Opportunity requires a national commitment to protecting and promoting human rights. These rights are the guarantee of dignity and fairness we all deserve by virtue of our humanity, and which the world’s governments have recognized as universally essential. Because the human rights of many Americans continue to be denied, it is essential that we work to build understanding and support for those rights here at home.

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Blog Post Hollaback & Harassment

Unless you’ve been on a TV/Internet fast for the past week, you’ve probably heard about the Hollaback video. And the inevitable backlash, from all sides. 

Just in case you have recently returned from a trip to the Himalayas, or my grandmother’s house (seriously, no wifi and a 3G dead zone?), Hollaback, an anti-street harassment group, recently released a video:

Nov 2 2014
Page Human Rights in State Courts 2014

Human Rights in State Courts 2014

Download the Introduction and Overview (PDF)

Download the Full Report (PDF)

Feb 7 2014
Page Public Opinion Monthly (February 2013)

Public Opinion and Media Coverage of Immigrant Women

Feb 26 2013
Blog Post In Honor of International Women's Day, Let's Go From Rhetoric to Reality

The strange case of the Georgetown 3L and the bombastic talk radio host has garnered a lot of news attention lately. Unfortunately, as is too often the case, that attention has been focused on the sound and fury, which signify nothing.

Mar 8 2012
Blog Post Human Trafficking Awareness Day: Searching for Innovative Solutions


Photo by Brett Jordan

(This article originally appeared on the Kirwan Institute's blog Race Talk)

In recognizing January 11th as Human Trafficking Awareness Day, Race-Talk has invited three experts on trafficking in persons to share their thoughts. They have chosen to address a little-examined and nuanced, but crucial, aspect of the trafficking discussion, with a focus on innovative solutions.

Jan 27 2012
Blog Post Human Rights in America
 Photo by Steve Rhodes

Around the world, millions of people will be attending a host of events and ceremonies on December 10 to commemorate and continue the campaign for the basic rights of all people. To be a prosperous society, it is vital that every individual has access to opportunity. Opportunity and human rights are crucial for ensuring that people can provide for themselves, their families, and their country. In order for barriers to opportunity to be lifted, the government needs to implement a domestic human rights policy that ensures that every American is treated with fairness and equality.

Dec 8 2011
Blog Post September 11, 2011


Photo by dennoit

On the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the time is right to consider how we have changed as a country and how we remain the same.  It is a widely-accepted truism that we were all changed after the terrorist attacks in Washington, DC, New York, and Pennsylvania. However, even though some made use of the fear and heated emotions following the attacks to suppress human and civil rights, our bedrock principles endure, and in fact, flourish.

Sep 9 2011
Blog Post Biweekly Public Opinion Roundup: Economic Opportunity, Human Rights, and the Role of Government

A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal survey finds that Americans are showing less pessimism about the direction of the country, and that a fundamental element that contributes to confidence in the country is economic opportunity. Additional research finds that economic opportunity and mobility is so important that a large majority believes that ensuring economic opportunity should be considered a human right.

Jul 29 2011
Page Public Opinion Monthly (July 2011)

Economic Opportunity, Human Rights, and the Role of Government

By: Jill Mizell

July 27, 2011

Jul 19 2011
Page Legal and Policy Analysis: Human Rights in State Courts 2011

Since the last version of this report was released, state court litigants in the United States have continued using international human rights law in their arguments. Many of these cases have been met with cursory dismissals from the court, especially in death penalty cases. At the same time, courts have seriously considered some arguments, and occasionally use international law affirmatively as persuasive authority for the interpretation of state constitutions, statutes, and common law.

Jul 15 2011
Blog Post A Call to End Indefinite Detention


Photo by Mark Fischer

The right to due process under the law is a cornerstone of America’s commitment to freedom and fairness. Protections against unfair imprisonment, mistreatment by law enforcement officials, and indefinite detention—guaranteed by the 5th and 6th amendments of the Constitution—are rights that no one living in the United States would or should be expected to go without.

Jun 7 2011
Page Assessing Human Rights in the United States

Read this full report via Scribd

May 11 2011
Blog Post Egypt, Human Rights, and America

 After two weeks behind the curve on the uprising in Egypt, the Obama administration seems to have found it’s voice, recognizing that our national interests and our national values point in the same direction—toward democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.  There are reasons to worry about the kind of regime that will emerge in Cairo.  But promoting those three principles will serve our nation well in supporting the Egyptian people and engaging whatever government they ultimately choose.

Feb 8 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 YouTube and WITNESS Use Video to Promote Human Rights

Recently YouTube partnered with WITNESS, an international group that uses video to promote human rights, to begin a series of blog posts that will demonstrate and explore how film has become an integral facet of the worldwide human rights initiative.

Jun 21 2010
Blog Post Spotlight on the U.S.-Mexico Border

While we’re spending our federal funds on policies that threaten both human rights at the border and judicial and prosecutorial safeguards, is there room for us to reaffirm our commitment to human dignity and due process? 

May 26 2010
Communications Senate Testimony for U.S. Treaty Compliance

December 16, 2009

Written Statement for the Record Hearing on U.S. Treaty Compliance Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law

Testimony of Alan Jenkins Executive Director The Opportunity Agenda

May 20 2010
Page Public Opinion Monthly (May 2010)

Human rights are important to Americans, and most believe in protecting and defending these rights.  Many Americans agree on basic rights, such as equality, freedom from discrimination, and freedom from torture.  As the conversation gets more in-depth, however, beliefs and opinions involving rights become increasingly complex.  Indicative of these complexities are Americans' attitudes toward LGBT and reproductive rights.  Despite consensus that gays and lesbians face a great deal of discrimination, and the profuse declarations of freedom to "life,

May 19 2010
Page Public Opinion Monthly (April 2010)

Keeping the American Dream in 2010 Alive. With or without government intervention? Public Opinion and Facts.

The American dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement—James Truslow Adams.

Apr 28 2010
Blog Post Rights at Home

A safe and healthy environment and freedom from discrimination are basic human rights that everyone should enjoy and that all governments should protect. Yet Mossville, Louisiana residents’ efforts to seek relief from their government have yielded only excuses and inaction.

Apr 6 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 What Can an Equitable Recovery Look Like?

Recovery from a natural disaster should be able to make survivors “whole.” However, when the starting point is life in one of the poorest and most dangerous countries in the Western hemisphere, getting back to normal becomes a trickier proposition.  Haiti has the highest rates of infant, under-five and maternal mortality in the Western hemisphere.  In 2003, 80% of the population was estimated to live under the international poverty line.  As demonstrated by the extended recovery process from Hurricane Katrina, economic condition has a determinative effect on the a

Jan 25 2010
Page Talking Human Rights in the United States: A Communications Toolkit

Human Rights Day serves as an opportunity to tell key audiences why the United States should consider dignity, fairness, and human rights in domestic policy decisions. Several national debates loom in which these values should be central, namely health care and immigration.

Dec 11 2009
Blog Post Talking Human Rights in the United States

Today, Human Rights Day, serves as an opportunity to tell key audiences why the United States should consider dignity, fairness, and human rights in domestic policy decisions. Several national debates loom in which these values should be central, namely health care and immigration.

Dec 10 2009
Page Telebriefing: Talking About Human Rights At Home

November 19, 2009 | Telebriefing slides and audio available.  Toolkit also available.

Slides and audio are now available for our recent telebriefing—Talking About Human Rights At Home

Dec 4 2009
Blog Post Bi-weekly Public Opinion Roundup - Health Care, and Capitalism

As expected, there are plenty of new public opinion polls on health care and health care reform.  Though some people may already be tired of the topic, it is more important now than ever that we understand where the public stands on health care, how the trends in opinion are changing, and why.  Indirectly related to issues of healthcare is a new public opinion poll on capitalism, twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Nov 20 2009
Page Public Opinion Monthly (November 2009)

November Roundup:

Suspects of Terrorism and Due Process
Race in the Age of Obama

This month’s insight into the public mind is on rights for suspects of terrorism and due process, and racial attitudes in the age of Obama, a topic which we will continue to track and analyze here over time.

Nov 19 2009
Communications Toolkit: Talking Human Rights in the United States (2009)

At The Opportunity Agenda, our mission is building the national will to expand opportunity in America. We believe that respect for the full range of human rights—economic, social, cultural, civil, and political—is crucial to fulfilling that mission.

Nov 6 2009
Blog Post The Promise of Due Process: Cameron Todd Willingham

The words "due process" might not ignite our sense of national pride in the same way as words like "liberty," "justice," or "equality," but they should.  And the promise of due process -- that every person, when faced with threats to their life, liberty, or property, will have a chance to have their side meaningfully heard and considered -- has never stood on shakier ground. 

Sep 3 2009
Page Public Opinion Monthly Mission Statement

Public Opinion Monthly: Tracking Attitudes Toward Opportunity was conceptualized by Eleni Delimpaltadaki Janis responding to the need for digestible insights into public opinion on social issues in an open-source platform. Public Opinion Monthly is a hub of public opinion research across issues for the U.S. human rights and social justice field, the press, and the public.

Aug 14 2009
Blog Post When Insurance Isn't Enough: What is "Universal"?

If you've been following my occasional blogs arguing for a more robust vision for health care reform, often titled "When Insurance Isn't Enough," you know that I start from a values-based framework, the idea that the opportunity to reach our highest attainable standard of health is a right inherent to our dignity as human beings.  And then I usually go on to highlight an aspect of health care that isn't getting the sort of coverage or discussion that it should be, given the almost myopic focus on cost-cutting and insurance coverage; in the past, I've highlighted preventative care, healthy infrastructure like walkable communities, care coordination, and enabling services.  Today, I'd like to take a step back and think about one of the keystones of the current push for reform: the idea of "universal" health care.

Jul 28 2009
Blog Post Victims of Severe Domestic Violence Eligible for Asylum

The New York Times reported last Wednesday that the Obama administration will support granting asylum for at least some victims of severe domestic violence.  This new position, written in a court filing submitted by the government in a currently pending asylum case, reverses the previous Bush administration stance.

Jul 22 2009
Blog Post The Big Picture: Health, Justice, and Abortion

As the United States government prepares for further personnel shifts in the administration, Americans are anxious to know the nominees' priorities. How refreshing, then, to see health and justice for the American people trump politics. As Judge Sotomayor faces the scrutiny of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Obama has nominated Regina Benjamin to be the next Surgeon General-- America's "top doctor." Part of what will make, and has made, these women such phenomenal public servants is their refusal to be snagged by the issue of abortion.

Jul 20 2009
Blog Post Real Choices for Reproductive Justice

It is certainly an important time for America's discussions of health, but also an important time to talk about equality in America as it relates to access to reproductive health care.

Jun 15 2009
Blog Post Separate and Unequal

The theme of equality was central to our nation’s founding, with the declaration that “all men are created equal.” Our country’s history has witnessed the gradual evolution of that core principle from a ruling class that countenanced slavery and subordination toward an egalitarian vision that embraces the inherent equality of all people. We fought a civil war in part to give life to this proposition. It is embodied in our Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under law, and in the other Civil War amendments.

May 29 2009
Blog Post When Insurance Isn't Enough: Ending Bureaucratic Barriers to Preventative Care

A human right to health care means more than a guarantee of an insurance card in your pocket.  It means that you have access to quality, comprehensive health care, because being healthy is as fundamental to fulfilling our full human potential as are food, clothing, and shelter.  An insurance card in every American's pocket is a start, but not much of one if that card only leads to unaffordable and unexpected bills, or bueracratic nightmares.  Unfortunately, the status quo Americans currently face within the private insurance market is too much of the unaffordable, unexpected,

May 26 2009
Page Public Opinion: Human Rights Messaging Recommendations (2009)

The Opportunity Agenda completed in-depth public opinion research in spring 2009 to help advocates in building understanding and support for human rights at home. Through a series of focus group discussions, we examined attitudes toward human rights, and how to discuss a range of social justice issues within the context of human rights. Read more.

May 21 2009
Blog Post Paid Sick Leave Takes Big Step Forward in Congress

As the country considers how we might reform our health care system, it is important to note that good health requires not just health insurance, but also the flexibility to care for oneself or one's family when sick, and to help prevent the spread of contagious diseases through the workplace.  Today, Senator Ted Kennedy and Representative Rosa DeLauro introduced a bill, dubbed the Healthy Families Act, that would guarantee American workers up to 7 paid sick days each year, and allow workers to take these paid sick days to care for ill family members.

May 18 2009
Law and Policy Report: State Courts and Human Rights (2008 Edition)

humanRightsStateCourts.pngSince the last version of this report was released in 2007, state court decisions utilizing and interpreting international human rights law have increased in both number and depth of consideration.

May 1 2009
Video Alan Jenkins on MSNBC Discussing Torture

Alan Jenkins, executive director of The Opportunity Agenda, appears on MSNBC to discuss America's use of torture.  For more thoughts by Alan on torture, click here.

Apr 28 2009
Blog Post Torture, Dignity, and America

Article 1 of the International Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment provides, in simple terms, that “torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession….” The Convention reaffirms the basic principle that intentionally inflicted suffering destroys the dignity of victim, the torturer, and the society that allows it.

