfires. BlogHer, Ezra Klein, Firedoglake, and the Angry Asian Man have all posted information on how Americans can support the members of our community whose livelihood and homes are at risk.
Oct 25 2007
Blog Post DREAM Act Vote Today in Senate
  • The DREAM Act legislation which would provide undocumented students the means to stay in the country legally if they attend college or join the military is up for a vote today in the Senate. The Border Line reports that it remains unclear if enough Senators will come out in support of the bill, measure which would provide many students who arrived in the US legally as young children with access to federal funding for continue their education in hope of giving back to their communities.

As the wildfires continue to rage in Southern California, Immigration News Daily has posted that about fifty undocumented immigrants have turned themselves into border patrol agents out of fear for their safety. Various bloggers such as Prometheus 6 are starting to draw comparisons between the immense devastation of the wildfires and that of Hurricane Katrina, and how the socio-economic status of the displaced populations has affected the care and attention each received.

RaceWire has done a piece about Blackwater's new bid to get involved with security on the US-Mexico border.  Author Seth Wessler explains how problematic this situation would be, despite apparent bipartisan support in Congress:

"Given Blackwater’s 'shoot first' policy, enacted with bloody clarity in Iraq and on the streets of New Orleans after Katrina,
the plans to expand to the border region do not bode well. With
vigilante groups like the Minutemen already taking their racist,
nationalist stance to the front lines, guns in hand, the addition of
Blackwater to the scene would only mean more dead immigrants with less
accountability.

In a political climate where the rhetoric on immigration employs the
lexicon of war, the possibility of Blackwater’s entry into the border
security scene seems to fit the frame. As if it were not enough that
the United States is building a wall along
the border and the the total number of deportations has increased by
over 400% in the past ten years, the border itself may be handed over
to private firms whose interests could not be less in line with the
common good."

  • The Unapologetic Mexican has joined the ranks of those reporting on a coalition of major newspapers and television networks who are petitioning to gain access to Jena Six member Mychal Bell's sealed criminal trial.  Bell's lawyer seems to agree that the media presence may help temper further questionable rulings by District Attorney Reed Walters, and that the case has been publicized enough to date that Americans have a right to know what is going on.

The Republic of T is spreading the news about the just-announced date of next July's 'Blogging While Brown' conference.  In a blogosphere in which people of color remain the minority, it is tremendously important for bloggers of color to organize themselves in order to maximize potential to publicize issues of import such as the Jena Six case.

Feministing posts that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke this past weekend about the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling, about how she doesn't forsee the ruling being overturned in the next few years.  She added, however, that if it were overturned, abortion would always be available to 'women of means' who could afford to travel to other states, but "would have a devastating impact on poor women."
Oct 24 2007
Blog Post Life in a Diverse America

"National faith, civil rights and labor leaders today unveiled a
campaign to counter the growing anti-immigrant movement in the U.S. by
uplifting the voices of everyday Americans who have grown weary of the
division created by anti-immigrant politics. The campaign presents one
of the few organized alternatives for those Americans who may find
themselves conflicted on immigration and immigration reform, but are
thoroughly at odds with the tenor and ideological background of the
anti-immigrant movement.“

The campaign website states that:

"Campaign for a United America is made up of
Americans from all walks of life who are standing up to defend our
nation’s historic commitment to unity, equality and opportunity. We’re
working to promote a dialogue that respects the contributions of all
community members including our immigrant friends and neighbors and
explores a sensible, humane, and compassionate approach to life
together in a diverse America."

We look forward to watching this media work as it unfolds and tells stories of real people in two opposing camps, 'Voices for a United America' and 'Voices of Intolerance.'

  • Immigration Equality posted that the San Pedro immigration detention facility where Victoria Arrellano died has lost its government accreditation.  Whether or not this means the facility will be shut down is unclear.  The organization notes, "Our fear is that DHS is treating the symptom and not the problem" of an immigration system which is built to hold people in inhumane living conditions for indefinite periods of time.  The entire way we approach immigration needs to be restructured with respect for the human right of mobility, the idea that we should all have the capacity to cross borders or social class lines in our drive for great opportunities.

As the SCHIP legislation vetoed by President Bush goes back to Congress for another vote today, Firedoglake has written that three members of the House have already announced a change in opinion in favor of expanding funding for children's health care.  Two more votes are needed to pass the bill that will provide health insurance for ten million American children whose families live closest to the poverty line.

In affirmative action news, the Mirror on America blog has reported that, in November 2008, five more states will be considering measures to ban the use of racial, ethnic, or gender preferences by public colleges and other state and local agencies.  Well-known affirmative action critic Ward Connerly has pushed for referenda in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, in which voters will voice their opinion on policies meant to level the playing field for minorities.  Given that all five states have populations that are more than three-quarters white and lack large-scale minority advocacy groups, the approval of such bans seems likely.
Oct 18 2007
Blog Post Protecting Children in Jena, Prison, School, and the Gulf Zone
  • As an update on the Jena Six case, the US Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana said at yesterday's House Judiciary Committee hearing that the hanging of a noose does indeed qualify as a hate crime, and that had the white boys responsible been of age, they would have been tried accordingly.  The Chicago Tribune noted the Congressional Black Caucus pushed the issue that "it is illegal under the guarantees of our Constitution and our laws to
    have one standard of justice for white citizens and another harsher one
    for African- American citizens." Officials from the Justice promised that a serious investigation is underway in Jena.
  • The Sentencing Law and Policy blog and the The New York Times reported yesterday on juveniles in prison serving life sentences, some of whom were thirteen or fourteen when their crime was committed.  America is the only country in the world that assigns life sentences for underage crimes (a policy prohibited by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child), and only in 2005 did we discontinue the use of the death penalty for juveniles.  We ought to examine these policies with reflection on the human right of redemption, that we all deserve a second chance to change our behavior.
  • Migra Matters published an entertaining piece yesterday discussing Republican presidential candidate Tom Tancredo's proposal that DNA testing be a routine part of the immigration process, in order to prove that people that claim to be related actually are blood kin.
  • The happening-here? blog wrote about a recent poll by San Jose State University that showed that the majority of Californians (59%) are in favor of a path to legal residency for undocumented immigrants.  Presented with this data, author janinsanfran asks progressives "How to do we make the majority audible and effectual?" 
  • Also in California, the Governor Schwarzenegger has just signed a bill that will increase access to information about colleges, and the ways students can prepare themselves for higher education.  According to RaceWire, "the law could be used by community based education groups as leverage
    to secure more resources for counseling and other support services."  More clarity on the college application process should help increase options for California's students.
  • With one day to go until the SCHIP re-vote, the Bush administration has also refused to renew funding
    for the mental health of children in the New Orleans area, despite data
    that indicates that they among the most traumatized in the country.  As
    a result of a screening by the Louisiana Rural Trauma Services Center, part of the state university of children displaced by Hurricane Katrina and returning to the area, "31 percent reported clinically significant symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder."  This comes in spite of a health department directive to give high priority to services for hurricane victims.  Such individualist policies can only be more devastating to the Gulf community.
Oct 17 2007
Blog Post California dashes DREAMs yet again
  • There has recently been commentary that the state of California's immigration policies are all over the place - just last week the governor signed an anti-discrimination law to protect landlords and tenants.  It's fresh news, however, that Schwarzenegger has vetoed the California DREAM Act for the second time, a measure which would have increased access for undocumented students to get a college education.  In the same swoop, the governor also vetoed gay marriage in California for the second time, while signing the California Student Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in schools.
  • There has been much talk on the recent trial of a nurse and several guards from a Florida boot camp for adolescents who beat a 14-year-old black boy who claimed he was too tired to exercise and then died the following day; their acquittal on murder charges has fed recent discussions on the nature of these youth boot camps where at-risk children are regularly neglected and abused.  Forcing troubled youth to undergo starvation can only add to their sense of social abandonment and will not work to increase opportunities available to them to succeed.
  • The Facing South blog has published commentary on last Friday's New York Times piece on the impact of immigration raids on the Smithfield Foods' North Carolina slaughterhouse.  Asking the question "Who Benefits?," author Chris Kromm concludes that businesses suffer from a lack of a stable workforce, and that, "Immigration raids do nothing to improve this situation for workers. In
    reality, the costly raids end up separating families and tearing up
    communities -- all for a short-term solution to the long-term problem
    of immigration reform."  Especially because raids are failing to solve our broken immigration system, we need to start approaching the issue of immigration policy reform with consideration for what is best for the community at large.
  • Ending on a lighter note, the Immigrants in USA blog has posted on a Boston Globe article highlighting various Massachusetts employers that are offering English classes for their workers, catering to a high demand for the service.  This is a great example of the way businesses can effectively invest in their workforce and the community as a whole, as increasing communications skills will have ramifications across the board for marginalized populations.
Oct 15 2007
Blog Post Mychal Bell Back in Jail
  • In recent news, Mychal Bell of the Jena Six is back in jail, as a Louisiana judge has decided that he violated his probation from an earlier drug offense that was not tried.  Prometheus 6 and Too Sense have both weighed in on this seemingly continual obstruction of justice.  While Bell is now in juvenile prison, as opposed to a penitentiary for adults, the punishment he's been forced to endure remains out of sync with the crimes committed, highlighting the racism that still pervades our justice system.  We hope as his case goes forward that future decisions about his fate are grounded in the American ideals of equality and redemption, that we all deserve a second chance.
  • Big news today is that the Nobel peace prize has been awarded to former Vice President Al Gore along with the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  Pam's House Blend has a post up which discusses the fact that global warming is "more than an environmental issue - it is a question of war and peace." From Africa to Alaska, communities that have based their security upon access to dwindling natural resources are at risk of political and economic instability.
  • The mailing of the Bush administration's 141,000 "no-match" letters
    aimed at targeting workers with proper documentation was stalled yet
    again by a preliminary injunction by a federal judge in San Francisco.
    Migra Matters reports that judge Breyer
    expressed "'serious concerns' over the legality of the Bush
    proposal that would force employers to fire an estimated 1.5 million
    employees whose Social Security records contain discrepancies." The
    letters will be held until the hearing of a lawsuit brought against the
    new requirements.
  • According to the Pro Inmigrant Blog, California has just enacted a law barring landlords from inquiring about tenants' immigration status. Nancy Ahlswede, executive director of the Apartment Association, California Southern Cities, praised the legislation for its attention to "huge anti-discrimination obligations" placed upon landlords by federal housing laws.  Similar to the pending "no match" lawsuit on employment, this law is a great example of a community coming together to voice their support for fair treatment in housing practices along with a progressive approach to the integration of immigrants into our society.
Oct 12 2007
Blog Post Equality in Immigration, Schools, and the Workplace
  • One piece of not-so-good news and then we're on to a happier day: The 'Just News' Blog and the LA Times report that a lawsuit has been filed by the ACLU to "stop immigration authorities from forcibly drugging deportees in
    order to send them back to their home countries on commercial airlines."  It seems this process may be quite widespread, as at least fifty-two people are known to have been drugged over a period of seven months, the majority of which had never shown any signs of psychiatric illness. ACLU attorney Ahilan T. Arulanantham aptly sums up the situation: "It's both medically
    inappropriate and shocking that the government believes it can treat
    immigrants like animals and shoot them up with powerful anti-psychotic
    drugs that can be fatal -- without a doctor's examination or court
    oversight." This type of practice does not support the equality and mobility that our country values; hopefully the lawsuit and media attention will bring an end to these stories of human rights denied.
  • Next, The Border Line and The New York Times have reported on a school district in Union City, New Jersey using iPods in class to help students with limited English proficiency learn to sing along to English-language music, working on their grammar and vocabulary in the process. This innovative style of teaching has been accelarating the students' move out of bilingual classes. NYU sociology professor Pedro Noguera agrees: “You
    know the No. 1 complaint about school is that it’s boring because the
    traditional way it’s taught relies on passive learning....It’s not interactive enough.”  It's great to see new media being used as an educational tool; while there is much value in cultural and linguistic diversity in our community, improved English skills will undeniably advance options for higher education and eventually work among our youth.
  • The ACSBlog reported on yesterday's Supreme Court decision that upheld the ability of parents of children with disabilities to be reimbursed for private school tuition even if their child never received public special education services.  When public schools do not offer appropriate programming for children with disabilities, children with special needs should have the opportunity to go elsewhere rather than first being forced to struggle in a public school setting.
  • Wrapping up, today is 'National Coming Out Day.'  The Human Rights Campaign has been promoting the event with a YouTube video contest, and Pam's House Blend has posted a video of her own along with notes on how to get involved in working for equal rights or even how to "come out" as a straight ally.  Bloggernista is doing a series of posts today on LGBT people of color and their coming out experiences. These discussions are particularly important this fall as Congress is considering the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill to extend fair workplace protections to LBGT Americans.  Government policies that safeguard employment are critical to upholding the shared value of security, that all people must have access to the means to provide for their own basic needs and those of their family.
Oct 11 2007
Blog Post A Human Right to Health
  • First up, Alan Jenkins' newest opinion piece is live on TomPaine.com. Talking about A Human Right to Health, Jenkins begins:

News coverage of President Bush's recent speech
to the United Nations General Assembly has focused on his announcement
of economic and political sanctions against Myanmar. But the real news
about the president's speech is that he chose as a central theme the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
which he described as "a landmark achievement in the history of human
liberty." In particular, the president focused on Article 25 of the
Declaration, which provides in part that "everyone has the right to a
standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself
and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care
and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event
of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack
of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

The president's focus on Article 25 was remarkable for at least two
reasons. First, although the United States played an important role in
crafting the Universal Declaration almost 60 years ago, our government
has, since the time of the Cold War, distanced itself from the economic
and social rights embodied in Article 25, at times denying that they
are rights at all. And second, less than two weeks after delivering the
speech, Bush vetoed legislation that would have expanded the popular
State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to cover more of
America's 9 million uninsured kids.

  • On the same topic, the vote to potentially override President Bush's veto of the SCHIP legislation has been scheduled for October 18th.  In the meantime, the biggest thing happening in SCHIP news is the right-wing smear campaign against 12-year-old Graeme Frost, who assisted Democrats in delivering a radio address about the president's opposition to the bill.  After the family spoke about the big difference SCHIP has made in their lives, when Graeme and his sister were involved in a terrible car accident, conservatives have not only attempted to invalidate them by depicting them as rich kids pampered by the government, but they have posted the address and contact information of the Frost family online.  It's too bad that this family is having their major life decisions deconstructed in order to illustrate that they are not deserving of public assistance.  We're all deserving of affordable health care, and our government should be enacting policies that benefit the community as a whole rather than just private insurers.

Matthew Schwieger has a piece in the Huffington Post about 'the new class-based affirmative action.'  The New York Times has published a series of articles about new inititatives in California which are geared to increasing diversity without taking race into consideration, though that has been prohibited by the state's Proposition 209.  Schools such as Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill have similar programs in place, in an effort to rectify the "stunningly meager number of low-income students enrolled at selective colleges." Given that "nearly 85% of Americans favor preferences based on socioeconomic status," this model may be successful in increasing opportunity for underprivileged youth. In discussing the importance of a college education, Schwieger cites Columbia professor Andres Delbanco, who notes that higher education is a "primary engine of social mobility."

Columbia University Teacher's College unfortunately had a noose-hanging of its own yesterday, as rope was found in front of the office of professor Madonna Constantine, a black psychologist and educator known for her contributions on addressing racism.  Too Sense has written an insightful post discussing whether or not people were surprised by the incident, arguing that "the idea that somehow the graduate school would be exempt from issues of race when it lies on the fault line between gentrifying Harlem and the Upper West Side is really hopelessly naive."  Author dnA continues:

"Surprise is really a failure to accept our own role in allowing racism
to continue by ignoring it, or believing it can simply be erased by
time or proximity, rather than asking hard questions both about
ourselves and the world around us."

  • In a post on Racialicious last Friday, Latoya Peterson does actually take the time to unpack her thoughts on gentrification in Washington, DC.  Defining gentrification as the premeditated process of displacing poor women and people of color by the raising of rents, the piece quotes a USA Today article which claims that the city's residents will be primarily white by 2015. Peterson further acknowledges her own hesitance to settle in an area with less amenities and security, courageously admitting that "as much as I may disagree with gentrification on principle, I complicity agree with it by my neighborhood selection practices." She does, however, offer us the example of progressive housing policies in her native Montgomery County that "require developers to include
    affordable housing in any new residential developments that they
    construct" in order to create socioeconomically mixed
    neighborhoods and schools.  Such policies are commendable for their support of the value of community, the idea that the strength of our nation lies in our diversity.
Oct 10 2007
Blog Post 'Sanctuary' Challenged in Illinois, While Senate Considers FEC Nominee
  • In the ongoing dilemma surrounding 'sanctuary cities', the Department of Homeland Security is now suing the state of Illinois over a new state law that bans employers from using the Social Security administration's no-match database until the agency can certify that it is 99% accurate.  The Bush administration contends that the state law preempts the new federal law meant to increase pressure on undocumented workers.
  • Regarding the progress of SCHIP reauthorization, the bill has passed in the House, but without the margin necessary to override a veto by President Bush.  It will next move on to the Senate for consideration.  Blogger Lane Hudson on the Huffington Post has referred to SCHIP legislation as a "defining issue that neither side can afford to lose." If the program is not reauthorized, 6 million children already enrolled will lose health insurance coverage.
  • Facing South reports that the Supreme Court has announced that they will consider a case on the constitutionality of lethal injection in Tennessee.  The ruling could problematize the 'three-drug cocktail' that thirty-seven US states use to administer the death penalty, on grounds that improper administration of anaesthesia could result in an excruciatingly painful death. We hope that the Supreme Court considers the American value of redemption in their analysis of the process of lethal injection. If nothing else, it is helpful to reiterate judicial support for the constitutional ban against 'cruel and unusual punishment.'
  • An appeals court also ruled yesterday to overturn a lower ruling which prevented holding military trials for detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.  According to the New York Times, "the ruling allows military prosecutors to address a legal flaw that had ground the prosecutions to a halt."  There are some 340 detainees waiting an indefinite period to exercise their right to a fair trial.
  • Finally, big news today is the Senate committee hearing on the confirmation of Hans Von Spakovsky, who has been nominated as chair of the Federal Election Commission (FEC).  A coalition of civil rights groups such as Think Progress are vehemently opposed to the nominee, is said to have “used every opportunity he had over four years in the Justice Department to make it difficult for voters — poor, minority and Democratic — to go to the polls.” We trust that the committee will remember how important it is that all American voters have a voice in electing our governing officials.
Sep 26 2007
Blog Post Preventing Another Jena 6

Alan Jenkins' new piece at TomPaine is now live.  In this latest essay, Alan offers examples of what can be done to reduce detention and incarceration of young people while creating a more fair and effective judicial system.

Last week, thousands of marchers walked the streets of Jena,
Louisiana, protesting biased treatment of six African-American
teenagers who've come to be known as the Jena 6.
By now, their story is well known to most Americans: the nooses hung
from a "white" tree after black teens dared sit beneath it, with the
white perpetrators receiving just three days' suspension; the threats
and intimidation of black students, including by law enforcement; the
school fight in which six black teens beat a white classmate; and the
district attorney's remarkable decision to charge the black teens with
attempted murder—charges that have since been reduced, but continue to
hang over the young men's heads.

The circumstances are dramatic and, of course, recall the worst of
the Deep South's Jim Crow legacy, when the noose and lynchings went
hand in hand with abusive law enforcement. But the students' case taps
into the deep frustration that so many black people feel about a larger
criminal justice system that singles them out for harsher punishment
and incarceration.