Apr 21 2009
Law and Policy Public Policy: An Act Establishing a Commission on Health Equity (2008)

In a tremendous victory for both health and human rights advocates, Connecticut has passed and signed into law legislation establishing a comprehensive Commission on Health Equity. The Commission is dedicated to addressing racial, ethnic, linguistic and other disparities in health care access and quality, and has been given an impressive and broad set of tools and powers to create health equity in the state. Perhaps most significantly for human rights advocates, the preamble to the law states Connecticut’s belief in a human right to health:

Apr 15 2009
Blog Post Health Care is a Human Right, Not a Commodity

[E]veryone in the United States has the human right to health care. . . . This means that benefits and contributions should be shared fairly to create a system that works for everyone . . . [and] that the U.S. government has a responsibility to ensure that care comes first.

Mar 30 2009
Communications Talking Points: Talking About the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration (2008)

This memo provides advice on talking to broad audiences on human rights at home, in light of the 60 anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Outlined here are some principles that support domestic human rights campaigns and foster a long-term strategy in furthering a pro-human rights agenda.

Mar 12 2009
Communications Talking Points: Health as a Human Right (2008)

These talking points provide advice on talking broadly about creating a health care system that works for everyone.

Mar 10 2009
Blog Post Emerging Research on Health Care as a Human Right: They Get It

And by "they", we mean the very audiences we need in order to change the conversation about health in this country:  politically active moderates and liberals.  Recent focus groups with these audiences show an apparently growing comfort with not only declaring health as a human right, but also in recognizing what that would mean to health care reform. 

Mar 5 2009
Communications Talking Points: Expanding Opportunity For All - CERD (2008)

These talking points provide advice on talking with journalists and other general audiences about US compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Mar 5 2009
Law and Policy Report: Human Rights In State Courts: An Overview and Recommendations for Legal Advocacy (2007)

Human rights are a crucial part of the United States’ legal and cultural foundation. The founders of our country declared that we are all created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights.

And the United States helped to craft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international human rights system after World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust.

Mar 1 2009
Podcast Domestic Human Rights Voices

With the help of the Mainstream Media Project, The Opportunity Agenda has been leading a national radio campaign to promote domestic human rights voices and a pro-human rights agenda in anticipation of the upcoming transition in Washington.  Sixteen leading domestic human rights voices have joined the campaign. Their experiences cover a broad scope of human rights work undertaken throughout our country but their message is clear and unified, echoing the Universal Declaration’s call to afford all members of the human family dignity, fairness, and opportunity.

Feb 27 2009
Blog Post Hollywood on Immigration: We're All in it Together

The recently-released trailer for the upcoming film Crossing Over illustrates the power of values-based messaging.

Feb 12 2009
Research Report: Unequal Health Outcomes in the United States (2008)

Originally conceived as a “shadow report” to the 2007 U.S. Periodic Report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, this report was written by a coalition of experts in the fields of health policy and environmental justice, including academics and members of civil society organizations working to advance the right to health and the right to a healthy environment in the United States.

Jan 27 2009
Page Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination Jan 16 2009
Page Human Rights in the U.S.

Read about our Human Rights projects.

Jan 7 2009
Blog Post 60th Anniversary: New poll shows vast support for Universal Declaration of Human Rights principles

Study released by WorldPublicOpinion.org on December 9, 2008. 

The WorldPublicOpinion.org study shows a high degree of consensus among Americans in support of the principles enunciated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Vast majorities of Americans favor most areas of human rights issues, including equality, women's rights, racial justice, food, education and health care, and believe strongly that their government has their responsibility to secure. Yet only a modest majority endorses an unequivocal rule against torture, which has declined since 2006. Many Americans see human rights as crucial to American values and they worry that our national policies and practices are not living up to those principles, as indicated in  The Opportunity Agenda national poll, released last year on the International Human Rights Day. The poll, along with a series of focus groups and interviews that were also conducted, represents the most extensive body of opinion research ever assembled on this subject. 

Dec 10 2008
Blog Post Human Rights: More American Than Apple Pie

"Human rights is not marginal to who we are; human rights defines who we are.  The United States is a country defined by human rights.  ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all persons are created equal’….

Dec 10 2008
Blog Post Human Rights Day Roundup

Many of our organizations are marking the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, as a result, there's a lot to be read and seen on the web.

First, here you can read the entire text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Our friends at the ACLU have set up a website, Dignity Begins at Home.

Dec 10 2008
Blog Post Let the Heart Feed the Hands

When young soldiers returned to New York Harbor in the months following VJ day in the South Pacific, 1945, the streets rained with celebration.  Though as the fanfare faded from Broadway, the stories the young GIs shared with their friends and families--those strong enough to weave the horrors of war--echoed a Miltonic loss of innocence at the hands of hubris dictators.

Dec 10 2008
Blog Post Human Rights in the United States

Human rights are deeply American in their history and in the values that they represent—they are vital to ensuring opportunity for all.  The Opportunity Agenda is dedicated to promoting a human rights approach to efforts for social change and integrating these ideals in both policy and public discourse.

This month, we highlight some recent work from both The Opportunity Agenda and our partners in advancing the cause of human rights at home.

2008 Update to Human Rights in State Courts Report

Increasingly, legal advocates are incorporating human rights arguments into their work. In order to further these efforts, we are happy to announce our 2008 Human Rights in State Courts report.  An update to our 2007 report, it documents the consideration and interpretation of international human rights law in the state courts of all 50 states. The report continues to be a comprehensive reference for state court litigators, state and municipal policymakers, academics, and advocates, covering all new state court decisions from April 2007 to June 2008, and includes relevant state court decisions that were not highlighted in the original report. The report is available for download here:

Download state_courts_and_human_rights_2008_edition.pdf

Nov 25 2008
Blog Post A Guaranteed Right to Health: The Key to Presidential Greatness

President-elect Barack Obama has renewed our hope as Americans that the promise of opportunity is revitalized, alive and well. But in order to secure his own legacy as the first great president of the 21st Century, and one of the greats in American history, he will need a grand undertaking equivalent to Abraham Lincoln's saving of the Union or Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.

Nov 6 2008
Research Public Opinion: State Policy Makers and Human Rights (2008)

statePolicyMakers.pngThis analysis of the interviews in California and Illinois addresses how fifty policy leaders see human rights issues at the state level.

Oct 15 2008
Blog Post Framing to Win: Health Care is "a Right for Every American"

Are we "consuming" health care or realizing our "rights?"  The American public is ready for a new conversation; in fact, the conversation has already begun.  Are you speaking the right language to be a part of this new discussion?

Oct 8 2008
Research Public Opinion: Human Rights in the United States (2007)

HRopinionResearch.pngThis research project examined the opinion of three key audiences on human rights in the U.S. as applied to social justice issues:  the American public, social justice advocates not currently using the human rights approach, and journalists who regularly cover social issues.

Sep 15 2008
Research Fact Sheet: Health, Opportunity, and Human Rights at Home (2006)

The state of health care in the United States is in serious disrepair. Prosperous though it is, the U.S. is the only industrialized country with no universal access to health care, resulting in over 45 million uninsured Americans. Universal and equal access to high quality healthcare is essential to fulfilling the American ideal of opportunity for all. It is also the human right of all people, simply by virtue of their humanity. Bringing this human right home to the United States is therefore crucial to realizing the American Dream.

Aug 26 2008
Page Human Rights Laws and Treaties

Read our Human Rights Work and Materials

International human rights are deeply American in their history and in the values that they represent.  Read how they can help ensure opportunity for all in the United States of America. 

Jul 8 2008
Blog Post 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Yesterday was the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a ground-breaking document initiated and championed by the United States and Eleanor Roosevelt.  Frank Knaack of the ACLU Human Rights Program writes about the significance of the Universal Declaration in the United States and where we are today in fulfilling the promise of "the foundation of the modern human rights system":

The UDHR laid the foundation for a system of rights which are
universal, indivisible, and interdependent. The UDHR does not
differentiate between civil and political rights on one side and
economic, social, and cultural rights on the other. It realizes that in
order to properly enjoy one set of rights, you must also be able to
enjoy the other. As is often noted, one cannot properly exercise their
right to vote, think, or live if they have no food, housing, or basic
health services. It is from these principles that the modern human
rights treaty system (international human rights law) was born.


While much of the focus on the human rights record of the U.S.
government is in the context of foreign policy and the so called “war
on terror,” including the rendition, torture, and indefinite detention
of foreign nationals, and vis-à-vis its high rhetoric on spreading
freedom and democracy throughout the globe, it is of equal importance
to look at the state of human rights at home. From the government’s
inadequate response in the wake of hurricanes  Katrina and Rita;
to pervasive discrimination against racial minorities in the areas of
education, housing, and criminal justice, including death penalty; to
imposing life sentences without the possibility of parole on juveniles;
to abhorrent conditions in immigration detention facilities, it is
clear that the U.S. government has failed to abide by its international

While the struggle for universal human rights is far from over,
there has been great improvement in the fight to bring human rights
home. More and more non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and
individual activists in the U.S. are utilizing the human rights
framework in the domestic advocacy and litigation. At the latest
session of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial  Discrimination
(the treaty body that monitors state compliance with the Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination), there were more
than 120 representatives from U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs) in Geneva, Switzerland, who briefed the Committee members and
provided additional information to counter the misrepresentations and
omissions of the official U.S. government report on the state of racial
discrimination in the U.S. This information, in turn, led the Committee
to conclude that the U.S. should make sweeping reforms to policies
affecting racial and ethnic minorities, women, indigenous people, and
immigrants. The Committee’s recommendations garnered domestic and
international media attention, and were followed by a three week
official visit to the U.S. by the U.N.  Special Rapporteur on Racism.
This visit by the Special Rapporteur further opened up opportunities
for domestic NGOs to utilize the international human rights framework,
as was evidenced by the successful public education and media outreach
campaigns conducted by local NGOs throughout the US during this visit.
As this shows, human rights advocacy has become an effective tool for
social justice advocates in the U.S. to use to press for change and
enhance the protection of basic human rights.

The Opportunity Agenda is dedicated to bringing human rights home.  We are proud to work with coalitions such as the U.S. Human Rights Network and the Human Right to Health Capacity Building Collaborative to build the national, state, and local will to make human rights a real and effective tool for realizing American opportunity.

U.S. Human Rights Reports and Tools from The Opportunity Agenda:

Jun 19 2008
Blog Post From the USHR-Network Conference in Chicago

Writing from the U.S. Human Rights Network's national conference in Chicago, The Opportunity Agenda has been one of a great number of social justice organizations here working to secure and expand those fundamental rights that all humans deserve. Amidst the more than 400 registered participants, there are advocates, students, social justice leaders and consultants exchanging ideas on how the human rights frame can be strengthened and mobilized.

Most interesting, for me, has been the demand for sessions that focus on using new media as an advocacy tool. Yesterday, I attended a session on video advocacy, presented by Witness, a nonprofit group out of Brooklyn who empowers human rights groups around the world by teaching them how to be citizen video journalists. Their HUB is an excellent on-line video advocacy tool, where user generated materials can be uploaded and shared.

Everyone loves moving images with fancy graphics and sound. But, as compared to previous years, there seems to be a shift from gazing at the bells and whistles, to seeking out a greater depth on how these tools can truly further the human rights initiatives here in the U.S.

I'll be attending two more sessions over the remaining two days, both of which focusing on this new media as a tool for informing and mobilizing audiences. It's reassuring to see such a high interest in social media, which is still undergoing adolescent growth across the board. and the more human rights advocates can stay ahead of the curve, the stronger offense they can have in challenging opposition rhetoric.

Chicago is a great town for a conference such as this, the city having a long history in domestic human rights work. Over 120 years ago, during the Columbian Exhibition of 1893--where Chicago got the title of the "Windy City" after its unprecedented public relations campaign to win the bid for the World's Fair marking the 400th anniversary of Columbus landing in the New World, this expanding frontier town was forced to deal with the gross human rights violations that came as a result of the fair, itself. Things like labor, immigration, healthcare, housing, homeless and racial justice issues came to a head in just a couple of years. The event placed Chicago on the map as a world class city, with world class problems, forcing it to come up with new solutions. Those solutions made Chicago a leading town for labor and advocacy.

Let's hope the innovations presented at this years conference help change the direction the wind has been blowing for many years now, in regards to the work that needs to be done to overcome current problems in labor, immigration, housing, poverty, healthcare, race and gender issues, to name a few.

Apr 19 2008
Blog Post You're Invited to a Hill Briefing on CERD and Health Inequality

Here's an event that folks interested in health equity and human rights might want to attend ...

Congressional Briefing on Health Inequality and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)

The U.S. government recently filed a required periodic report to the United Nations on the nation's progress toward the elimination of racial discrimination. The report cited progress in many areas, including health and health care. The U.N. CERD Committee agreed with some aspects of the report but noted that the United States has failed to recognize and remedy instances where facially-neutral policies contribute to inequality in health and health care.