Sep 25 2007
Blog Post The Battle Over SCHIP Continues
  • There has been a lot of heated discussion in blogs such as Ezra Klein and the HealthLawProf about the State Children's Health Insurance Plan, or SCHIP.  Congress is working to reauthorize the program before it expires on September 30, and after much deliberation the Senate and House have finally agreed upon a bill.  President Bush has been threatening to veto the program, however, on grounds that he thinks people will choose to be dependent on government assistance rather than obtain private insurance.  Bush's self-sufficiency frame provides us with the opposite of the progressive "it takes a village" mentality, wherein it is our task as a nation to care for the weaker members of our community. Many progressives are also questioning an imbalance of priorities which leads us to invest much more in weaponry than in the health of America's children.
  • In an astounding case of irrational and excessive force by Customs and Border agents, preeminent musicologist Nalini Ghuman was denied entry to the US last year on her way back to California, where she is a university professor at Mills College in Oakland.  A British citizen of Welsh and Indian parents with a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley, Ghuman had her passport and valid visa torn up and has not been allowed to return since.  According to Ivan Katz:

Matters are made even worse -- if possible -- by the inadequate response of the United States government to the appalling treatment of Professor Ghuman. University professors and presidents can get no answer. Senators can get no answer. Our own embassy in London cannot get answers. National security, don't you know. The embassy in London seems to have concluded that this mess was the result of "mistaken identity" but no one in Washington will 'fess up to the error', and until that happens "nothing can be done."

The appalling treatment of Professor Ghuman takes the immigration debate well above questions of legality.  The border agents should be investigated thoroughly for denying Ghuman the opportunity to return to her job based solely upon their xenophobic impression of a person of color. And we should all examine the ways in which our society continues to discriminate against groups of people based on false prejudice. 

  • As two further examples of racial discrimination, the DMI Blog wrote about a study just released that indicates that white convicts are just as likely to be hired as blacks without criminal records.  That's a pretty alarming summary. Second, the Huffington Post cites a study which shows that black students in New Jersey are 60 times more likely to be expelled for behavioral issues than white students, while in Minnesota, black students are six times more likely than white students to be suspended for the same.  While it may seem that isolated episodes of unfair hiring or punishment (or any scuffle at the border) may not be so tied in with the big picture of racial (in)equality, that is just not the case.  In human rights discourse, however, we all deserve health care, we all deserve gainful employment, and we all deserve schooling and justice. Any barriers to the success of all should be broken down.
Sep 25 2007
Blog Post More Violence, Post-Jena March
  • Despite repeated claims among residents of Jena, Louisiana that the unjust prosecution of the six boys is "not about racism," there have been various ugly repurcussions of the well-publicized rally.  More nooses have been found hanging in Alexandria, Louisiana and in North Carolina, and a Neo-Nazi group has published the addresses and telephone numbers of the Jena Six families on its website in case anyone wishes to "deliver justice."  Among progressive bloggers, reactions seem to be a mix of speechlessness and cynicism.
  • Along the veign of thought that anti-immigrant sentiment is also very much linked to racism, a lawsuit was filed last week alledging that the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raids in the New York area have unfairly singled out Hispanics, violating the Fourth Amendment protections against unwarranted searches. A number of US citizens of Latin American descent have had their homes raided in the middle of the night by agents hunting for undocumented individuals.
  • In the realm of policy changes, New York State has been informed by the federal government that chemotherapy will no longer be defined as 'emergency medical care,' thus preventing immigrants without documentation from receiving cancer treatment previously funded by the government.  On the other hand, however, New York's Governor Spitzer has announced that the state DMV will begin issuing driver's licenses without regard to immigration status.
  • Finally, the Center for American Progress has recently featured a report entitled Know Your Sources: The Mainstream Press Keeps Finding Wacky Immigration “Experts.” Author Henry Fernandez offers an illustration of the mainstream media's regular failure to investigate the background of the 'immigration experts' they cite, finding that many have strong ties to well-funded white supremacist groups. Similar to the theme of preserving justice in the Louisiana court system, it is so important to understand that the issue of immigration is not one that can be fixed in a stand-alone manner. Rather, it is only one piece of a larger picture of established racial, economic, and political inequalities which deny many people the opportunities they need to be prosperous.
Sep 24 2007
Blog Post Progress in Jena, Thanks to the Black Blogosphere

CNN estimates that between 15,000 and 20,000 people attended yesterday's rally in Jena, Louisiana in support of six African-American students who were prosecuted unfairly for beating a white student after being threatened in a series of racially-motivated incidents.  It's wonderful to see that so many people went out of their way (as much as 20 hours on a bus from Los Angeles, with children in tow) to stand up for fairness and equality in our judicial system, and there was not a single arrest in the process.  In the photos of the event on Huffington Post, someone is carrying a banner that says "An Injustice ANYWHERE is an Injustice EVERYWHERE."  That's a great illustration of the value of community, the sense that our lives and well-being are interconnected.

Two big developments have come out of the march. First, the Third District court ordered District Attorney Reed Walters to hold a hearing within 72 hours to discuss Mychal Bell's release from prison.  Second, Congress announced that the House Judiciary Committee will be reviewing events in Jena, which is promising.

There has correspondingly been a good deal of discussion about the role the blogosphere and new media have played in what is now being referred to as the "21st Century Civil Rights movement," a new online movement with the ability to mobilize thousands of supporters in rapid time.  Yet at a time in which Republicans and mainstream media are taking heat for ignoring people of color, the bigger, white progressive bloggers are also getting knocked for failing to report on happenings in Jena.

Sep 21 2007
Blog Post Thousands Rally for Jena Six Day of Action

The biggest news of the day is that thousands of people have descended upon small-town Jena, Louisiana, to show their support for the group of six black high school students who have been victimized by racial injustice after beating up a white boy that taunted them with nooses.  Today's rally has caught a good deal of mainstream media attention, with a Canadian paper even referring to the event as "one of the biggest protests since the 60s."  For some video footage of the event, see CNN or the NAACP webcast at 4pm Central Time.

17-year-old Mychal Bell is unfortunately still in prison, this time because the prosecutors decided it was 'premature' to let him out after the charges against him were vacated. The judge then refused to set a date to hear the motion to release him, at very least to a juvenile facility.  The rest of the students are awaiting trial.

We sincerely hope that today's march and the corresponding events around the country will help establish that equality involves much more than suspending white students from school while sending black students to prison.

And now, a quick run-down of some immigration happenings.  It's been a high-energy couple days in this arena, too.

  • U.S. Courts are continuing to strike down local ordinances aimed at persecuting undocumented immigrants, providing a formidable obstacle to crackdowns nationwide.
  • The city of San Francisco is considering issuing its own identification cards for all adults.  These cards would enable immigrants to gain access to public services such as health care and libraries.  San Francisco law forbids the use of city funds to report undocumented individuals to Customs Enforcement.
  • The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is proposing that greencards should no longer be issued without expiration dates, but should be renewed periodically. This not a popular position among some Democrats in Congress.
  • After recent raids in schools, various school districts with high populations of immigrants are brainstorming new ways to protect the privacy of their students.  In New Mexico, some school personnel have been told to deny entry to immigration officials seeking to seize students.
  • The Human Rights Weblog has just done a feature article on Ray Ibarra, an activist who is pushing the frame of the human right to stay alive, or more specifically that no one should be dying on the U.S.-Mexico border.  Hundreds have died to this point while trying to cross, and aiding those who are most vulnerable is illegal.
Sep 20 2007
Blog Post Jena Six Update and Other Ruminations on Justice
  • As an update on the Jena Six, Vox ex Machina reports that Mychal Bell remains in a Louisiana jail after having his conviction overturned because the judge and prosecutor did not show for his bail hearing yesterday.  Given that the black blogosphere has driven the case to be high-profile enough that the New York Times has finally reported on it, it's suprising that the legal officials in question would risk demonstrating their public disregard for Bell's fate.  Also noteworthy are various protests happening tomorrow around the country in support of the six students.
  • Curiously, Sentencing Law and Policy wrote today on an article in Mississippi's Clarion-Ledger about the need for prison reform in the state, as prisons are both more crowded and more costly than ever.  What's interesting is that the people currently pushing for reform are not prisoners' rights advocates but those working to keep prisons cost-effective and efficient.
  • Statesmen.com notes that legislation has just been introduced in Congress that would not only punish 'sanctuary cities' by denying Homeland Security funding but would make being in the country without proper documentation a felony.  'Cause we could really use 12 million more prisoners.  Really makes one wonder what the prison corporation lobby looks like. Imprisonment of immigrants is a violation of the human right of mobility. To attempt to do this on such a grand scale would be unthinkable.
  • Another piece of legislation that just failed to make its way through Congress involved voting representation for the District of Columbia. I'm always a bit shocked to see the 'Taxation Without Representation' DC license plates; shouldn't we have figured this out by now, given the revolutionary zeal to rectify this back in 1776? Chris Bowers elaborates on the racial injustice implicit in the decision:

"If Republicans are ever mesmerized as to why they do so poorly with the African-American vote, here is a prime example. An all-Republican minority of 42 just filibustered to prevent a overwhelmingly poor, African-American city from having representation in the United States Congress. Apart from FEMA's response to Katrina, could they make it any clearer that they do not stand up for African-Americans? Denying D.C. voting rights is a blatant, racist, right-wing attempt to cling to power. It is undemocratic and un-American for Republicans to block this bill."

Continuing to deny Washington's political voice based on discrimination or self-interest can only prove devastating to the capitol city and to our nation as a whole. It will not help instill confidence in our leadership.

  • Let's wrap things up with some better news, however, in the health realm: Walmart has been listening to criticism of its health insurance plan, and is making some changes.  The Huffington Post highlighted a New York Times article which says that America's largest employer is lowering premiums and prescription drug copays to make its health insurance more accessible to workers. Improved health coverage for millions of Americans is undeniably a step in the right direction.
Sep 19 2007
Blog Post Tearing Immigrant Children Out of School, While Congress Returns to Immigration Issues
  • Just News and the El Paso Times have reported on a September 10 Border Patrol raid of a public school district in Otero County, New Mexico.  Eleven children were seized and subsequently deported to Mexico with their parents.  In response, many local families are choosing to keep their children from attending classes.  In Oklahoma, supporters of the tough new anti-immigrant legislation have said that reports of Latino/a children leaving school mean that the "law is working."  We started writing about the effects of immigration raids on schools last week, but just to recap: Schools should be safe places, and every child should have access to an education.  One can only imagine the terror that elementary school children face upon seeing their friends pulled out class by border agents - and preventing children from attending school is nothing but detrimental to their futures.
  • According to the Immigration Prof blog and the LA Times, Democratic Senators are gearing up to reintroduce the DREAM Act in Congress as well as new legislation to protect agricultural workers.  Although comprehensive immigration reform was not achieved over the past few months, these remain important issues that we would do well to define in a way that maximizes the potential of all, from seeking an education to one's capacity to labor.
  • It is also reported that Hispanic-owned businesses are feeling the squeeze of uncertainy produced by recent immigration raids.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has written about a noticeable slowdown in spending among the Latin American community in Georgia. Local shops, restaurants, and car dealerships that cater to immigrant populations are suffering significant losses as many residents are choosing to save money.  In 2006, Latino/as spent $12.4 billion in Georgia, but sales are down 30-40% after the enactment of tougher legislation against undocumented individuals.
  • A wealth of blogs also reported on Friday's 'Jena 6' development, the overturning of Mychal Bell's conviction.  Bell was only 16 at the time of the schoolyard beating, but was tried as an adult which, according to the Associated Press, could have brought a sentence of 15 years in prison. It is still unclear whether Bell will be released or brought up on different charges, but the remaining five students are still awaiting trials in a case that has inflamed public opinion for its illustration of the racial inequalities that still permeate our justice system.
  • Also, Prometheus 6 has posted about the controversial re-zoning of the school district in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. After the new zoning plan effectively sent black students to low-performing schools, parents are contesting the decision to 'resegregate,' calling upon the 'No Child Left Behind' legislation on education, which gives students the right to move out of schools that are failing.

“We’re talking about moving children from good schools into low-performing ones, and that’s illegal,” said Kendra Williams, a hospital receptionist, whose two children were rezoned. “And it’s all about race. It’s as clear as daylight.”

As with the school raids above, and the Jena 6, all children deserve equal access to a quality education, to a secure environment, and, when things go wrong, to fair courts that will remedy injustice.

Sep 17 2007
Blog Post Immigration Crackdown Affects School Children, DREAM Act Passes CA Assembly
  • Both the Immigration Prof Blog and Immigration Equality wrote about an article in yesterday's Cincinnati Enquirer that talked about how a local immigration raid caused somewhat of a crisis on the first day of school.  In a district that is 65% Latin American, teachers were worried that some of the elementary school students would not have parents waiting to pick them up at the of the day - and sure enough, a number of students were collected by parents in cars that were packed to go, and did not attend classes for the subsequent few days, at least.  Immigration News Daily also posted an entry on 'Hispanic students leaving Tulsa area schools' in a similar exodus before the enactment of new legislation meant to target undocument individuals.  The effects these raids and laws are having on immigrant children is truly regrettable - every child, regardless of citizenship, should have the opportunity to get a solid education. We should make it our task as a nation to ensure that all children have the security they need to attend school, rather than continue to legislate against their stability.
  • On the same theme, the California DREAM Act (SB 1) passed in the state assembly and is awaiting the governor's signature. If enacted, the bill will allow undocumented students to
    qualify for entitlement Cal Grants, institutional aid and various private
    scholarships in order to fund their college education. There is a petition you can sign to encourage Governor Schwarzenegger to sign the bill into law.
  • According to Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) head Julie Myers, it would require at least $94 billion to deport all of the 12 million undocumented immigrations estimated to be in the US at this time.  However, this "estimate does not include the cost of 'all the things that the Border Patrol has
    done,' other administrative security measures...the cost of
    finding illegal immigrants, nor court costs."  Seems a pretty astounding sum that could do a serious amount of good elsewhere, not to mention the constant raids and social insecurity the task would perpetuate.
  • The Huffington Post cited a USA Today article about the majority of the Republic presidential candidates having declined to appear at yet another debate, one which was to be hosted by PBS at a historically black university in Baltimore, Maryland.  After a similar Republic refusal of the Univision debate, moderator Travis Smiley has denounced the candidates, asserting that "No one should be elected president of this country in 2008 if they think that along the way they can ignore people of color."
  • The SuperSpade blog alerted readers to an article in the LA Times about a recent report by the Federal Reserve which noted that in 2006, minority borrowers received a greater percentage of higher interest rate mortgages than they had the previous year.  The gap in interest rates itself is sizeable, with 52.8% of African Americans receiving high-interest loans and 25.7% of whites receiving the same.  As SuperSpade says, "This is yet
    another piece

    of rebuttal material to the 'Race no longer matters' crowd."
  • Media Matters recently released a study called Black and White and Re(a)d
    All Over: The Conservative Advantage in Syndicated Op-ed Columns.
      However, the Latina Lista blog brought our attention to another facet of this research:

"What was disappointing to see was that from the long drop-down list of
syndicated columnists only 10 were Latino/a. Of those 10 only 2 — Ruben
Navarrette and Kathryn Jean Lopez appeared in over 100 newspapers
respectively.

The others ranged from being in as little as 4 newspapers to 28.

Why does this matter? Well, like the report says:

Syndicated newspaper columnists have a unique ability to influence
public opinion and the national debate. And whether examining only the top
columnists or the entire group, large papers or small, the data presented in
this report make clear that conservative syndicated columnists enjoy a clear
advantage over their progressive counterparts.

In fact among the most successful Latino columnists (in that they appear in
more newspapers than the rest), all 3 of them are conservative, and what's
interesting to note - the only conservatives of the bunch."

And publisher/author Marisa Treviño concludes with a great analysis of the role of the media in a multicultural, democratic society:

"What this study shows is that newspapers, even those that publish mainly
progressive columnists, aren't giving voice to the Latino perspective.

And if this is the case, it's no wonder that the anti-Hispanic, undocumented
immigrant rhetoric is as rampant as it is across this country.

Without showcasing a balance of opinion, how can newspapers claim to play a
role in keeping our democracy alive when they're practicing the most fundamental
breach of that trust?"

That's a very good question.  Thoughts?

Sep 14 2007
Blog Post Immigrants Boycott Western Union
  • First off, a coalition of more than 150 immigrants rights groups are advocating a boycott of Western Union for charging exorbitant fees and using innapropriate exchange rates for its wire transfers abroad.  Organizers also assert that the company reinvests very little in the immigrant communities it serves despite profits of over $1 billion per year.
  • As in the Colbert video below, the Immigrants and Politics Blog has recapped a September 5 New York Times article about farmers relocating their business to Mexico given the difficulties of finding labor within the US. Given recent crackdowns on the mobility and capacity of the migrant workforce, many US companies are struggling to find workers, and farmers often experience labor shortages during harvest time.  In response, the profiled farmer has chosen to "southsource" to Mexico.  This type of action could very well have long-term negative effects on the American economy.
  • Another story that was all over the blogosphere yesterday was that of the 20-year-old black woman in West Virginia who was abducted and held hostage while forced to suffer intense physical and sexual abuse.  Although her six white captors have been arrested and charged with a total of 108 counts of criminal conduct, federal prosecutors have decided not to consider this a hate crime despite the fact that the six alledgedly referred to the woman as a "nigger."  This decision has been quite controversial given the brutality of the incident and the fact that hate crimes laws are in effect to mandate a heavier sentence for acts motivated by exactly this sort of unthinkable discrimination.
  • Additionally, a study has been released by the Medicare Rights Center which demonstrates that "low-income people enrolled in Medicare private fee-for-service plans pay more for their health care in some counties than people enrolled in the same plans in neighboring, more affluent counties." It hardly seems fair to inflate costs for those who can barely afford to pay for medical services, or smart to force the government to subsidize medical bills at a higher rate.  Perhaps the report will force us to rethink that one.
Sep 13 2007
Blog Post Immigrants dying of terror on September 11
  • Our friends at Immigration Orange have written a very powerful post featuring the stories of two undocumented Brazilian men who have recently died while in detention.  25-year-old Maxsuel Medeiros died of a heart attack yesterday after being held by Massachusetts Police for a traffic incident.  And last month, the following occurred, also in Boston:

"Edmar Araujo, who is epileptic, died from a seizure after he was pulled over for a routine traffic stop.  Needless to say, psychological or physical stress is what causes a seizure.
Worst of all, his sister claims to have tried to bring his epilepsy
medicine to the local police that picked him up, but that information
was not used to save his life.  It's been over a month and we still
don't have answers as to whether or not Araujo's death could have been
prevented, and who is to blame."

That anyone should be living in this kind of extreme fear within the US is just devastating.  But to deny medical care to those being held is a tremendous violation of human rights and one which should weigh heavily on our national conscience.

  • Just News
    included a piece about a lawsuit just filed by the United Food and
    Commercial Workers International Union that seeks to collect damages as well as to put an end to a series of six
    raids of Swift & Co. meatpacking plants by Immigration and Customs
    Enforcement (ICE).  The union claims that "agents unlawfully detained
    workers and violated their constitutional rights," threatening even US
    citizens.  This sort of blanket crackdown on American workers can only lead to more violations of our rights.
  • Firedoglake
    has covered the "Hands Across El Rio" protest which lasted for sixteen
    days across the Texas border.  The protest was organized to show community
    opposition to the construction of a wall along the Mexican border, and included
    the display of a human chain which stretched the length of the river.

Both Racialicious and Resist Racism have noted the resurgence of noose imagery in the media and in public happenings.  Even a recent MSNBC Sports headline implies a lynching.  That's not just a bit distasteful, especially given current events.

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  • Just News also mentions a study released in the LA Times which reveals that blacks have "borne the brunt" of Hurricane Katrina, as New Orleans' black population fell 57 percent a year after Hurricane Katrina while the white population only declined 36 percent. There is also a noticeable pattern in where blacks and whites have tended to resettle, with the former choosing to locate themselves in poorer, urban areas.