To address these issues, several dozen non-governmental organizations and individual scholars, under the leadership of the Poverty and Race Research Action Council, prepared a "shadow" report, Unequal Health Outcomes in the United States (available at http://www.prrac.org/pdf/CERDhealthEnvironmentReport.pdf), that illustrates instances of non-compliance with CERD in the right to health, health care access, and treatment, and outlines steps to correct them.

You are invited to a special briefing with some of the collaborators on this report to learn of the extent of racial inequality in health and environmental health, their causes, and actions that government can take to address them. This panel discussion, moderated by Brian Smedley of The Opportunity Agenda, will feature presentations from Katrina Anderson of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Steve Hitov of the National Health Law Program, Rea Pañares of Families USA, and Philip Tegeler of the Poverty and Race Research Action Council, and will take place on April 24 from 1:30pm - 3:00pm in room HC-8 of the Capitol. To RSVP for the briefing, please call or email Kara Forsyth of the Raben Group at (202) 223-2848 or KForsyth@rabengroup.com. All are invited, but seating is limited and priority will be giving to Congressional staff and members.

Apr 16 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

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
  • 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 Speaking English: A Benefit, Not a Mandate
  • Immigration News Daily has posted a couple articles related to
    the US as an English-speaking country. In Philadelphia, a well-known
    cheese steak restaurant is under review by the city's human rights
    commission for a sign that says "This is America - when ordering, please speak English." City officials are alleging that the sign violates the ban on national origin discrimination. On the other end, the blog has reported on an opinion in Newsday which argues that Immigrants would thrive with more English classes.
    The piece talks about the shortage of English classes on Long Island
    while also explaining how poor language skills have prevented
    immigrants from continuing to work in their previous professional

Plenty of anecdotal evidence shows that these programs work. Two years
ago, for example, a Peruvian-born former computer programmer was stuck
on the assembly line at Love and Quiches Desserts, a Freeport-based
manufacturer. After he completed Freeport Adult Education's ESOL
program, he was promoted to supervisor.

In the Long Beach
school district, several women from Central America who were dentists
in their home countries but worked in dead-end jobs here boosted their
English and found jobs as dental hygienists.

Author Tara Colton makes a case for government investment in the
productivity of immigrants via language classes, noting that this
strategy enjoys bipartisan support:

This is a crucial problem, because the more fluent immigrants are in
English, the more they can contribute positively to society. This is a
point that all sides of the immigration debate agree on. Making this
improvement in the lives of millions of people living and working here
has got to be as vital as deciding whether to punish them for how they

For business and government, it's also a matter of economic
development. Boosting workers' English skills improves productivity,
reduces turnover and helps growth.

  • Immigration Orange posted about the 'widow penalty' which ends the permanent residency process for immigrants whose citizen spouse dies within two years of marriage. The blog recommends contacting your public officials in order to end this "obscure interpretation of the
    Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)," examples of which are quoted in the post:

Marlin Coats didn't hesitate to jump in the
water to try to save two drowning teens caught in a riptide at San Francisco Beach Park.
He lost his life that Mother's Day in 2006, but because of his heroism those
two teenagers survived.  So why is the U.S. now responding to Coats'
ultimate sacrifice by deporting his wife Jacqueline Coats?

U.S. Army contractor Todd Engstrom of Illinois gave his life for his country when he was killed in Iraq, and now the federal
government is telling his wife Diana she too must go.
And so must Dahianna Heard of Florida,
whose husband Jeffrey Heard was shot in the head by insurgents
in Iraq.
What will happen to their children?

  • The 'Just News' blog reposted an article from the Omaha World-Herald about a family divided by US immigration policy. Joe Wood of Nebraska had decided it was time to 'do the right thing' and legalize his wife Laura Roldan's immigration status, so he, Roldan and their two daughters traveled to a US Consulate in Mexico to begin the process.  However, Roldan has been accused of fraud for giving a false name upon her entry in 2001, and barred from ever returning to the US.
  • Last up, it has recently come to the ImmigrationProf
    blog's attention that all four grandparents of Republican Presidential
    Candidate Tom Tancredo were immigrants from Italy. Author KJ links to a
    great article in Reason Magazine about the discrimination faced by Italian immigrants in the early 20th Century, along with how, in two generations, the American Dream has brought Tancredo to a place where he has internalized the same distaste for foreigners.
Dec 18 2007
Blog Post New Jersey Set to Abolish the Death Penalty
  • The Sentencing Law and Policy blog has reported that the New Jersey legislature has voted to outlaw the death penalty in the
    state. The governor has already indicated his support for the measure, so it will likely be signed into law soon. New Jersey will be the first state in more than 40 years
    to abolish capital punishment. While human rights law has called for a ban on the death penalty under certain circumstances (concerning juvenile offenders, for example), the UN has yet to impose a blanket ban. However, the practice is frowned upon internationally -- it is mandated that all nations seeking to join the European Union or the Council of Europe either abolish capital punishment or institute an official moratorium on executions.
  • RaceWire has provided us with another update on the struggle to preserve affordable housing in New Orleans, quoting an AP article:

Protesters wielding bullhorns and shouting “housing is a human right”
stopped demolition at a massive public housing complex Wednesday in
this hurricane-ravaged city in dire need of homes for the poor.

More than 30 protesters blocked an excavator from entering the
fenced-off area of the B.W. Cooper complex. It was the first of what
likely will be many standoffs between protesters and demolition crews
that are tearing down hundreds of barracks-style buildings so they can
be replaced with mixed-income neighborhoods.

  • The ImmigrationProf Blog has posted about the recent case of a security officer at a New Mexico high school who has been dismissed for reporting a pregnant 18-year-old student to immigration authorities. The Roswell school district has a policy preventing school officials from concerning themselves with the immigration status of their students. However, officer Charlie Corn decided to take matters into his own hands when he realized that Karina Acosta was unable to produce a driver's license. Acosta has been deported to Mexico in her final year of school, denying her the opportunity to complete her education.
  • The Latina Lista blog has covered another story about New Mexico, a recent raid of the Proper Foods, Inc tamale plant.  This raid was exceptional in some ways:

What's pleasantly surprising is that for the first time that we've
heard, ICE made sure that all the 21 undocumented immigrants
apprehended, as they shuffled out of the kitchens from making the
tamales that will be sold by the dozens for Christmas dinners, received
their full paychecks before being bused off for deportation.

However, the piece goes on to request an end to work-site raids this year, in the spirit of compassion, good will, and community, a set of values that seem closer to our hearts and minds during the winter holidays:

Because it is the Holiday season, the last thing ICE wants to be
caricatured as is the "Grinch Who Stole Christmas." Maybe that explains
the sudden change of heart in advocating for these workers' wages.

Yet, with only 12 days left before Christmas, there is one thing
more that the Department of Homeland Security can do to exemplify that
it is in the "Spirit of the Season" — declare a moratorium on further
raids and deportations for the month of December.

For every adult taken into custody and deported, who knows how many children are left behind?

Critics yell that these parents should take their children with them
but if there is no home to go back to, no relatives who can take you
in, no money to rent someplace, no clothes other than what's on your
back, then what kind of parent would rip their children from the
comforts, no matter how meager, of their lives here to take them where
they literally will have nothing?

To separate parents from their children, especially at
Christmastime, is perhaps more cruel than any kind of trauma, aside
from sexual and physical abuse, afflicted on a child.

We hope Operation Tamale is the last work-site raid for 2007.

Dec 14 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
  • 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 Americans Care Deeply About Human Rights

Today is International Human Rights Day, celebrated across the
world to mark the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
by the United Nations in 1948. While the topic of human rights is
frequently in the news, mainstream media coverage of human rights
invariably describes violations in faraway lands: censorship in China,
repression in Myanmar. Social injustice in our country, when it enters
the public discourse, is almost never discussed in terms of fundamental
human rights.

But a new national poll conducted by The Opportunity Agenda and
sponsored by The Nation reveals that Americans care deeply about human
rights here at home. They see human rights as crucial to who we are as
a country, and they worry that we are not living up to those principles
in our national policies and practices.

  • The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog wrote about yesterday's Supreme Court decision on crack sentencing. The ruling, which is a victory for criminal and racial justice, allows for judges to use their discretion in imposing shorter prison sentences than the previously mandatory five-year minimum. The Our Rights, Our Future blog explains how the sentencing guidelines on crack have targeted black communities:

"The crack cocaine and powdered cocaine disparity is outrageous: the law
sets a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence for trafficking in 5
grams of crack cocaine or 100 times as much cocaine powder.  The effect
on communities of color is disastrous because 85 percent of those
punished for crack crimes in federal court are African American."

  • Finally, in immigration news, the Texas border town of Laredo will be setting up its annual rest stop for migrants going to Mexico for the holidays.  According to a Star-Telegram article, this year's assistance is especially important given changes in federal regulations on January 31st which will require all Americans re-entering the country to carry proof of citizenship.

"Every year, roughly 90,000 immigrants pass through Laredo on their way
home for the holidays, some coming from as far as the Midwest or
California. For the last 10 years, the city convention and visitor's
bureau has opened a rest stop with the Mexican General Consulate to
help travelers ensure they have the right documents and to help check
goods headed to Mexico to quicken entry at the border port."

Dec 11 2007
Blog Post Today is Human Rights Day
  • Human Rights Day commemorates the adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948.  This year, a number of human rights organizations in the US have chosen today's date to launch their "shadow reports" intended to supplement the United States' report on International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, or CERD.
  • The ImmigrationProf Blog has posted about two newly-released reports. The first, by Human Rights Watch, details the Department of Homeland Security's " inadequate care and treatment of immigrant detainees with HIV/AIDS." The second, by the ACLU and other San Diego-based organizations, reveals "patterns of neglect and instances of abuse of some of the
    area's most vulnerable populations--especially Latino immigrants and
    the indigent--in the rescue and relief efforts" during and after last month's wildfires.
  • Other immigration blogs have shared a series of news articles about families being torn apart as a result of recent immigration crackdowns. Immigration News Daily posted on fears in an Oklahoma town in which the number of Latino children attending school is decreasing after the implementation of harsh new legislation targeting those transporting undocumented immigrants.  And the 'Just News' blog reposted a Dallas Morning News article about one Texas family's struggle to stay together and to provide stability and security their young children:

"Mirian Villalobos had plenty going for her. The 25-year-old had a
dimpled son, a handsome husband, a new house, and a happy suspicion she
was pregnant again.

Then, it unraveled.

a balmy Sept. 6 in Wilmer, outside Dallas, she was pulled over by the
police as she rode on the back of a motorcycle driven by her husband,
30-year-old Juan Espinoza. She was stopped for not wearing a helmet,
but a routine check of her record found an arrest warrant. She'd been
ordered to report for deportation in 2002.

Caught in the middle:
an infant named Kevin Isaac, born a U.S. citizen with a father in the
U.S. legally and a mother in the U.S. illegally. Ms. Villalobos was

Unable to bear the separation from her son, now 9 months old, she returned to the U.S. in November and was detained in Arizona.

On Thursday she was deported again to Honduras – without seeing her young son and now six months pregnant, her husband says.

story is one echoing through many families with mixed immigration
status, as a crackdown on illegal immigrants cleaves communities."

  • The DMI Blog has written about a man slated for the death penalty in Alabama.  While Tommy Arthur's execution has been postponed while the Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of lethal injection, Arthur insists that is innocent of the murder for which he has been convicted and already served twenty-five years in prison.  Alabama's governor Bob Riley, however, has refused to grant DNA testing in the case in spite of the presence of biological evidence that would confirm or disprove guilt. The Innocence Project has set up an email feature on their website to advise Governor Riley that it is absolutely critical to know the truth before condemning someone to death.
Dec 10 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
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

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.

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

  • 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 Defending the Human Rights of Immigrants
  • The ImmigrationProf Blog has written about a new coalition of lawyers from big firms who will work to defend the constitutional rights -- or human rights -- of all people:

According to NBC11.com,
dozens of attorneys from powerful law firms have united to create a
task force that will come to the aid of undocumented immigrants. 60
attorneys from 14 law firms have said they will face the government
head-on -- challenging the legality of Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) raids. The list of law firms includes Dechert LLP, Wilson Sonsini, Skadden-Arps and Orrick, Herrington & Suttcliffe.
The legal plan called for the lawyers to vigorously defend the
constitutional rights of all people, including undocumented immigrants.
Andrew Thomases said Dechert LLP, which represents Yahoo, and the other
law firms would represent undocumented immigrants for free.

Mark Silverman is with the Immigrant Legal
Resource Center in San Francisco, which is working with the attorneys
involved in the task force. "We are not trying to make ICE's job
difficult," Silverman said. "We just want ICE to do their job by
conforming to the U.S. Constitution."

  • Similarly, the 'Just News' blog has shared a New York Times article about a new plan by the Manhattan District Attorney's office to create an 'Immigrant Affairs' program to "encourage immigrants who are crime victims or are aware of illegal
    activity to come forward without fear of arrest and deportation."
  • Latina Lista has blogged about a toy drive underway to provide some holiday cheer for the children living in the ICE detention center in Hutto, Texas. Students from the University of Texas Immigration Law clinic have organized the drive and will be delivering the toys this coming Saturday.