Finally, Afro-Netizen has posted about new data on racial segregation in nursing homes in the US.  Interestingly, facilities in the South have been found to be more integrated than those in the Midwest, but where segregation exists, differences in the quality of care are also evident.
Sep 12 2007
Blog Post Financial Aid for Undocumented Students in Arizona

Let's start the week off with a couple things done well.

  • The University of Arizona has created a scholarship fund for undocumented immigrant students who have graduated from Arizona high schools.  The $1.8 million fund has helped approximately 150-200 students manage the costs of the higher out-of-state tuition mandated by the state's new Proposition 300.  We commend the university for its commitment to increasing access to education for groups with limited options.
  • Racewire put up an excellent post last Friday headlining the story of a man being deported to Mexico after his son died fighting in Iraq. Given that 33,449 non-citizens have served in the American armed forces, this is not an uncommon occurrence, albeit a disrespectful one. Many immigrants join the military with hopes of increasing opportunity for themselves and their families. As such it is particularly upsetting to see that this family is being denied the ability to stay together after the trauma of losing their son to the war.
  • Also mentioned in the above post is a statement by the Social Security administration that they may not be able to distribute everyone's checks this month due to a backlog.  They have blamed this backup on a federal judge's temporary bar on the agency sending out the 141,000 "no match" letters they have prepared to advise employers of discrepancies in the social security records of their workers. It seems a dirty media scare tactic to imply that someone's grandma might not be able to eat this month because of a struggle over new measures to identify undocumented workers.
  • Immigration Equality has put up a couple blog posts about Victoria Arrelano,
    a 23-year-old transgender woman who recently died in an immigrant
    detention center because she was denied her HIV medications.  In a rare
    display of community support, 55 of her fellow detainees filed a
    petition to get her health care and even chanted 'hospital!' until she
    got some medical attention.
  • Also in the blogs was Sunday night's Spanish language debate for Democratic presidential candidates, a discussion heavily weighted towards candidates' views on immigration policies. Although Spanish-language TV network Univision has received a good deal of criticism over the way the debate was run, this particular debate drew 49% more 25-54 year-old viewers than the English-language debates have so far.  On the other end, all Republican candidates except for McCain have declined to participate in a Spanish-language debate.
  • In uglier news, there has been another noose-sighting at the University of Maryland campus at College Park, hung from a tree outside the black cultural studies center.  Investigations are underway but many are assuming there to be some linkage between this incident and the 'Jena 6' convictions pending in Louisiana.
  • RachelsTavern.com has posted about a newly-released article that found that the black/white racial gap in life expectancy has narrowed.  That the gap exists at all is a flag of social inequality, but the study would indicate that, on a national level, we're on the right path.
  • Finally, Ezra Klein has a recent piece about increasing health insurance premiums, which have gone up 87% since 2000.  In a discussion of implications of rising costs on employer-controlled and individual medical insurance (basically, less people are choosing to insure themselves), Klein notes that "between 8 and 18 percent of applicants are denied health coverage outright due to preexisting conditions," and entitles his post "I'll Take Medicare, Thanks."  Seems a rational choice, all things considered.
Sep 11 2007
Blog Post Possible class-action lawsuit over May 1 LA police violence
  • Yesterday, 164 more claims were filed against the City of Los Angeles to do with injuries or emotional damage caused by the violent police breakup of the May 1 immigration rally in MacArthur Park. In total, 10 lawsuits have been filed over the incident and 258 legal claims have been submitted; civil rights attorneys have begun expressing interest in pursuing a class-action lawsuit against the city.

The term 'sanctuary cities' has also been thrown around blogs and the news this week, largely connected with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's threat to withhold government funding from cities that refuse to comply with its Basic Pilot program to require employers to verify the work authorization of their employees.  As is happening in Arizona, this program is being contested on a national level by a coalition of civil rights organizations such as the ACLU on grounds that it "will threaten jobs of U.S. citizens and other legally authorized workers simply because of errors in the government's inaccurate social security earnings databases." There was a very informative piece posted yesterday about conditions in the prisons and detention centers of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.  Apparently three people have died in detention in the last six weeks, including one pregnant woman, as detainees are regularly denied medical care.  Hundreds have also suffered from food poisoning, at two different sites.  Despite regular violations of their human rights, immigrants and asylees held there have little recourse.  And even though the ICE system is the second largest jailer in the world, there are few regulations and little accountability placed upon them.  This is the sort of situation where a little legislation could go a long way in protecting the members of our community that have been silenced. Prometheus6 and rikyrah both cited a NY Times article yesterday to do with a mentally-retarded black man in Mississippi who is actually being retried for rape after DNA evidence indicated that he is not guilty.  Given that he's already spent 15 years in prison, this overt racial discrimination and obstruction of justice is pretty hard to swallow. Finally, there is a good deal of discussion in Congress at the moment about the reauthorization of SCHIP, the State Children's Health Insurance program, which was designed in 1997 to provide health care for children whose families weren't eligible for Medicare but who are still unable to afford private insurance.  The legislation must be reauthorized by September 30 if the program is to continue, but there is tremendous contention regarding how and how much to fund the program.  President Bush is even promising to veto legislation on grounds that increased access to SCHIP will encourage people to enroll rather than work to insure themselves privately - again, here is another example of the "go-it-alone" narrative that has been so useful in eroding our sense of responsibility to the greater community.
Sep 7 2007
Blog Post Blogosphere Diversity and the Effectiveness of Internet Action

Blogosphere Diversity remains the topic du jour this Monday (unless you want to talk about the upcoming Rove resignation), though there are a number of other important posts to read as well:

  • Angry Black Woman ponders the effectiveness of blogging as a way to help eliminate racism.  Is blogging so much talk, or is it another form of doing
  • At ColorLines, Daisy Hernandez asks if you can iChat your way to Social Change, in an excellent piece about media consumption habits and activism among people of color.
  • The Field Negro weighs in on this issue as well, with a lot of more about diversity in the blogosphere and the larger conversation that is (at times very indelicately) taking place.
  • Linda Seger at Huffington Post adds gender discrimination into the mix.
  • JaninSanFran wrrites about the danger of anecdotes in media reporting - an interesting piece on how personal stories can frame or misframe an issue.
  • Jack and Jill Politics has an excellent post about health care equity and access vs. quality of care.
  • Finally, Facing South continues its coverage of the Jena 6.
Aug 13 2007
Blog Post Oliver White Hill: 1907 - 2007

If you haven't already heard, civil rights lawyer Oliver White Hill, famous for his involvement in Brown v. Board of Education, died yesterday.

Oliver Hill, a civil rights lawyer who was at the
front of the legal effort that desegregated public schools, has died at
age 100, a family friend said.

           Mr. Hill died peacefully Sunday at his home during breakfast, said Joseph  Morrissey, a friend of the Hill family.

In 1954, he was part of a series of lawsuits against racially
segregated public schools that became the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark
Brown vs. Board of Education decision, which changed America's society
by setting the foundation for integrated education.

                   
                   
                   

"He was among the vanguard in seeking equal opportunity for all
individuals, and he was steadfast in his commitment to effect change,"
said L. Douglas Wilder, who in 1989 became the nation's first elected
black governor.

Aug 6 2007
Blog Post Race, Opportunity, and the YouTube/CNN Debate

Written and researched with (great) help from Amanda Ogus. Cross posted at Daily Kos.

Monday night’s YouTube debate gave the “average Joes” of America the chance to ask the Democratic presidential candidates their own personal questions.  Between the filter of CNN’s production team, who chose which videos would air, and the stump speeches that still weeded their way into many candidates’ discourse, the debate was not as natural as it could have been, but still offered a new way for Americans to have their voices heard. 

So, how did CNN do in picking questions that deal with the tricky topic of race, and how did the candidates do in answering them?  This is important.  As some have noted, the video submissions were dominated by white men – a demographic not representative of the diversity of America.  Whatever the reason – be it lack of broadband access or lack of savvy when it comes to New Media – CNN clearly made an effort to rectify that imbalance through their selection of questioners who were of color and questioners who  asked pertinent questions about race in America. 

Yet still, there were a lot of lost opportunities.  No one addressed the issue of racial disparities in health care, or recognized that equal access (through whatever insurance or universal health plan) does not necessarily guarantee equal treatment. Much more could have been said about equal access to and quality of education - especially in light of the recent school cases.  Next to nothing was said about comprehensive immigration reform.

Overall, we give CNN a "B."  They clearly tried to showcase diverse voices - especially tricky given the racial and gender imbalance in the questions submitted - yet they still failed to adequately address many topics.

 

In this post, we’ve compiled those questions, as well as evaluated the responses from the top tier candidates - Obama, Clinton, Edwards, and Richardson.  Check out the full transcript on CNN, and the video coverage on
YouTube.  For a comprehensive summary of media responses on the
debates, check out Jack Muse’s coverage on Huffington Post.

Question 6

Edwards: Immediately answering “no”, Edwards explained that he would pursue other goals to create more equality, citing a recent study that in Charleston, black people were paying more than white people for mortgages at a higher rate, even when taking income into account.  Edwards reiterated that to have true equality means fighting the big companies: “we can’t trade our insiders for their insiders…what we need is someone who will take these people on…That’s the only way we’re going to bring about change.” 

Obama: Responded to the question by choosing to focus on education, also focusing on South Carolina by profiling a low-income school in Florence, SC.  Focusing on education, Obama said, is “the kind of reparations that are really going to make a difference in America right now.”

Question 7

Richardson:  Richardson explained that in a future crisis, the government should work to “eliminate…any red tape” and “let those who live there come back first, instead of big moneyed interests.”  While he didn’t respond directly to the “race” aspect of the question posed, he did express his disagreement to the way the administration reacted.