"We are hearing from three people affected by the ban:

  • Augustin Dussault, a Canadian barred from entering the country even to visit his husband in the hospital;
  • Lillian Mworeko, a Ugandan AIDS professional who cannot visit the US for training or conferences; and
  • Bernard Cazaban, a Frenchman who was kicked out of the US 15 years ago on the eve of getting his green card.

We will also be joined by Susannah Sirkin from Physicians for Human Rights, as well as our own Victoria Neilson.

  • The first thing that strikes you about the
    press conference is that we had to hold it by telephone, since the
    people most affected by the ban can’t be here, by definition.
    Susannah points out what a waste it is for the US to lead in global
    AIDS funding while continuing to perpetuate AIDS stigma. 'There is
    absolutely no public health interest served by imposing travel
    restrictions on people with HIV/AIDS . . . It cannot be transmitted by
    casual contact.' What year is it that we have to continue to point that
    out? These policies fuel the stigma that discourages people from
    seeking treatment . . .'
  • David and Augustin, the American/Canadian couple who now live in
    Canada because they cannot live together in the U.S., make the point
    that people from countries with national health insurance cannot by
    definition prove they have 'private health insurance,' which the new
    regs require."
Dec 6 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."


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
  • 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

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 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 UN Declares Tasering a Form of Torture
  • Following a series of related deaths in North America, Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake has advised us that the United Nations has declared tasering to be a form of torture.  Portugal has been urged to forgo use of its newly purchased tasers as the intense pain they inflict is in violation of the UN Convention Against Torture. We hope that this statement will encourage universal reconsideration of taser usage.
  • The 'Just News' blog has cited a New York Times article reporting that the Bush administration has elected to revise its controversial 'no-match' policy on verifying the identities of American workers.  Given that the new rules were suspended indefinitely by a federal judge in San Francisco, for their potential undue harm to citizens whose records are incorrect in the social security database, Bush and Homeland Security are working to issue new standards that will not provoke legal challenges.  In the meantime, Homeland Security has begun training firemen to search for 'hostility to Americans' while fighting housefires.
  • With respect to last week's celebration of Thanksgiving, a number of
    blogs questioned the historical construction of the holiday. Latina Lista
    notes that the Spanish had a feast with the Timucua Indians in Florida
    fifty-six years before the arrival of the Pilgrims.  The Native American Netroots blog argues that the holiday has more to do with violence than cooperation.  And Rachel's Tavern posted a piece on alternative ways of teaching children about the Thanksgiving story.
  • Finally, the ImmigrationProf blog tells the story of an undocumented man who came to the aid of a 9-year-old boy who was the lone survivor of a car accident in the Arizona desert on Thanksgiving day.  According to a local sheriff:

"He stayed with [the boy], told him that everything was going
to be all right." As temperatures dropped, he gave him a
jacket, built a bonfire and stayed with him until about 8 a.m. Friday,
when a group of hunters passed by and called authorities.

After the boy was rescued by local authorities, 26-year-old Jesus Manuel Cordova was taken into custody by the border patrol.  In a related article, the same blog notes that Hispanic journalists are urging the media to stop talking about immigration in a way that dehumanizes undocumented immigrants.  As Cordova's story shows, undocumented immigrants cannot simply be written off as criminals. Rather, they are also compassionate, generous and helpful people who are willing to make sacrifices in order to protect those in need.

Nov 26 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 '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.


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 Crackdown Policies Are Destroying Immigrant Families and Solidarity in Our Communities
  • We've previously mentioned Oklahoma's new law which targets American citizens for 'transporting' undocumented immigrants. BlogHer reported Saturday on further implications of the law, arguing that assisting a woman in labor or the victims of a car accident in getting to the emergency room could be grounds for a felony charge. While it is highly likely that the constitutionality of this legislation will be challenged, it definitely lies contrary to the core value of community, that we are all responsible for each other's well-being and that our successes and fates are linked.
  • The 'Just News' blog posted about an LA Times article stating the US has reached an all-time high in the number of immigration detainees it is holding in prison: more than 30,000 people, over 4,000 in the state of California alone.  A similar statistic reveals that "the immigration agency's budget for bed space skyrocketed to $945 million last year, up from $641 million in fiscal year 2005." Although the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) denies that overcrowding is a problem, immigrants and advocates argue that facilities and short-staffed and detainees are not given proper medical care.
  • Both Citizen Orange and Latina Lista have told the story of a man who spent five months in a detention facility only to see his health deteriorate to a critical point.  Ricardo Gomez Garcia and his wife Juana left their four children in Guatemala years ago in order to come to the US in search of work to support their family.  While here Juana gave birth to their youngest child, who at the age of four has been diagnosed with autism and requires specialized care. Earlier this year, Gomez was arrested in the New Bedford immigration raid and held in an immigration prison before being deported.  Sick but desperate with worry over his wife and young son, Gomez managed to return to New Bedford, only to die later that night.  Juana, his wife of twenty years, is now seeking community support in order send Gomez's body back to Guatemala.
  • Finally, the Alas! and reappropriate blogs have written about US Border Patrol Agent Ephraim Cruz, who is being fired from his post for talking and complaining openly about inhumane conditions in the immigrant detention center where he worked.  Cruz has said that he observed countless "…violations of policies, training, state laws, fire and health codes,
    and illegal aliens’ civil and human rights within [the Douglas,
    Arizona] 'processing facility'." The blogs are also offering readers the chance to contribute to Cruz's search for affordable legal representation so he can defend himself against unfair termination of employment.
Nov 6 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 ICE Detention Center Employed Undocumented Immigrants
Nov 2 2007
Blog Post Checks and Balances Preserve Our Democracy
  • Both Prometheus 6 and the ACS Blog have highlighted a recent Washington Post article that speaks of the president's intention to use executive orders as much as possible to single-handedly make government policy because he feels that the Democrat-controlled Congress is not getting anything done.  Bush is disappointed by the delay in confirming Mukasey as head of the Department of Justice, a nomination stalled by differing ideas as to what qualifies as the human right to freedom from torture.
  • In Oklahoma, a federal judge has declined the request of a coalition of immigrants rights advocates to block the enforcement of a new state immigration law.  According to Immigration News Daily, the law "will bar illegal immigrants from obtaining jobs or state assistance and make it a felony to harbor or transport illegal aliens." Once convicted of a felony, Americans lose their right to vote, making this issue just as much about preserving the voice of democracy as about immigration per se.

"Children experienced the emotional trauma of their parents' sudden
absence, often personalizing the cause of the separation and feeling
abandoned or fearful that their parents could be abruptly taken away
from them.

Mental health experts noted that children's and parents' fears and
the events surrounding the raids led to depression, post-traumatic
stress disorder, separation anxiety, and suicidal thoughts in children."

In Grand Island, Nebraska, 17% of children affected experienced the loss of both parents in the raids.  Author Treviño says of ICE's lack of a standard to protect children from abandonment, "It's a fine line between being sensitive to children's well-being and
enforcing the law. But that is what marks the difference between great
nations and...countries that let fear and intimidation rule
instead of compassion and common sense."

  • The HealthLawProf Blog has cited a new report by the Economic Policy Institute which concluded that "the number of Americans lacking health insurance rose by nearly 8.6 million to 47 million from 2000 to 2006."  The study goes on to analyze the demographics and causes of the changes, finding widespread losses in coverage due to employers no longer offering insurance to their workers.  It's time we start taking these numbers seriously and work to fix our broken health care system with consideration for how best to benefit the community as a whole.
  • In today's hopeful news, Rachel's Tavern notes that Genarlow Wilson has told reporters after his release from prison that he wants to go to college to study sociology. Wilson had been given a 10-year sentence for committing a consensual sex act with a fellow teenager; his recent release was due to a redemptive Georgia Supreme Court ruling that decided his sentence was cruel and unusual punishment.  A free man, Wilson has received several offers to fund his college education, and he holds the conviction that "This situation, what I had to endure, has a lot to do with sociology.”
Nov 1 2007
Blog Post Human Rights and New Media in America
  • The ImmigrationProf Blog has written a post featuring the new Guantánamo Testimonials Project,
    a project of
    the University of California, Davis Center for the Study of Human
    Rights in the Americas (CSHRA). The goal of the project is to collect and make available testimonies
    of detainees' experiences at Guantánamo and includes statements by "prisoners, FBI Agents, interrogators, prosecution
    and defense lawyers, military physicians, a chaplain, a marine, a CIA
    asset, and others. "
  • Yesterday saw an article in The Huffington Post entitled Dangerous Toys are a Human Rights Issue.  Author David Nassar discusses the connections between this controversial issue and a lack of protections for workers:

"These dangerous toys aren't putting just our children at risk:
they also endanger the lives of the factory workers who make them.

same forces that make manufacturers cut corners on paint and plastic
also make manufacturers cut corners on labor costs. Working long hours
in appalling conditions - often with toxic chemicals and no protection
- laborers in China bear the true cost of America's low price toys.
Stores like Wal-Mart demand bottom dollar costs, but the costs come
back not only to us and our children, but to entire communities
overseas. Today's news stories regarding children making clothing for
the Gap, Inc. in India's factories are another harsh reminder of that

Last week's Congressional hearing on toy safety and working
conditions in China's factories highlighted the fact that without
ensuring the safety of employees in supplier factories, it is
challenging at best to ensure the safety of the products that come out
of those factories and ultimately the safety of our children."

  • Regarding education policy, the last few days have seen discussion of high schools functioning as 'dropout factories' (with one in ten American high schools seeing less than 60% of their original class finishing school) and the importance of the federal Head Start preschool program in increasing graduation rates (while also cutting crime rates). Others have discussed new legislation to help control college costs for American youth, while high-achieving immigrants in favor of the DREAM Act have expressed worries such as "I always worried that immigration (officers) would come if I didn't excel." It is important to continue these dialogues concerning the human rights issues of where we as a nation can do better in ensuring that our young people have the opportunities they need to achieve their full potential.
  • Finally, the DMI Blog has posted on an innovative new media project of the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, their just-launched website TheMiddleClass.org.
    The website is meant to function as "a dynamic site that will update
    throughout the year as members of
    Congress vote on legislation of significance to the current and
    aspiring middle class." Speaking of its democratizing role of holding politicians accountable to the voice of their constituents by reporting on legislation in an interactive fashion, the site

"For each bill, we begin with a brief description of the legislation,
information about its status in the legislative process, and an
analysis of its impact on the middle class. But themiddleclass.org also
provides more extensive context: you’ll find informative online video
about each piece of legislation, quotations from experts speaking out
on the issue, and hard-hitting numbers from DMI’s Injustice Index. We
look beyond the bill to what more could be done to address the issues
as stake. And we provide links to further resources.

We also provide information on how each member of the U.S. Senate
and House of Representatives voted on the legislation. You can look at
how every member voted on a particular bill, or how your own
representative voted. You can search for legislation by issue area or
keyword and look for legislators by name, state, or entering your zip
code. And you can check out the grades we assign each member of
Congress based on their votes."

Oct 30 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
  • 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 Race and Human Rights in Pop Culture
  • There have been a series of posts about costume options as Halloween approaches -- according to the Angry Asian Man, you can even be your favorite Asian stereotype, from a 'sexy giesha' to 'oriental delight.'  The (misspelled?) geisha costume is even described as 'accented with spicy oriental designs and a fancyfan.' While respect for cultural diversity is critical in ensuring the strength of our communities, the advertising around these costumes is based in prolonging not only an image of the submissive female but feeding unfavorable generalizations based on race.
  • The Consumerist has advised us that popular grocery store chain Trader Joe's has decided to cave to consumer pressure and ban all single-ingredient products originating in China. The post states, "Though the announcement - the first of its kind among major retailers -
    will not make consumers any safer, it is the most pernicious indication
    yet of consumers skepticism towards foreign goods."
  • There are two movies coming out of note to the human rights community, both to do with the cultureand techniques of detention after 9/11.  There has been a lot of buzz about Rendition, a film concerning the American practice of extraordinary rendition, or removing terrorism suspects to foreign soil to allow for 'enhanced interrogation' practices or torture.  On the humorous end, spring 2008 will see the release of Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.
  • Television network CW has just started a new series called Aliens in America, which tells the story of a Wisconsin family that decides to host an exchange student from Pakistan. The Louisville Courier-Journal says of the new series:

"Aliens in America" isn't preachy, and there are no overt references in
the opener to bigotry and discrimination, but the subtle undertows are
always present. The show is a fresh and new approach to
touchy topics, but it's done more for laughs than sermonizing....The comedy isn't really about Raja at all. It's about us. "Aliens in America" uses a funhouse mirror
to reflect the way too many of us see someone who doesn't look, dress
or pray like us, and it does it in an amusing and maybe even thoughtful

  • Finally, Racialicious is helping to sponsor a cool new media initiative known as 10Questions, in which people are encouraged to create, submit and vote on video questions, ten of which will be presented to the presidential candidates for their responses.  Also in the veign of playing  out racial stereotypes, a recent video was posted with the question "Should we ban American Indian Mascots?" Feel free to go throw in your two cents with a comment!
Oct 23 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 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 Columbus Day Protests Highlight Human Rights in America

"What if America launched a new New Deal and no one noticed? And what
if, instead of lifting the unemployed out of poverty, this
multibillion-dollar project steadily drove poor communities further and
further out of the American mainstream?