It should be noted that during this question, Senator Dodd spoke eloquently about economic opportunity in the Gulf in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Question 8

Obama: Used this opportunity to explain how “race permeates our society.”  He details the failures of the government in denying programs to overcome the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, and said that as president, “my commitment on issues like health care is to close the disparities and the gaps, because that’s what’s really going to solve the race problem in this country.”  Obama’s comments were the only mention of racial disparities in any candidates’ answer, and put a strong emphasis on the fact that racism still exists in many parts of society.  Trying to force “colorblind” legislation is ignoring these disparities, and only perpetuating further inequalities. 

Clinton: Maintained that the (presidential) race should not be about Obama’s race or her gender, but about “what is best for you and your family.”

Question 9

In a question from the Reverend Reggie Longcrier, the candidates - particularly John Edwards were asked about religion as a weapon for discrimination - particularly as a justification for slavery in the past and a tool to rob GLBT people of their civil liberties today. 

Edwards: spoke in favor of equal rights and civil rights and his determination not to let his own faith beliefs - which are not in favor of gay marriage - to dictate public policy and limit the rights of American citizens.

Obama: Spoke about equality before the state in terms of marriage and the civil rights it confers, but wants to leave actual determinations about marriage up to individual religious denominations.

Question 27

Richardson: Makes a brief mention of suppression of minority voters by the Republican Party.  No other candidate is allowed to respond.

Question 28

No one specifically mentions people of color, but this question on the minimum wage touches on themes of economic mobility and security, and is highly relevant to millions of low-income families and people of color.

Obama: He's really the only one who hits this out of the park, noting that it's almost the wrong question.  Presidential candidates tend to be rich.  They can afford to work for the minimum wage.  It's everyday people who need to be given a living wage.

Question 34

This question asks whether the candidate's health care plans would cover undocumented workers.  Only Dodd and Richardson are allowed to answer, and, while both answer yes, this was mostly a lost opportunity for a substantive discussion about two of the most important and hot issues facing our nation.

Jul 25 2007
Blog Post Does socioeconomic balancing also integrate schools?
  • Prometheus 6 links to a New York Times article
    about the
    success (or lack thereof) in using socioeconomic status as an indirect
    method to integrate public schools. School officials in the San
    Francisco public schools have found that the district is actually
    resegregating by using the type of plan many districts may try in light
    of the
    recent Supreme Court ruling. As many as
    40 districts around the country are already trying these plans. The
    article compares successes in many of
    these districts across the country.  After realizing the failure of
    using income to integrate schools,
    David Campos, the general counsel to the school district, is looking
    for loopholes through Justice Kennedy's statement if methods not based
    on race fail. For
    more updates on the status of the country’s integration attempts, check out the
    NAACP Legal Defense Fund page, as well as The Opportunity Agenda’s talking points.
  • Immigrants in the USA Blog posts a column from The
    Bakersfield Californian
    with a different perspective on the DREAM Act, a
    legislative bill which would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented
    immigrant students, thus making them eligible to receive in-state financial aid
    from colleges.  Author Leonel Martinez
    argues that children should not be punished for their parents’ decision to immigrate.
  • Many immigrants are from poor
    families, and, he believes, should have access to college, which could make
    them greater contributors to society. The
    controversy over this act mirrors the “hysteria” thirty years ago in the
    controversy surrounding the Plyler v. Doe Supreme Court decision. In this ruling, the Supreme
    Court declared unconstitutional a Texas statute which charged certain families $1000 per year for school tuition,
    effectively preventing undocumented children from attending school. This article offers
    background on the case, comparing that situation to the atmosphere around
    immigration decisions today.
  • Ezra Klein writes about the hypocrisy in our criminal “justice”
    system by pointing out that while incarceration does separate dangerous individuals
    from society, in separating the millions of non-violent offenders, the system
    only reinforces their identity as criminals, and renders them unfit for many
    jobs. Klein cites economic studies which
    show that prison makes many inmates more violent. As incarceration rates in America skyrocket, more attention needs to be focused on rehabilitation –
    preparing inmates for society.  For more
    information about criminal justice, check out our fact
    sheet
    .
  • Immigration Equality Blog reports on another downloadable
    video game
    attempting to teach players about a societal issue: “ICED! I Can End
    Deportation!” Recently featured in the
    LA Times This 3D game teaches players about the unjust nature of U.S. immigration policy by following the day-to-day life of an immigrant teen as
    he/she encounters obstacles like being chased by immigration officers and
    answering myth & fact quizzes about current immigration policies. The point of the game is to avoid detention,
    which separates one from his/her family and forces unjust conditions. Check out
    our previous coverage of Games for Change.
  • In the Huffington Post, David Sirota responds to New York
    Governor Eliot Spitzer’s plan
    to expand health coverage to nearly three million
    more residents in an attempt to ultimately provide universal health
    insurance. While expanding access to a
    greater population is a good first step, it fails to ensure that all insured people are getting the same quality of care.  Access is a problem, but so are racial disparities in quality of care, and
    comprehensive health care reform needs to address these equity issues to ensure that the vulnerable populations aren’t left
    behind.  Check out healthcarethatworks.org for an example of quality care and access.
Jul 16 2007
Blog Post FEMA's tactics in the post-Katrina climate
  • We continue to learn many lessons from Hurricane Katrina, nearly two years after the storm struck the Gulf Coast, chief among them the consequences of misplaced governmental priorities.  In a case where we most needed a strong and positive governmental role, instead we witnessed a monumental failure of will and dodging responsibility.  For example, Facing
    South
    reports that federal agencies responding to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
    gave the startling amount of $2.4 billion in contracts guaranteeing profits for
    big companies, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation. FEMA, which has seen its support consistently cut and its core mission altered over the past seven years, was responsible for nearly 94% of these
    contracts. The tragedies in Hurricane Katrina should have provided an opportunity
    for the government to act as a positive resource, but many reports show many
    poor decisions, increasing suffering for the victims. Check out the Center for Social Inclusion’s
Jun 28 2007
Blog Post From commercials to detention reform: Immigration from All Sides
  • DMI Blog reports on a new support
    campaign for immigration, Long Island WINS, seeking to elucidate the shared
    interests of immigrants and middle class Long Islanders. Last week, they launched a multitude of
    intriguing T.V. commercials explaining the economic and cultural contributions
    immigrants make to the island.  These ads
    highlight the important message that immigrants only want what everyone in the
    country wants: the opportunity to pursue the American Dream and participate
    fully in our society. Immigrants
    revitalize communities like these Long Island ones by reviving commerce and provided needed products, in addition to tax and
    net contributions. For example,
    immigrants in California gave an estimated $4.5 billion in state taxes and an additional $30 billion in federal taxes in 1999-2000.
  • Immigrants in the USA Blog
    emphasizes a main idea of the Long Island WINS campaign: everyone benefits from
    working together. This Democrat & Chronicle story highlights
    the triumphs of the Rochester City School District in graduating many seniors who struggled
    with language barriers and cultural disparities. The school helps the students in the
    63-language population by providing resources like teachers with specialized
    language skills and connecting parents with community agencies. These success stories demonstrate the
    importance of providing immigrants with an adequate integration strategy.  Funding for adult basic education and English
    classes has not kept pace with the growing demand
    , and such resources are vital
    to proper integration.
  • ‘Just News’
    reports on a New York Times article continuing this conversation about the high
    rate of immigrants dying in custody after being detained. Because no government body is charged with documenting deaths in immigrant detention, the details and extent of the
    sub par conditions are hard to find. Latina Lista references the same article in explaining how immigrant
    detention is the fastest growing form of incarceration in the United States.  For example, over 27,000 immigrants are
    detained on any given day in almost 200 prison-like facilities all over the
    country.
  • Happening-here blog explains some effective ways to counter anti-immigration ways to frame an argument. The blog proposed fighting for a human
    security state (where the government fights for our freedom rather than
    constricting our rights), working toward all forms of racial equity, and
    encouraging globalization in understanding the ways in which we can all provide
    important resources for each other. An
    important facet of the immigration struggle is highlighting the ways in which
    all groups can benefit from fair immigrant rights. For more information about this shared
    interest, check out this article.
Jun 27 2007
Blog Post Daily Blog Round-up
  • ACS blog reports on the 5-4 majority decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber, a case involving sex discrimination in the workplace.  While the gender wage gap has narrowed in the last 30 years, this decision only makes further advances more difficult.  The State of Opportunity in America (pdf) cites that in 2003, a women’s average wage was still only 81% of a man’s average wage.  By continuing to put such roadblocks in the path of possible equal opportunity employers, women and minority groups will have a much harder time fighting for equality in the workforce.
  • Prometheus 6 reports on Color of Change’s continuous efforts to unite the rising black blogosphere and the progressive netroots to combat the Congressional Black Caucus’s democratic debates on Fox News.  Color of Change is pioneering new forms of online activism for racial justice advocates.  Show your support by checking out their site.
  • DMI reports on senators' reactions to the recent immigration proposal (The Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act (pdf)) and to the NY Times/CBS poll showing a strong majority of American support for providing a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.  DMI discusses the senators' apparent disconnect with this majority, detailing two different amendments to the bill (introduced by Senators Vitter and Coleman), which would have created roadblocks to a compassionate pathway to citizenship that recognizes the contributions immigrants make to our country. 
May 30 2007
Blog Post Struggling to Get From Many to One

Alan's Jenkin's latest piece at Tom Paine is live:

Over 100 million people of color now live in the United States, the U.S. Census Bureau reported
last week, one-third of our population and a new milestone in our
nation’s diversity. Two important decisions currently facing our
federal government will help determine whether that diversity continues
to be one of America’s great strengths or is met with division and
denial.

Any day now, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide whether
voluntary school integration efforts by the communities of Louisville,
Kentucky and Seattle, Washington violate the Constitution. At the same
time, Congress is debating immigration reform legislation that will
determine how we treat the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants
in America, as well as future generations of legal immigrants. In each
case, government leaders should choose a future in which we move
forward together toward community and shared prosperity.

Read More.

May 22 2007
Blog Post Diversity on Sunday Shows

Following up on our previous post about the lack of diversity on cable news programs, Media Matters has conducted another study, this time analyzing the guests on the four major Sunday news programs: Meet the Press, This Week, Face the Nation and Fox News Sunday.  The results revealed an alarming lack of gender and ethnic diversity among the guests:

sundiv-20070511-gender  sundiv-20070511-eth

Media Matters has more.

May 14 2007
Blog Post Opportunity in Images: Take Two

Earlier this year, we teamed up with students in the Masters in Media Studies program at the New School University here in New York.  As part of a media production class, we became the "client" and the students became graphic designers, tasked with creating images representing the core values of community, equality, and human rights apply to one of three initiatives: Immigration reform, health care equity, and the 2008 election.

Here's a sample of some of the great work they produced.  These images are creative commons licensed (Attribution), and the name of the designer can be found in the description.  We encourage everyone to Remix and Reuse them in your own work.  You can find the full set of images here.

Fernanda-OAGraphic-Larger OA_Buttons_2008Elections_ OA1 OA_Healthcare_1_notext_Braudaway

This is the second time we've worked with students at the New School on creating images illustrative of our Opportunity FrameYou can find past work here.

May 14 2007
Blog Post Diversity in the Blogosphere and Digital Divides

There are some fascinating discussions about diversity in the blogosphere happening on MyDD, one of the top ten "progressive blogs," and a site that usually focuses on polling and strategy to the exclusion of all else.

It started with a post by the site's managing editor, Chris Bowers: A Quick Note on Diversity in the Blogosphere, wherein he suggested that the blogosphere was a niche, and that while diversity in the progressive movement was important, diversity in the blogosphere was not an inherent good or even necessary.

Needless to say, that caused a ruckus.  Through two other posts - More on Diversity: Blogging is a Niche and  Diversity in the Blogosphere: Practical Difficulties, Bowers clarified his point and the conversation become much more specific - focusing on barriers to entry, particular blog hiring/recruiting practices and the value of certain types of activism within the movement.

It culminated with this post by Jenifer Fernandez Ancona on Building Multiracial Coalitions, which Bowers promoted from the Diaries to the front page of the site (and where The Opportunity Agenda gets some love in the comments - thanks Jenifer!). 

The whole discussion is fascinating and well worth a read, especially as the "blackosphere" grows and learns how to work with the already established progressive blogs (aka the "whitosphere").

It also offers an opportunity for us to point out the wiki we set up to help groups find and catalogue blogs that focus on racial justice issues, immigration issues and human rights issues - all frequently ignored by the "mainstream" blogs.  You can find the wiki here.  The password is "justice."

On a related note, the Pew Internet and American Life Project  has a new survey out (pdf), and Andre Golis at TPM Cafe has a good read on the results and what they mean for the Digital Divide in America:

the usage gap is growing because while the speed of adoption at the
top is quick and interest is broad, many have either no access or no
interest.

It would be a tragic irony if the technology that offered the
greatest possibilities for destroying inequality actually expanded it,
or was simply prevented from realizing its potential by preexisting
economic, educational and social inequalities.

Destroying the digital divides that exist is a prerequisite for
realizing the most radically democratic and egalitarian dreams for the
possibilities of networking technology. The first step--empowering an
educated and socially engaged class of people to have new forms of
discussion and collaboration-- was easy. The second, third and fourth
steps will be much harder, and will require people putting their elbow
grease where their rhetoric is.

Another must read on the digitial divide today is this must-read interview with Arnold Chandler of Policy Link, who talks about the divide not only in terms of access, but of usage patterns and skill level.

May 8 2007
Blog Post Many Voices, One Community

I was very happy to see this article in the New York Times on Tuesday. I'm so proud that we're seeing gains in representation of the Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) community among elected officials. It is especially crucial that APIA voices be heard in California, where APIA residents constitute the second-largest minority group. These gains are impressive steps toward building a truly representative government, but minorities remain vastly underrepresented in government and other sectors. What stood out most to me was the following:

Should the number of Asian-American elected officials continue to grow, the issues many of them have pursued — bilingual language assistance, equitable admissions standards at state universities and affordable health care — will become increasingly visible.

It stood out because these issues are issues that so many Californians (and people in every other state) care about. People all over care about equal access for limited-English speakers, to a high-quality education, and to affordable health care. Communities far and wide share many of the same concerns. More importantly, we all share the same drive for improvement and solutions. More diverse voices highlight the fact that we have more in common than we think. I believe that the best and more comprehensive solutions to these common concerns will also come from incorporating everyone's voices in the process.

Also this week, Congressman Mike Honda issued a statement titled the "State of APIA Community" that has some really interesting information. I first found the statement through New America Media. This brief overview of the APIA community is a great tool, especially since it can be hard to find detailed statistics about this community. For example:

In education, APIA students are still underserved, and 24.7% of the APIA population is linguistically isolated. When disaggregated, the percentages are even greater in the Southeast Asian community: 45% of Vietnamese Americans, 31.8% of Cambodian and Laotian Americans, and 35.1% of Hmong Americans are linguistically isolated.

It's important that we pay attention to disparities within the larger numbers. Disaggregating data the way it is done here will ensure that all people are being considered. Looking at averages across communities can be dangerous because it becomes easy to neglect the most vulnerable.

Mar 1 2007
Blog Post Remembering Japanese Internment

Sixty-five years ago today, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the wartime removal and incarceration of over 110,000 Japanese Americans.  This single act has had endless ramifications on the lives of Japanese-Americans and is undeniably one of the worst chapters in American history.

In the decades leading up to World War II, there was a good deal of institutionalized discrimination against Japanese people in the United States. Japanese immigrants could not legally naturalize.  Children born in the US were granted citizenship, but immigrants themselves were unable to become citizens. Further, the ability of Japanese immigrants (non-citizens) to own property in the US was revoked entirely.  It had been legal, previously.

When the Japanese military forces attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, pandemonium and fear broke loose.  American media coverage painted the Japanese to be a threat of unprecedented scale, quoting blatantly racist remarks by military leaders such as the assertion that the Japanese were going to 'overtake' the West Coast with help from the local Japanese population. The US was also at war with Germany and Italy, but somehow only the Japanese were thought to be a danger to national security.

On February 19, 1942, FDR ordered that everyone of Japanese descent living on the West Coast be 'evacuated.' These 110,000 people were given a certain number of days to liquidate their possessions, which essentially meant selling everything they owned, land included, to their non-Japanese neighbors for dirt-cheap prices.  Once transferred to the camps, many families occupied what were formerly horse stables, a frightening gauge of the dehumanization to which they were subjected.

When the camps were finally closed in 1944, evacuees were sent home with three items: train fare, $25 each, and a pamphlet advising them on how to readjust to society. Many families have never recovered the economic gains they had made before the war. Much of what they had put into storage before heading to the camps was long gone. There were a good number of college-educated Japanese professionals in the camps, who had an extraordinarily difficult time finding employment after their stays in the camps. Similarly, Japanese students struggled to be admitted to universities.  Many went eastward for greater opportunities

While the US government made an official apology for its actions in the 1980s, its attempts at reparations have been insufficient compared to the damage done to so many of its own citizens and their families.

While it is true that no one was tortured or killed in the 'internment camps' (not to be confused with 'concentration camps'), it’s worth a look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with this situation in mind. While the UDHR was adopted in 1948, after the camps opened and closed, it has become a standard reference point for assessing human rights violations – and it provides a clear illustration of how many basic human rights were violated by the incarceration order.

For further resources, see NAATA’s educational website.

Feb 20 2007
Blog Post The Real Costs of Bush's Budget

An editorial  in today's New York Times takes a closer look at Bush's '07 budget, and notes that programs designed to increase access to health care among low-income Americans - particularly children - are the latest casualty of Bush's crusade to lower taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

The most shortsighted restrictions would come in the highly
acclaimed State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which uses federal
matching funds to provide coverage for low- and moderate-income
children who are not quite poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. The
program has been enormously successful in reducing the number of
uninsured children. Yet now the administration wants to reduce its
matching rate and limit enrollment to children in households earning no
more than twice the federal poverty level. That would undercut programs
in 16 states that have expanded coverage to children above that level.

Although the administration’s budget would grant the children’s program
a small $5 billion increase spread over five years, that’s less than
half, and possibly only a third, of the amount needed just to maintain
current enrollments and participation rates.

As Families USA notes in a press release, this is contrary to previous statements by Bush:

“America’s children must also have a healthy start in life.
In a new term, we will lead an aggressive effort to enroll millions of
poor children who are eligible but not signed up for the government’s
health insurance programs. We will not allow a lack of attention, or
information, to stand between these children and the health care they
need.” (President George W. Bush, Republican National Convention,
September 2, 2004)

Families USA also notes that, besides funding SCHIP at a level inadequate to retain current enrollment numbers, the president's plan will actually reduce SCHIP eligibility in 18 states including California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland,
Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New
Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and
West Virginia.

Hundreds of thousands of children in these states will lose their coverage and enter the ranks of the uninsured.  The move is a stark contrast to current public opinion, as well counterproductive to new policy initiatives that seek to expand coverage for children at the state level.

Health care is a human right.  Until we provide a fair, equitable system that provides access to those most in need, our nation will never live up to its full potential as a society of equal opportunity for all Americans.  President Bush's proposed cuts to Medicaid and SCHIP, which will put hundreds of thousands of children at risk for unnecessary health complications, moves us further away that ideal America we all want to achieve.


 

Feb 12 2007
Blog Post The State of Opportunity - An Update

Over at TomPaine.com, our Executive Director Alan Jenkins has a column about Bush's State of the Union and the State of Opportunity in America:

During his State of the Union speech last month,
President Bush used the word “opportunity” nine times, to talk about
our nation’s economy, public schools, immigration policy, energy needs
and health care system. The president is correct in suggesting that how
opportunity fares is a crucial measure of our nation’s condition. So
just what is the state of opportunity in America?

Read the full column.