That's how America should think about its growing prison system,
some leading social scientists are saying, in research that suggests
prisons have a far deeper impact on the nation than simply punishing

These posts are definitely worth a read with attention to the way that our prison system values retribution over redemption, the idea that those who falter in their efforts or break societal rules warrant the chance for reconciliation, rehabilitation, and a new start.

  • Tennessee Guerilla Women posted a story about 2600 members of the Minnesota National Guard who just returned from 22 months of duty in Iraq to find that they were deployed one day short of the 730 days required to receive the college education benefits outlined in the GI Bill.  To knowingly deny veterans the chance to go to college is a disrespectful statement that in spite of government promises and their personal sacrifices, the soldiers must 'go it alone' and support themselves through school.  This myth that we should all 'pull ourselves up by the bootstraps' is contrary to our nation's long-held belief that our success as a country depends on the success of all, that we should be striving for the common good.  The policies of our government should be based in community values rather than punitive individualism.
  • An interesting post on the Immigrants in USA Blog discusses the way lack of transportation negatively affects immigrant populations.  Based on an article published in Alabama's News Courier about a lecture by sociology professor Stephanie Bohon, the piece discusses how transportation barriers "prevent [immigrants] from learning the language, learning about job or housing opportunities and having access to services."  If undocumented individuals are unable to obtain drivers licenses and there is no public transport available in their area, they are left dependent on expensive taxi fares and may choose to forgo outings such as taking their child for necessary vaccinations.
  • After recent crackdowns on the mobility of immigrant workers, a shortage of farm workers has left farmers threatening to leave fruit and vegetable rotting in their fields.  As a result, the Bush administration is quietly working to rewrite federal regulations on foreign labor.  This is a perfect example of how reactionary, anti-immigrant policies have not only failed to fix the problem but are making things worse for the American economy.  Immigration replenishes our country's workers, communities, and traditions.  Immigrants are central to our productivity and success, and help ensure that the US continues to be a land of wealth and opportunity.
  • Finally, Future Majority alerts us to a new campaign to get young Latinos to vote called Vota Por Tu Futuro (Vote 4 UR Future). A media campaign based on PSAs and in-show
    ads, Vote 4 UR Future is a partnership between the youth-focused TV channel Telemundo, mun2 and a coalition of political organizations such as Rock the Vote, the US
    Hispanic Leadership Institute, and Democracia USA. Thie campaign is a great step towards ensuring that the growing Latino population has a voice in electing our public officials.
Oct 9 2007
Blog Post On Being a Kid: Health Care, Photo-Ops, and Video Games
  • Latina Lista just wrote a piece entitled "It's Been a Bad Week to Be an Immigrant Child in the U.S.A.," citing the recent upsets of the SCHIP veto plus the shelving of the DREAM Act and the Immigrant Children's Health Improvement Act (ICHIA).  Additionally, Irving, Texas has seen about 90 immigrant children pulled out of school in the past month, while the nearby city council of Farmers Branch has demanded that the school district provide it with the names and addresses of all enrolled students, a move of which many are suspicious.  The post then ties all these are happenings together with a great use of the opportunity frame: "As a country, we can't afford to abandon any child. Why? Because there's potential in their destiny, and that's worth caring about every time."  Every child deserves the chance to succeed, and this requires that the child have a basic level of good health, education, and security.
  • Unfortunately, the examples of the neglect of a child's potential don't stop there.  A recent study by the University of Maryland reveals that families caring for foster children receive "far less than what middle-income families spend to raise their children."  At its core, foster care is a progressive societal mechanism meant to provide greater opportunities for children that are at risk. With 500,000 children in foster care nationwide, a lack of financial resources for foster families will certainly curtail the options of many.
  • Back to the SCHIP debate, another video has been released, this one by the Campaign for America's Future. Posted on YouTube as "Kids Warn Conservatives: No More Photo Ops," the footage urges Congress to override Bush's veto by questioning the use of children as a media tactic without regard to their well-being.  Looking at the comments on the YouTube page, it seems like many are in favor of the attack ad format of the video, which is framed as a cute and cheeky threat to politicians. Others question the heavy-handed use of the actor in the video, wondering how this use of a child in public media is different from that of politicians.  What do we think about this?  Is the video effective way to frame the argument for increased health coverage?
  • Briefly, a middle school in South Carolina has been in the news for its
    assignment to students to re-imagine plantation life, to the point of
    rationalizing and romanticizing slavery.  Too Sense's post "They Were Just Trying To Show Both Sides Of The Debate" is entertaining and insightful, as author dnA expresses concern for the black kids attending the school.
  • Iced_4
    On the other side of the educational spectrum, we're eagerly awaiting next month's release of ICED! I Can End Deportation, a downloadable video game being developed by Breakthrough, an organization that works in the US and India to build human rights culture through new media.  After presenting the project at the Games for Change conference, Breakthrough has received a surprising amount of mainstream media attention. Executive Director Mallika Dutt was even interviewed on Fox News about the game, whose name is a play on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICED! has been designed as a fun educational tool to illustrate the human rights violations inherent in immigration policies introduced in 1996.  Players get to role-play the experiences of five characters, each based on true case studies such as a student on a temporary visa or a permanent resident, and they make a series of moral choices which may bring them into contact with immigration agents seeking to arrest them.  There are also periodic myth/fact questions built into the game about immigration laws, which if answered correctly affect a player's score, level of risk, freedom, or health. If a player makes the wrong decisions they land in a detention center, where they endure inhumane living conditions and separation from their families as they await a random outcome.  Like the well-known Darfur is Dying, the detention process is anything but a game for thousands of people. But here's hoping that ICED! will be able to increase public awareness of deportation as a critical human rights issue, such that Americans begin to push harder for fair and equitable reform.
Oct 5 2007
Blog Post On Immigration and SCHIP
  • Immigration Equality notified us of today's hearing in the House Immigration Subcommittee on health conditions in ICE detention centers.  Following recent deaths in the centers, the organization spoke and asked questions about the treatment of HIV-positive and LGBT detainees, who are often held without medicine and other necessary support by prison corporations who have no accountability for the lives of the detained.
  • An Arizona Appeals Court has ruled that it is legal to hold immigrants without bail.  At issue was Arizona's new Proposition 100, which mandates that undocumented immigrants charged with felonies are not eligible for bail.  Despite the contention that the measure denies the constitutional right of due process to those immigrants being held, the court upheld the legislation, arguing that its intention is to ensure that defendents are present for their trials.
  • Immigration raids are intensifying to the point that 1327 people were apprehended in Los Angeles in the past two weeks.  Although the ICE agents were on a hunt for immigrants with criminal records or those who had been previously deported, 146 of the arrests were "collateral" in that people were encountered in the process of the raids who were not able to prove their legal status.
  • CNN has just reported on a sailor in the US Navy whose wife is facing deportation proceedings.  Eduardo Gonzalez's story is a wrenching one, another narrative of families torn apart, even families who have made significant personal sacrifices for the good of our country. Latina Lista has written a great post questioning the "experts" that CNN has interviewed in their article.  Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, is quoted by CNN as saying:

"What you're talking about is amnesty for illegal immigrants who have a relative in the armed forces, and that's just outrageous," he said. "What we're talking about here is letting lawbreakers get away with their actions just because they have a relative in the military. ... There's no justification for that kind of policy."

Author Treviño complains that the CNN article is "a perfect vehicle for Krikorian to deliver to a wide audience his brand of immigration reform," continuing,

For CNN and other news media, there must be more vigilance exercised in using and quoting sources when writing articles about featuring immigration issues. The use of Krikorian as an "expert" and others like him, just because they may be associated with an organization with the term "immigration" in its title, misleads the public into thinking that what is being presented are factual statements devoid of influence.

Unfortunately, the average public who are busy with their lives and don't take the time to really analyze what they read or hear, absorb the information — and repeat it. The overriding fallacy that exists among people is that if it is printed or broadcast, a story must be true.

This is a great illustration of the need to examine mainstream (and all) media for bias and the frames at use. Because many Americans don't consume the news media with a critical lens, it is crucial that we continue to counter Krikorian's depiction of disrespect for an ever-changing body of law, along with unfair access to what he views as limited resources, essentially the privileges that many Americans have been granted.  We can change the terms of the immigration debate to reflect the human right to mobility, migration in order to maximize our potential, be it geographic or related to social class.  We're all familiar with the 'rags to riches' paradigm; it's one our most prized American narratives.  Like Gonzalez and his wife and son, many immigrants have risked coming to US because they hope to succeed.

And, finally, there has been a ton of impassioned discussion about President Bush's veto of the SCHIP legislation on funding for children's health care.  Here's a selection:

Oct 4 2007
Blog Post The Revolution Is Digitized
  • Big news today concerns an incident at a high school in California in which a young black woman had her wrist broken by a school security guard for failing to clean up a piece of her birthday cake that fell on the floor.  16-year-old Pleajhai Mervin was subsequently arrested, along with her mother who complained (and was fired from her school district job) and the fellow students who used their cellphones to videotape the struggle. There are many things wrong with this footage, from excessive violence in our schools to unjust racial profiling. With respect to the way in which this story has been disseminated in the media, the blogger Oh No a WoC PhD notes that "YouTube may be one way in which the revolution is in fact digitized."  With increased access to technology comes more power to force reporting and increase public awareness to fight social injustice.
  • Also related to new media, Racialicious alerts us to a lawsuit pending against Virgin Mobile over the unauthorized use of a photograph posted on Flickr.  A friend of Asian-American Alison Chang posted photos of his teenaged group of friends, one of which then appeared on billboards in Australia, taken out of context in a way that advertises a "perpetual foreigner" stereotype.
  • A recent report by the Justice Policy Institute entitled "Employment, Wages and Public Safety" reveals that increased employment and wages are associated with positive public safety outcomes. In short, increasing security via economic well-being decreases the crime rate.  This report is one in a series that link public safety with various types of opportunities, from education to housing and drug treatment.
  • Finally, the last few weeks have seen a number of racially-motivated incidents in New York, from a noose hung in a police station on Long Island to swastikas painted on synangogues during the Jewish holidays in Brookyln.  The continued use of these symbols to provoke fear and submission among specific ethnic or cultural groups is devastating.  At such times it's helpful to refer to the ethical framework of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) to illustrate where we have gone wrong. Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, Article I proclaims:

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

Article II goes on:

"Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."

At their core, hate crimes violate the equality we value, a concept that is held globally as one of our most basic human rights. Unfortunately, many Americans do not consider human rights to be relevant to their day-to-day reality.  We tend to think of human rights as an issue in Latin America or in Myanmar, not at home.  What the above incidents make clear, though, is that defending human rights is just as important and necessary a task within the US -- and not just in New Orleans or in Jena, Louisiana, but in everyone's backyard.

Oct 2 2007
Blog Post Happenings in Media
  • The Health Care Blog has run a series of posts about the Health 2.0 conference on September 20 in San Francisco.  Meant to empower consumers to take charge of their health decisions through new technology, the convention focused on the capacity of tools such as social networking sites, blogs, specialized medical search engines and video sharing sites to transform access to health care.
  • Racialicious and New Demographic have released the newest podcast in their 'Addicted to Race' series, themed on the 'New Yellow Peril.' The podcast discusses the recent increase in anti-Chinese narratives in the news.  Comments on the podcast are welcome.

"Between the lead paint toy scare, the tainted pet food scare, and the general rise of China’s economic and military might, all the anti-Chinese sentiments we’ve been hearing lately sound awfully similar to the anti-Chinese sentiments at the turn of the century."