Feb 7 2007
Blog Post State of Opportunity; State of the Union

Last night President Bush delivered his 6th State of the Union Address.  Thanks to a terrific interactive tool put out by the New York Times, we're able to determine that Bush mentioned opportunity 8 times in his speech - more than in any other State of the Union address he has delivered thus far.  In almost each instance, he referenced the need to spread hope and opportunity and build a brighter future for our country. 

It's wonderful to hear the President promote the value of opportunity
when addressing the nation, but unfortunately, opportunity has been on the decline since President Bush last ascended the podium to address the nation; and the President's proposed policies - centered less around expanding opportunity so much as promoting individual responsibility - will do little to increase opportunity for those most in need in our country.

Last year, just after the President's 2006 Address (in which one of the only references to opportunity came coupled with a broken promise to rebuild New Orleans - curiously absent from last night's speech), The Opportunity Agenda released a report - The State of Opportunity in America.  In this report, we measured America's progress in expanding opportunity along a variety of indicators and issues.  Our findings were not encouraging.

Next month, we'll release an update to the State of Opportunity Report.  For now, here's a sample of our findings:

  • A lower proportion of young adults earned high school degrees;
  • The number and rate of incarcerated people has increased, to 2.2 million today, consistent with a three-decade trend;
  • The wealth and income gap increased again, following a trend of growing economic inequality;
  • The gender poverty gap increased between 2004 and 2005, as a larger percentage of women fell into poverty in this period;
  • The number of Americans lacking health insurance increased from 45.3 million in 2004 to 46.6 million in 2005.

We'll have more in a few weeks.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, you can fact-check the President's statements and policy proposals through this tool created by Think Progress.

We also recommend you check out the SOTU review offered by our friends at the Drum Major Institute.

What did you think of the President's address and his newfound commitment to spreading opportunity?

Jan 24 2007
Research Brochure: About The Opportunity Agenda (2008)

Read about The Opportunity Agenda in our new brochure.

brochure.png

Jan 20 2007
Blog Post The Opportunity Mandate

I just want to add one thought to the great piece that our executive director currently has posted at TomPaine.com (which you should all go read). 

Alan makes the point that this election wasn't just about Iraq, but about the economy broadly defined as the opportunity for every American to get their shot at the American Dream:

Voters have clearly shown a yearning for a new domestic agenda. This
time, it’s not just the economy on voters’ minds, but something deeper
and more profoundly American: opportunity.

While the economy, narrowly defined,
may be relatively healthy, more and more Americans see our national
promise of opportunity—the idea that everyone in our country should
have a fair chance to achieve his or her full potential—moving farther
out of reach.

A recent CNN poll found
that 54 percent of Americans feel “the American dream has become
impossible for most people to achieve.” And 55 percent say they’re
dissatisfied with “current opportunities for the next generation to
live better than their parents.” A poll of American workers commissioned by Change to Win found that 81 percent believe “no matter what you hear about the economy, working families are falling behind.”

This rising sentiment is not only about economic conditions, but
also about national values like fair treatment, a voice in decisions
that affect us, a chance to start over after misfortune, and a sense of
shared responsibility for each other.

I think this is right, and just wanted to point out that it was also the main message in some of the Democrats more surprising pick-ups this November.  Jim Webb, who beat out George Allen, just published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling for fairness in the economy.  Here's some excerpts:

This ever-widening divide is too often ignored or downplayed by its beneficiaries. A sense of entitlement has set in among elites, bordering on hubris. When I raised this issue with corporate leaders during the recent political campaign, I was met repeatedly with denials, and, from some, an overt lack of concern for those who are falling behind. A troubling arrogance is in the air among the nation's most fortunate. Some shrug off large-scale economic and social dislocations as the inevitable byproducts of the "rough road of capitalism." Others claim that it's the fault of the worker or the public education system, that the average American is simply not up to the international challenge, that our education system fails us, or that our workers have become spoiled by old notions of corporate paternalism.

...

Most Americans reject such notions. But the true challenge is for everyone to understand that the current economic divisions in society are harmful to our future. It should be the first order of business for the new Congress to begin addressing these divisions, and to work to bring true fairness back to economic life. Workers already understand this, as they see stagnant wages and disappearing jobs.

...

With this new Congress, and heading into an important presidential election in 2008, American workers have a chance to be heard in ways that have eluded them for more than a decade. Nothing is more important for the health of our society than to grant them the validity of their concerns. And our government leaders have no greater duty than to confront the growing unfairness in this age of globalization.

Hopefully Webb is right - and his colleagues take his concerns seriously.  The American people voted for change. They voted for a restoration of opportunity and the American Dream.  It's the responsibility of our newly elected leaders to make that happen.

Nov 22 2006
Blog Post Eyes on the Prize Re-release

As many of you probably know, PBS recently  re-released Eyes on the Prize - probably the most important documentary about the civil rights movement.  Eyes on the Prize had been unavailable for almost two decades due to copyright issues with some of the music and footage contained in the film (which is why I don't have a lot of great YouTube footage to show you).  You can find out more about that here, or by watching the video on the left.

As part of the re-release, PBS invited a number of civil rights activist to reflect on the film and the progress that we've made in America - and just as often failed to make - since the events depicted in the film.

One interviewee was our own Alan Jenkins, who weighed in on the inspirational power that the movement has and its continuing relevance at home and abroad:

The African American civil rights movement has inspired a lot of
other groups that have suffered injustices. One example that we saw
recently was the immigrant rights demonstrations around the country.
Immigrants' assertion that "we too are America" was inspiring, and very
much in the spirit of the civil rights movement. In addition, there's
been, since the late Sixties, a powerful Latino civil rights movement,
that included the farm workers' movement, and includes organizations
like the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, patterned on the NAACP's
Legal Defense Fund. The women's rights movement was inspired in part by
the African American civil rights movement. Certainly the immigrant
rights movement, and the gay rights movement as well. Those are just a
few examples. Dynamic people in those communities have led the
movements, but the African American civil rights movement provides a
powerful template for activism.

The impact of the civil rights movement has spread throughout the world. I've met with people in India -- Dalits, who are the former "untouchable" caste. What's exciting is that Martin Luther King learned nonviolent strategies from Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, so it's kind of a full circle. When I traveled to India I met activists who were singing "We Shall Overcome"
-- the touchstone song of the American civil rights movement -- in
Hindi, and talked about how they had gotten inspiration from the
American civil rights movement for their own struggle to achieve rights
in Indian society. And there are many more examples worldwide.

You can read the rest of his thoughts, as well as those of 11 other activists, here.

Nov 16 2006
Blog Post Experiments in Democracy

With only four more days until Americans make their yearly trek to the polls, its hard not to think about what it means to be a citizen, and what political participation really looks like in America - both historically and practically. Here are some items I've been enjoying as I try to grapple with that problem.

A new poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics (pdf) suggests that, on Tuesday, young voters will shatter previous turnout records for midterm elections.  The poll - which has an incredible sample size of over 2,500 18-24 year olds (half on and half off the "college track") - concludes that turnout could be as high as 32%.  The previous record was 27% set in 1982.

The gang at Radio Open Source just finished a show about "Experiments in Democracy" with Lani Guinier.  The show explored the question of what participation looks like in America and in other democracies, and how we can truly make our electoral system more representative of the voices of the people it is meant to serve.  Listen to the show. (24mb mp3)

A rash of stories about Diebold machines are leaking into the media.  Problems are yet again arising with these machines, and the blogosphere is awash in conspiracy theories.  HBO is currently airing a documentary on the machines - Hacking Democracy - which premiered last night.

A citizen journalism outfit - the Polling Place Photo Project - is  asking folks to take a picture of their polling place and submit it to the project.  PPPP hopes to create a record of the voting experience in America in 2006.

In a more activist vein, I'll point people yet again to Video the Vote - a project that seeks to document and minimize irregularities in Tuesday's voting process.  If you've got some time on Tuesday and want to help safe-guard our democracy, this non-partisan group is looking for volunteers for a variety of tasks from filming sites, manning the phones or shuttling film crews in your car.

Finally, conservatives like to fear-monger about immigrants voting illegally.  Its the purported rationale behind many of the stringent voter ID laws they are trying to pass in the states.  So allow me to relish in a moment's worth of Schadenfreude as I introduce you to the new face of voter fraud.

Nov 3 2006
Blog Post Weekend Reading

A few items are sitting in my inbox that I didn't have time to get to this week.  Take them home and read at your leisure this weekend:

  1. The Big Dog is watching. Bill Clinton gave a speech about "the common good" at Georgetown University that seems to draw heavily on two of our core opportunity values: Redemption, or the idea that people change over time and that we all make mistakes and deserve a chance to start over; and Community, or the idea that we're all in this together.  Raw Story has the details, YouTube has the video.
  2. Michigan voters appear to have mixed views about a "proposed ban on race and gender preferences in government hiring, contracting and university admissions."  41% of likely voters favor the ban and 44% oppose it.

Have a great weekend, we'll be back on Monday.

Oct 20 2006
Blog Post Two Videos

   

Two videos for you today.  The first is a travelogue of the "Hear Me Now Gulf Coast Listening Tour" by Diana Nikkah.  We sent Diana on tour to record the experiences of those affected by Hurricane Katrina and their struggle to rebuild their lives.  The short film was recently screened at the Impact Festival in New York City. 

This video - and more - is also available on our YouTube Channel - Opportunity TV.  Give it a visit, and let us know about any opportunity-related or socially conscious videos you're watching.

The second video is a trailer for the documentary American Blackout, which chronicles the tactics of voter disenfranchisement employed during the 2000 presidential election.  If the trailer piques your interest, Color of Change has lots of action links around the movie.  You can host a house party to screen the movie, sign-up as a video "poll-watcher" for the upcoming election, and more.

Oct 18 2006
Blog Post 21st Century Poll Taxes and Better Fences: Today in the News

The Washington Post reports on an important - if temporary - victory protecting the voices and rights voters.  Yesterday a Georgia judge overturned a controversial law that would have required voters to provide government-issued photo identification before being allowed to vote.  In his ruling, the judge stated that the law placed too great a burden on the citizens of Georgia.  Others have not been so kind in their wording:

Sep 20 2006
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