  • Another great usage of Web 2.0 is the ImmigrationProf Blog's 'Immigrant of the Day' series.  In a corner of blogosphere focused largely on individual episodes of violence and legislative battles, it is refreshing to get a regular dosage of success stories which help remind us that people immigrate to the US in search of increased opportunity.  Recent features include Madeleine May Kunin, the Swiss-born ambassador and former governor of Vermont, and comedic musician William Hung from Hong Kong.
  • The Huffington Post highlights a MediaWeek article which reports that most political candidates are slow to adopt paid advertising on the internet, choosing instead to stick to traditional media such as television.  Despite a willingness to engage in social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace and a well-defined focus on online fundraising, "most candidates were planning to spend roughly one percent of their total media budgets online, versus the seven percent that most mainstream brands typically spend on the medium."
  • Finally, our video 'What Do Human Rights Mean to You?' has been posted on the From Poverty of Opportunity Campaign blog presented by the Heartland Alliance for Human Rights and Human Needs.  The Campaign works to reduce poverty in the state of Illinois by using the framework of human rights to organize communities, advocates and policy leaders into creating social change.
Sep 27 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 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 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 "Sanctuary Cities"
  • Over at the LA Times, Ron Brownstein is talking about "Sanctuary Cities" and our immigration policy.  It's only in the last two weeks that I've begun to notice the term "Sanctuary Cities" creaping into the public discourse.  The term seems to be the anti-immigrant movements' frame of choice, designed to not only focus on actual immigration laws, but to act as a club for Republican Presidential candidates to beat up Democrats.  The way it is being deployed by folks like Romney and Tancredo, Sanctuary Cities = Progressive Urban Centers = Democrats.  Am I reading too much into that?
  • Progressive Blogger Digby is moonlighting over at The Big Con and opens her new gig with a must read piece about Race and the response to Katrina 2 years ago.
  • If you haven't read it yet, Time Magazine recently profiled some high school students who used FaceBook and MySpace to organize on behalf of their friends, whose parents are undocumented workers facing deportation.
  • The American Immigration Law Foundation has an interesting piece about local ordinances seeking to curb immigration in the face of the Federal Government's failure to pass a comprehensive reform bill:

    Regardless of why anti-immigrant ordinances are metastasizing across
    the country, the ordinances themselves, and the arguments of their
    supporters, are based on false assumptions. Take Culpeper County, where
    champions of the resolution complain that new immigrants aren't
    "assimilating." Missing from this complaint is an understanding of the
    fact that "assimilation" (or integration) occurs over the course of
    generations, not within a few years of a person's life. While most of
    our immigrant forefathers probably achieved at least a basic mastery of
    English after several years in the United States, like Latino
    immigrants now, they certainly did not become linguistically or
    culturally "American" in any meaningful sense within their lifetimes.
    And neither will today's immigrants. But their children and
    grandchildren will, just as we did.

Aug 22 2007
Blog Post Alien Absconders and the Downside of Diversity

Two thoroughly ridiculous, yet important, pieces to check out today:

  • The New York Times reports on plans by President Bush to crack-down on undocumented workers.  It's yet another consequence of the failure to pass comprehensive reform - we're now stuck with piecemeal "solutions" that often reflect the desire to punish immigrants without offering any real, workable solutions to our broken immigration system.  On the language tip, I hope that the Right makes a habit of switching from their typical "illegal alien" to John Cornyn's neologism: "alien absconder," which sound both non threatening and highly ridiculous.  I'd laugh if the consequences weren't so high for so many.
  • In another story thoroughly deserving of some serious pushback from progressives, Robert Putnam, famous for his description of "the decline of social capital" in his book Bowling Alone, has released the results of a new study, and the findings are likely to result in an unfortunate PR boon to conservatives. In the study, Putnam describes what he calls "the downside of diversity."  Shorter version: mixed race communities have lower social capital.  People vote less, trust their neighbors less, etc.  The conservative response will be simple: "We told you so." (Putnam is already getting accolades from the likes of David Duke).

    Here's the thing - the findings aren't quite so easily interpreted.  Here's why:

    • Even if true, diversity is still offers it's own positive values (which Putnam does mention).  The findings only underscore the need for us to work harder to overcome our prejudices and erase the negative aspects that are in fact to be expected in a country still struggling with race.
    • The findings  essentially boil down to this - stable neigborhoods (dominated by one race/ethnic group) have tighter social bonds while neighborhoods in transition don't.  That's not surprising, and when the neighborhoods stabilize again (one hopes in a diverse mix), social capital will again rise.
    • Putnam is only sampling Americans, who have a long history of racial tension.  These findings may not hold in other places with less divisive racial history.
Aug 10 2007
Blog Post NY Times Magazine Outlines New Playing Field for Immigration Battle

The New York Times Magazine cover story this week outlines what's to come in the battle for immigrant's rights now that comprehensive reform has failed in Congress and Democratic leaders are predicting at least 6 years before the fight is taken up again at the national legislative level.

It’s in places like Carpentersville where we may be witnessing the
opening of a deep and profound fissure in the American landscape. Over
the past two years, more than 40 local and state governments have
passed ordinances and legislation aimed at making life miserable for
illegal immigrants in the hope that they’ll have no choice but to
return to their countries of origin. Deportation by attrition, some
call it. One of the first ordinances was passed in Hazleton, Pa., and
was meant to bar illegal immigrants from living and working there. It
served as a model for many local officials across the country,
including Sigwalt and Humpfer. On July 26, a federal judge struck down
Hazleton’s ordinance, but the town’s mayor, Lou Barletta, plans to
appeal the decision. “This battle is far from over,” he declared the
day of the ruling. States and towns have looked for other ways to crack
down on illegal immigrants. Last month, Prince William County in
northern Virginia passed a resolution trying to curb illegal
immigrants’ access to public services. Waukegan, another Illinois
town, has voted to apply for a federal program that would allow its
police to begin deportation charges against those who are here
illegally. A week after the Senate failed to pass comprehensive immigration
reform, Arizona’s governor, Janet Napolitano, signed into law an act
penalizing businesses that knowingly hire undocumented immigrants. “One
of the practical effects of this failure” to enact national immigration
reform, Napolitano wrote to the Congressional leadership, “is that
Arizona, and states across the nation, must now continue to address
this escalating problem on their own.” Admittedly, the
constitutionality of many of these new laws is still in question, and
some of the state bills and local ordinances simply duplicate what’s
already in force nationally. But with Congress’s inability to reach an
agreement on an immigration bill, the debate will continue among local
officials like those in Carpentersville, where the wrangling often
seems less about illegal immigration than it does about whether new
immigrants are assimilating quickly enough, if at all. In
Carpentersville, the rancor has turned neighbor against neighbor. Once
you scrape away the acid rhetoric, though, there’s much people actually
agree on — but given the ugliness of the taunts and assertions, it’s
unlikely that will ever emerge.

This is now a local fight - with battles being fought at the city and county level.  We've already won some battles on this front, but there will be more.  This is now a street fight. It's unfortunate because it means there is less of a possibility to actually solve the problems we face and safeguard the human rights of millions of Americans and undocumented workers.  But it's also an opportunity to build our grassroots network and get stronger for when the fight goes national once again.

Aug 6 2007
Blog Post 1.6 million immigrants separated from families: Human Rights Watch new report
  • Human
    Rights Watch
    recently published a new report, “Forced Apart: Families Separated
    and Immigrants Harmed by United States Deportation Policy”
    ImmigrationProf Blog
    !). The report
    tracks immigrants’ deportation information between 1997 and 2005 (the most
    recent year for which data are publicly available). Based on the 2000 US Census, Human Rights Watch estimates that
    approximately 1.6 million spouses and children living in the US were separated
    from their families because of these deportations. The report calls on the government for
    comprehensive immigration reform as a solution to prevent these deportations and the negative impact they have on the families of immigrants. Everyone deserves basic
    human rights, and this report highlights many of the ways in which the rights of undocumented workers
    have been violated
  • Latina
    reports on how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision to pull the
    entire Defense Authorization Bill will have a negative impact on the children of immigrants.  As we reported earlier, elements of the DREAM Act had been added to the DoD Reauthorization as an amendment, and these provisions will no longer get an up or down vote in the Senate.  It is another defeat for even a small attempt at achieving humane immigration reforms.
  • AMERICABlog reports on Bush’s refusal to renew SCHIP (State
    Children’s Health Insurance Program), because “expanding the program would
    enlarge the role of the federal government at the expense of private
    insurance.”  This viewpoint reflects
    many flaws in the current administration's thinking about government: whatever the conservative base thinks, the role of government in health care
    access is not inherently negative. In
    fact, making the government more accountable for the problems in health care
    access and discrepancies in quality would improve the dismal state of health care in America.  More efficient and accountable government involvement can be represent a positive step forward for the millions of children who lack health care, particularly in a program as successful and beloved as SCHIP.

For your entertainment, two videos on immigration:

  • As posted by Immigration Equality,
    Bill O’Reilly mouths off to Immigration Equality Executive Director Rachel Tiven
    on the issues of immigration and opportunity. Tiven argues for the right for members of gay and lesbian couples to
    sponsor their partners who are citizens of foreign countries, just as straight couples do.
  • Struggle Within posts a music video as a response to the
    Supreme Court schools’ decision, explaining the inequalities people of color
    face when the government hinders their educational rights.
Jul 19 2007
Blog Post How will a new progressive blog fare in the big issues?


  • Huffington Post offers side-by-side assessments of the U.S.
    Presidential Candidates’ health plans in easy-to-read charts.
  • As a new progressive blog opens its doors, Jack and Jill
    ask some pertinent questions about race and religion in the
    blogosphere, and how blogggers who cover these topics can become more
    influential online and even make up for the shortcomings of "the Old
    Left.” Quoting eteraz’s Open Left Diary,
    Jack and Jill posts “The ultimate question is: race-conscious or race-blind;
    religion-conscious or religion-blind (referring only to those communities whose
    religion is already politicized); focus on under-represented people via
    minority-rights or economic-rights.”
  • To add to our previous posting on opinions following the Supreme Court schools decision, here are two more op-eds. NNPA Columnist George Curry reflects on the gains (or lack thereof) this country has made in desegregation since the 1954 Brown decision. Curry explains that this Supreme Court decision is just the latest in reversals of desegregation efforts.
  • Ron Walters takes Curry’s points one step farther in this Louisiana Weekly column, stating that the country has now returned to the
    “Separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896.

Jul 12 2007
Blog Post Keep Central Brooklyn Health Clinics Open

Readers will remember that The Opportunity Agenda did a lot of work around hospital closures in New York City this past winter.  It's important to remember, though, that it's not only hospitals that are closing; it's also community clinics that many low income communities and communities of color rely on for medical care.  Recently, the Charles Drew Family Clinic in central Brooklyn closed down.  In this video, local residents explain how this closure will affect the community in their own words:

And remember to check out our Google Map Mashup showing how hospital closures in NYC over the last 30 years have disproportionately affected low income communities and communities of color:


Jul 12 2007
Blog Post Daily Blog Round-Up 6/18/07
  • Firedoglake blogs about the Employee
    Free Choice
    , a bill which aims to restore workers’ freedom in choosing a union,
    especially establishing stronger penalties for violation of employee rights
    when workers seek to form a union. FDL
    explains that while 60 million workers say they would join a union if they
    could, but many people are intimidated by corporate giants. By stating that this act is a “workplace
    rights issue,” a “human rights issue,” and a “civil rights issue,” FDL frames
    the issue in universal terms that appeals to the broad advantages for
    everyone. The benefits in unionizing
    workers appear in many forms. With union
    workers receiving an average wage 30% higher than the nonunion worker, creating
    greater access to membership will help lessen the growing wage
    inequalities.  Here's hoping this rights-based frame can help push the issue forward.
  • Feminist blogs comments on a piece on Salon.com which compares the rate of obesity in black women to that of white women
    (78% of black women are considered overweight), and essentially opts to blame
    black women for preferring to keep the extra pounds and purposely
    eschew advice to lose weight. Feminist blogs skewers the Salon piece, nothing the complex causes of obesity rates among black women. In 2000, low-income African-American families were 7.3 times
    more likely than poor white families to live in high poverty neighborhoods with
    limited resources
    . In addition, black
    women are more likely to lack adequate health care access. While 11.2% of white Americans were uninsured
    at any point in 2005, 19.5% of African Americans were uninsured and more likely
    to be dependent on public sources of health insurance.
    It's disappointing to see Salon reduce this alarming trend to individual behaviors.  This is not a question of individual responsibility.  It is one aspect of a larger social issue - which requires increased public awareness and collective action to reach a solution.
  • Racial_composition_2Prometheus 6 reports on the alarming disparities in the
    racial composition of the 30% of students who fail to graduate high school. In a recent Education Week report, only half of
    American Indians and black students graduated, compared with more than
    three-quarters of non-Hispanic whites and Asians. The reports uses information from the 2003-04
    school year to estimates the number of graduates in 2007.  Their analysis shows
    that while minority students make up less than half of the total public school
    population, they make up more than half of the nongraduates. In addition, Hispanic youth are four times
    more likely to drop out than are white youth
    (pdf), creating an education gap that limits opportunities for young people of color and widens other disparities - in income and health coverage, for example - later in life.
  • PrisonsSentencing Law and Policy reports on a new article from
    stateline.org about how increasing prices to maintain the overcrowded prisons
    are leading lawmakers to provide different alternatives to prisons. Some of these ideas include an expanded
    program to help prevent offenders from being incarcerated again (like diverting funds from prisons to rehabilitation centers), earlier release
    dates for low-risk inmates and sentencing revisions. State spending on prisons continues to
    increase at an alarming rate to account for the high number of incarcerated
    persons. Between 2004 and 2005, not only
    did the number of incarcerated persons increase, but so did the rate (491 per
    100,000 people in 2005 versus 486 per 100,000 in 2004
Jun 18 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

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 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 Human Rights in State Courts

Human rights are a crucial part of the United States’ legal and cultural foundation. The founders of our country declared that we are all created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights.

And the United States helped to craft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international human rights system after World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust.

Over the last decade, more and more legal advocates have begun to incorporate human rights arguments into their work, and the U.S. Supreme Court, in particular, has increasingly cited human rights law as persuasive authority for important constitutional decisions.

Our new report (pdf) details the ways in which state courts have considered and interpreted international human rights law. It is intended for public interest lawyers and state court litigators, and also for state and municipal policy makers interested in integrating compliance with international human rights law into their domestic policies.

May 7 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
Communications Talking Points: Comprehensive Immigration Reform (2007)

This memo contains some suggestions on overall themes and some additional tools the immigrant rights movement has developed.

Feb 15 2007
Research Brochure: About The Opportunity Agenda (2008)

Read about The Opportunity Agenda in our new brochure.


Jan 20 2007
Blog Post Mapping Disparity - Healthcarethatworks.org

HealthCareThatWorksToday we're happy to announce the launch of a new project that we've had in the works for  a  few months now - www.healthcarethatworks.org.

Health Care That Works is a  new website designed to visually illustrate the economic and racial disparities that exist in New York City's health care system, and drive all New Yorker's of conscience to take action by emailing their elected officials.

The site is a Google Map mash-up
that takes data on NYC hospital closures between 1985 and 2005, and
overlays it on an interactive city-wide map that can display either the racial or economic demographics of the Five Boroughs.  Using this tool, visitors can visually see how hospital closures disproportionately impact poor neighborhoods and communities of color.  Text on the sidebar guides the user through each decade and demographic overlay, explaining the changing conditions of the city and the impact that closures have on underserved communities.

But the site is more than just a visual resource, it is also  a data-rich resource for researchers that contains a variety of reports and fact sheets (as well as data on the patient demographics, payer source, and quality scores for each hospital), a community forum for health care advocates and New Yorkers, and an activism tool that encourages New Yorkers to write to their elected officials in support of creating a health care system that works equally for all.

We think that Health Care That Works can be a valuable resource that sheds light on the underreported issues of racial and economic disparities in health care.  Let us know what you think here in the comments, or over in the Health Care That Works forums.

If you have accounts, recommend us on Daily Kos, or give us a Digg.

Jan 16 2007
Blog Post God Grew Tired of Us

Next time you head to the movies you must check the powerful and inspiring film, God Grew Tired Of Us.   It will be released in NYC and around the country this week.  It explores American opportunity through a unique lens, following the lives of Sudanese refugees from the war in Southern Sudan to resettlement in the United States.  It highlights how these men try to retain their culture while seizing opportunity in America -- earning a living, going to school, and providing for families back home.  It investigates American culture and the American dream, and explores the pros and cons of life in the Unites States.   

Here’s a trailer for the movie:  and a summary from the website:  “Winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, GOD GREW TIRED OF US explores the indomitable spirit of three “Lost Boys” from the Sudan who leave their homeland, triumph over seemingly insurmountable adversities and move to America, where they build active and fulfilling new lives but remain deeply committed to helping the friends and family they have left behind.  Orphaned by a tumultuous civil war and traveling barefoot across the sub-Saharan desert, John Bul Dau, Daniel Abol Pach and Panther Blor were among the 25,000 “Lost Boys” (ages 3 to 13) who fled villages, formed surrogate families and sought refuge from famine, disease, wild animals and attacks from rebel soldiers. Named by a journalist after Peter Pan’s posse of orphans who protected and provided for each other, the “Lost Boys” traveled together for five years and against all odds crossed into the UN’s refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya. A journey’s end for some, it was only the beginning for John, Daniel and Panther, who along with 3800 other young survivors, were selected to re-settle in the United States.”

For another interesting take on opportunity (and the barriers to it) in America and the Lost Boys, the book What is the What by David Eggers is a must read.  It is based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng, and at 400+ pages, the book provides a nuanced account of the history of the Lost Boys and life after resettlement in America.

Finally, if you’d like to learn more about the conflict in Sudan and join efforts to help out, The International Crisis Group website has a short list of recommendations, including writing to your elected representatives and writing to media urging more coverage of the situation.

Jan 8 2007
Blog Post New Voices Fellowship

Since I know that many of the people reading this site work in the nonprofit sector, I thought I'd pass on this fellowship opportunity.  If you are working in the Gulf Coast, it's a great opportunity to increase your organization's operating capacity and find funding for your work around Hurricane Katrina:



The New Voices
Gulf Coast Transformation Fellowship is a response to the harm and displacement
caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  Eligible nonprofit organizations
will be those located in Alabama, Louisiana, or Mississippi; in three
cities with large numbers of displaced residents (Atlanta, Dallas, or
Houston); or in the Gulf Coast regions of Florida or Texas.  The
New Voices funding will address needs, solve problems, and defend human
rights in six sponsored program areas:  Human Rights, HIV/AIDS,
Immigrant Rights, Racial Justice, Reproductive Rights, and Women’s

This grant
opportunity is an initiative of the New Voices National Fellowship,
a program administered by the Academy for Educational Development and
made possible with support from the Ford Foundation.  New Voices
is a national grantmaking initiative focused on leadership development,
nonprofit strengthening, and empowering talented individuals from diverse
backgrounds.  The fellowship enables diverse candidates with compelling
backgrounds or interests to launch a career in social justice, even
as it supports small nonprofits in staffing up for innovative, impactful
human rights work.  A unique aspect of the program is that the
host nonprofit and its proposed Fellow apply jointly for the grant.

that conduct policy research and analysis, policy advocacy, litigation,
community organizing, popular education, leadership development, and
demonstration projects with a systems change approach and an evaluation
component are eligible. Organizations that propose to provide only direct
services to individuals are not eligible.

For a complete
overview, please visit the New Voices web site,

For additional
information or feedback, please contact New Voices staff by phone at
202-884-8051, email us at
newvoices@aed.org. Complete grant applications are due
on Monday, February 5, 2007. 

Jan 2 2007
Blog Post Bringing Human Rights Home

Alan's latest piece is now up at TomPaine.com.  Go give it a read, and listen to what New Yorkers think about human rights in our video on the left.

What if the world’s governments came together and agreed on the fundamental rights that every human being must have in order to enjoy basic dignity, opportunity, and
a meaningful life? What if their agreement was profoundly progressive,
recognizing civil and political rights like free speech, due process,
and non-discrimination, as well as economic and social rights like the
right to health care and housing, to organize, and to receive a living
wage for a hard day’s work? And what if they memorialized those rights
in a seminal document, from which more specific commitments and
enforcement could and did flow?

Most Americans would be surprised to learn that such a document exists. It’s called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it turns 58 years old this December 10—International Human Rights DayRead More>>

Dec 6 2006
Blog Post Images of Opportunity

The Doors of Opportunity IIHere are The Opportunity Agenda, we are fortunate to have a strong partnership with the New School University in New York, where we teach a class on media and social justice, and work with some great professors who use our organization as a case study in their classes.  Most recently,
Professor Kit Laybourne used our organization as the "client" in his media production class.

Students in the class were tasked with producing an image that was representative of:

  1. an issue area in which The Opportunity Agenda was active; and/or

Redemption is in our Nature

one of the 6 Core Opportunity Values that we use as the basis of our framing. 

Students tasked with producing two images.  One of which contained text and could function as an iconic image on our blog or website when we cover a particular issue or message around a particular core value.  The second image was designed specifically for use by others.  It was to contain no text, and was meant to be a "blank canvass" that other nonprofit organizations or social justice activists could use to remix and reuse the images for their own work.  To that end, all images were to be original photos taken by the students, original graphic illustrations, or images found under a suitable creative commons license

Community Graphic

The results are in, and we're really please with the results.  I've created a Flickr set of the images and tagged the photos with a number of common tags - non profit, creative commons, etc.

I'd invite you take a look at the work the students produced, pass the
photos around, and use them in your own work.  If anyone has questions
about our process, usage rights, or recommendations on how we might take this to the
next level, please let me know.

All the images can be viewed here, on our Flickr page.

Nov 30 2006
Blog Post Schizophrenia at The Times; Unequal Treatment for the Patients

Over at the New York Times, it looks like the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.  Readers today may have noticed a distinct schizophrenia between the Times coverage of New York State Hospital closures on the front page and on its editorial pages.  Unfortunately, despite two tries, the Times still fails to get the story right.

The front page notes that while the Berger Commission proposed closing 9 hospitals, other recommendations on "right sizing" 48 other institutions constituted sweeping change that could have profound effects on NY State health care:

The nine hospital closings, with five of them in New York City, have received the most attention, but other elements in the plan could have
greater effects. Stephen Berger, the commission chairman, said at a news conference that far more significant were the commission’s proposals to reshape dozens of other hospitals through mergers, downsizing, the elimination of some services and the addition of others.

“The reason this is a big deal is the 48 reconfigurations,” he said.

officials agreed with that assessment, and said they were taken aback by the number and detail of changes that some described as micromanaging.

Over on the Op-Ed page, however, the Gray Lady's editorial board praised the Commission for its "modest" and "courageous" actions in reigning in New York's wayward hospital system.  For the editors, the only real problem lies with the legislature - "cowards" who might choose to reject the courageous commission's recommendations. 

Both articles fail to note that the closings and restructuring will likely exacerbate existing health disparities - particularly in major metropolitan areas - and take jobs away from many health care workers.  Both articles also fail to note that the chance of the legislature rejecting the Commision's recommendations are next to zero due to a promised federal bail-out of the system (to the tune of $1.5 Billion) contingent upon the state's acceptance (pdf) and implementation of the commission's recommendations.

Our partners at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest covered this much more thoroughly and eloquently than I could.  Here is a letter they sent to Governor Pataki and Governor Elect Spitzer about yesterday's announcement:

Governor Elect Eliot Spitzer

Governor George Pataki

State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224

Re: The Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century’s Failure to Address Racial Disparities in Access to Health Care

Governor Pataki and Governor Elect Spitzer:

We write today because we are deeply concerned that the recommendations of the New York State Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century (the Berger Commission) did not fully address the disparate impact down-sizing of health care will have on already medically underserved communities
of color and poverty in New York City. Scant resources stand to be further depleted for communities that simply cannot withstand, and should not be required to withstand, any further reduction – particularly without any plan for building health care infrastructure to address the critical health needs in these neighborhoods. 

We appreciate the hard work that the Berger Commission has undertaken to tackle serious financial strains in our health care system. However, priority should have been given to addressing racial disparities in access to health care, disparities which have been known for decades, and which are intolerable in a modern society with resources such as ours.

The tragic disparities in incidence of disease, morbidity, and mortality have been known for many decades. During a period of economic trouble in the late 1970s, experts such as Alan Sager testified before Congress about the dangers of closing urban hospitals that were needed in medically underserved communities. In the early 1980s, communities fought the threatened closure of Sydenham and Metropolitan Hospitals serving Harlem.

In 1993, the now defunct Health Systems Agency (HSA) of New York City issued a final report, “A Framework for Primary Care Needs Analysis in New York City,” which documented gross disparities in access to care and severe health care shortages in communities of color.  On a national level, in 2003, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences issued a report, “Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care,” which crystallized the need to address and remedy disparities in access to care. And, in 2005, Bronx Health Reach published a report, “Separate and Unequal: Medical Apartheid in New York City,” documenting extreme disparities in access to health care institutions in New York City. 

Why,after so many decades of awareness of the terrible problems with racial disparities in health status and access to care, does the state of New York propose a plan that fails to challenge, much less begin to fix, the dire state of our status quo when it comes to racial disparities in health status and access to health care?

Communities such as Central Brooklyn are medically underserved areas by any definition of the term, including the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ definition. Nonetheless, Central Brooklynhas recently suffered losses of critical hospital services. Why, after years of hospital losses and down-sizing in areas like Central Brooklyn, did the state of New York create a Commission that sets in motion further down-sizing without a concomitant mandate to tackle the problem of the underserved?

The debate to ensue around the Commission’s recommendations and the transition in leadership in 2007 presents us with a critical opportunity to focus, and to redirect resources to address critical health care needs in underserved communities in New York City and across the state. We ask that you work together during this period of transition to ensure that the Berger Commission’s down-sizing is not the legacy of this moment. We ask for a moratorium on closures and down-sizing in medically underserved areas until real plans are made for new institutions to fill in the gaps; until plans are created for conducting needs assessments; until plans for primary, ambulatory, and specialized care for underserved populations are developed. We ask that you follow the principle first do no harm.

The Crisis in Central Brooklyn

A number of communities of color in New York City do not have sufficient access to health care facilities or health professionals, resulting in well documented and extreme health disparities. Despite these shortages, the State has made the untenable decision to close financially struggling hospitals, but yet has
made no express commitment to preserve—let alone improve—health services in medically underserved areas, and the health of the poorest New Yorkers will only deteriorate and become a further burden on the safety-net hospitals that escape closure.

Without comprehensive community and health planning, closing hospitals is a short-sighted attempt at saving dollars, as it will immediately overburden nearby hospitals, and over time allow some of the sickest and the poorest to become much sicker.  Building access to primary, ambulatory and specialty care to treat and control chronic illnesses would have long term financial benefits for the state, but thus far the state has unfortunately not chosen to cast its sights in that direction.  Any workable solution to New York’s health care crisis, including the State’s Medicaid budget, must include community health planning and a needs assessment to ensure sufficient access to health care. Yet, the Berger Commission has taken none of these necessary steps before making recommendations that will irreparably change the State’s health care system. 

A prime example of the inequities in New York’s health care system can be found in Central Brooklyn, a medically underserved community that is approximately 90% African-American and Latino, and in some areas suffers an infant mortality rate approximately three times the rate in wealthier parts of Manhattan. The health risks to infants born in Central Brooklyn should come as no surprise given the shortage of hospitals and other providers in that area. Despite a surge in population over the last forty years, Central Brooklyn has experienced a 40% reduction in hospital beds during that time period, and recently lost desperately needed maternity beds at St. Mary’s Hospital (now closed) and Interfaith Medical Center Central Brooklyn, with a population of more than 350,000 women, now has only 104 certified obstetric beds. By comparison, the Upper East Side, with an 82% white population, and a population of only approximately 111,060 women, has at least 234 certified obstetric beds. The inequitable distribution of hospital resources has dire consequences: the Brownsville section of Central Brooklyn has an infant mortality rate of 12.2 infant deaths per thousand, while across the river in the Upper East Side, the infant mortality rate is a mere 3.7. These disparities should not be tolerated.

By approving the hospital closures and down-sizing in recent years in Central Brooklyn, which is already medically underserved, the State not only deprived African-American and Latino mothers of critical health care, but also treaded on federal regulations promulgated under Title VI, which prohibits actions with racially disparate impacts.  Given this landscape, the Berger Commission’s failure to propose community planning to redirect resources toward addressing critical health care needs in underserved communities is a missed opportunity.

The Berger Commission

Had the Berger Commission examined racial disparities and more fully taken community needs into account, the resulting recommendations could have included recommendations for the development of infrastructure in medically underserved communities. But instead, the Commission’s process lacked
transparency, public participation, and consideration of the most pressing problems in medically underserved communities – lack of access to care. 

It is unconscionable to change the State’s health care system fundamentally without a transparent process, public participation, and political accountability. Yet, the Berger Commission’s structure has resulted in a patently undemocratic process that disadvantages the residents of New York City. For example, despite having 42% of the State’s population, New York City was considered only one of six statewide health care regions.  New York City is underrepresented in the Commission’s body, which is equally represented by six regions, which may account for why five of the nine hospitals slated for closure are in  New York City.

An unelected body is effectively rewriting established public health law. Even the limited oversight that the Senate and Assembly retains over the Commission is illusory, as the legislature will not convene in regular session during the 26 days they have to debate and pass a resolution rejecting the recommendations.  It is telling that the state has devised a relatively quiet and unaccountable method for making these politically difficult choices about hospitals. Would that such imagination was applied to solving the problems of racial disparities in access to health care in this city and state.

A Call to Action

In reaction to the Berger Commission, the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation has found that, “hospital closures could eliminate a major source of primary care and exacerbate existing shortages, particularly those experienced by low-income New Yorkers. This would worsen community health status, heighten disparities, and increase costly but avoidable emergency room and inpatient
utilization.”  The Boston School of Public Health has issued a report, “Closing Hospitals Won’t Save Money But Will Harm Access to Health Care,” warning of the short-sightedness of the Berger Commission.
The Save Our Safety Net Coalition, a group of community advocates and labor has advocated for repeal and re-tooling of the Berger Commission’s enabling legislation. The Primary Care Development
Corporation has issued a report calling for much needed investment in primary care for underserved areas. The message is clear: first do no harm. 

The Department of Health and the office of the Governor have the ability to envision creative solutions, and the power to execute them. We ask that you take this critical opportunity to focus, and to redirect resources toward addressing critical health care needs in underserved communities in New York  and across the state. We ask for a moratorium on closures and down-sizing of hospitals in medically underserved
areas until plans are made for new institutions to fill in the gaps, for conducting needs assessments, and plans for the development of primary, ambulatory, and specialized care for underserved populations. We ask that you do no more harm. After 40 years of neglect, medically underserved communities deserve your leadership now.

We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss plans for building health care infrastructure in medically underserved areas, and addressing the racial and ethnic disparities in health care in New York in the coming days.

For more information - including fact sheets, maps (of New York City), and reports, visit The Opportunity Agenda

If you would like to take action, you can send you comments to the state assembly here:


Or write to the New York Times about its coverage.

Nov 29 2006
Blog Post Dangerous and Unlawful

As some of our readers may know, today is a big day for the New York State Health Care System.  The Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century (aka the Berger Commission) released their recommendations on "right sizing" the New York State Hospital System.  The commission recommended closing 9 hospitals - 5 of which are in New York City.  While the practical effects of the commission's recommendations must still be

Nov 28 2006
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 Seeds of Tolerance

Short video is an amazing tool.  It touches people in a completely different way than news articles, reports, or lectures, and it allows social justice groups to reach outside their base of members to a larger audience.

CurrentTV and the Third Millenium Foundation are showing how short video can be used to raise awareness about an issue.  The two groups have joined together to promote tolerance in the United States through Seeds of Tolerance - an innovative video contest that received almost 400 submissions.  A panel of guest judges have narrowed the field to 6, and you are invited to go and vote for the winner (who will receive a grand prize of $100,000, as well as a $15,000 donation to a charity of their choice).

This is really smart.  The prizes and the exposure that is available through distribution on Current TV make the project attractive to highly skilled videographers and cultural creatives, and the charity donation keeps with the social justice vibe of the core audience.  CurrentTV distribution also guarantees that high-quality submissions will gain an audience beyond that activist core.

I don't know about the 374 losing submissions, but the 6 semifinalists are outstanding and range in topic from the sex-trafficking industry to our nation's prison-industrial system in all its complexities.  They are all worth 5 minutes of your time. 

As for CurrentTV and Third Millenium - they get to see a number of positive results:

  • greater awareness of a variety of social justice issues among CurrentTV viewers and internet visitors.
  • A (increased in the case of CurrentTV) stable of cultural creatives with social justice leanings that can be contacted for future projects.
  • A collection of high-quality videos that can be used to promote similar projects to funders and members
  • Buzz and higher traffic from word of mouth about the contest

This is a pretty cost and time-intensive project.  There are easier (and cheaper) ways for nonprofits to reap the benefits of video production.  Some non profits are using short video and YouTube to chronicle the work that they are doing.  Others are opting out of video and embracing Flickr as a medium for creative contests to drive interest in their topic.

If you're interested in finding out more about how short video, video sharing, and photo sharing can help increase the efficacy of your work, I'd recommend visiting the Non Profit Technology Enterprise Network, or becoming a reader of NetSquared.

We're dipping our toes in these waters ourself, so please check out (and subscribe to!) our Flickr and YouTube pages.

Nov 17 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 More for Maryland Opportunity Bus Tour

I don't have time to fully blog this, but wanted to point people to The More for Maryland Opportunity Bus Tour.

The More for Maryland Campaign is facilitated by the Safe and Sound
Campaign. It is an effort to get the attention of our elected officials
that are running for office to pay attention to one simple truth; when
you have opportunity, life turns out better. It is very possible to use
our state budget and our local budget to fund opportunity for our
citizens. In so doing, people grow up safe and healthy and productive
citizens in our society, says Hathaway Ferebee, executive director of
Baltimore Safe and Sound Campaign.

It's an interesting program to raise awareness about a campaign to allocate tax dollars in a way that creates more opportunity for Maryland citizens - particularly in the context of foster care and drug treatment programs.  We profiled an early version of this program in February.

Oct 30 2006
Blog Post In Case You Missed It . . .

In an article with stunningly bad framing, the AP manages to blame poor african americans for getting ripped off by the insurance companies.  While the overall framing leaves much to be desired, the article does convey some important information, and a quote by our own Alan Jenkins, buried near the bottom, clearly states what should have been the story's principle message:

Alan Jenkins, a former Justice Department official in the Clinton
administration who lobbies for minority opportunities, said AP's
analysis reinforces a little-discussed reality exposed by Katrina.

promise of opportunity isn't equally available," he said. "Race and
income has made a big difference in people's ability to start over."

Jenkins said state and federal agencies need to adopt different techniques to reach historically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

The Republic of T has about 5 great posts up analyzing the New Jersey decision on civil unions/gay marriage.  BlackProf has some good stuff on this issue as well.

Radio Open Source ran a fantastic show this week about identity politics in the '06 elections.  Listen to the podcast (mp3).

Finally, the Economic Policy Institute released a paper analyzing minimum wage research and trends.  The findings include:

There is a growing view among economists that the
minimum wage offers substantial benefits to low-wage workers without
negative effect. Although there are still dissenters, the best recent
research has shown that the job loss reported in earlier analyses does
not, in fact, occur when the minimum wage is increased. There is little
question that the overall impact of a minimum wage is positive, as the
following facts make clear:

If the minimum wage were increased nationally to $7.25:

  • 14.9 million workers would receive a raise,
  • 80% of those affected are adults age 20 or over, and
  • 7.3 million children would see their parents income rise.
Oct 27 2006
Blog Post Human Rights Online: Audio and Video Resources

I encountered a slew of great human rights multimedia online today. 

In the realm of video, Global Voices and Witness have partnered to create the Human Rights Video Hub, an educational archive meant to raise awareness, education and direct people to take action on human rights issues.  You can read more  about it here.   Global voices has taken some submissions and created a  video blog to help advertise the project.  Here's a taste of the types of video currently available:


The first video shows interviews with protestors in Zimbabwe who were abused by police during a peaceful demonstration.  The demonstrators were calling for "antiretroviral (ARV) drugs for the treatment of HIV, a minimum wage,
and stabilisation in the prices of basic commodities."

The second video documents police in China also breaking up a peaceful demonstration with violence.  The video was taken on a cellphone and appeared on Chinese video sharing sites.  After it was censored from those sites, the video made its way to YouTube.

For more information about both videos, read the Human Rights Hub Blog.

The videos on Human Rights Video Hub all deal with human rights violations abroad, but what about Human Rights here at home?  Glad you asked. 

A vast majority of Americans are unaware of the
Universal Declaration - even though they support many of the rights that it
codifies.  We went around New York City asking folks what human rights meant to them. Click on the video to watch a sampling of rhe responses we received.

If you are unfamiliar with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or looking educate people about human rights, check out these audio recordings of the Declaration in 21 different languages. 

Listen in English.
(16 min.) 

This reading isn't jam-packed with excitement, but maybe its
a little more accessable to ordinary folks.

Oct 25 2006
Blog Post The Benefits of Preventive Care

NYT Insurance Graphic

An interesting, if somewhat mixed article about preventive health care in today's New York Times.  Some hospitals are attempting a new strategy that embraces free, preventive health care for people with chronic illnesses in an attempt to keep down longterm costs associated with repeated emergency room visits (emphasis mine):

With the number of
uninsured people in the United States reaching a record 46.6 million
last year, up by 7 million from 2000, Seton is one of a small number of
hospital systems around the country to have done the math and acted on
it. Officials decided that for many patients with chronic diseases, it
would be cheaper to provide free preventive care than to absorb the
high cost of repeated emergencies.

The idea seems like a sound strategy, and with high success rates among patients with ambulatory care sensitive conditions like asthma and diabetes, it seems like it could be a net positive for combating racial and ethnic disparities in health care (ACS conditions disproportionately affect low income communities and people of color). 

With reduced health care costs for tax payers and the hospitals, and greater adherence to the idea of healthcare as a human right, one would think that this is a win-win strategy for administrators and advocates alike.  The article goes on to note, however, that these trials are exceptions in the health care industry, not the rule.

In a heartbreaking anecdote, the story illustrates just how broken our health care system is, and how vulnerable many low income people and people of color are when it comes to receiving adequate - and vital - health care:

In March 2005, Ms. Martinez, a Seton patient, was found to have liver cancer. She was put on Medicaid, applied for federal disability and was put in line for a liver transplant,
without which, doctors said, she had six months to two years to live.
Through the summer of 2005, she made the hour-and-a-half drive from her
home to San Antonio for preparatory tests.

That August, she was
awarded disability payments of $561 a month. But because her income
surpassed the $535 limit for Medicaid in her circumstances, she said,
she was told by the state that her coverage had ended, and the hospital
said it could not proceed with a transplant.

“I asked Social
Security if they couldn’t just reduce my payments by $30 a month,” she
said, “but they said it doesn’t work that way.”

In another
twist, by federal rules, she will qualify for Medicare two years after
the initial finding of disability. She awaits the start of Medicare
coverage next March, when she can rejoin the transplant line.

Oct 25 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 Restructuring Health Care: Right Sizing vs. "Rights" Sizing

An article in the Metro section of yesterday's New York Times paints a deceptively pleasant picture of a deal between the Pataki and Bush administrations to  provide $1.5 billion in funds to bailout New York's ailing health care system.

What the Times fails to report is that those funds are likely to be used for "acute care rightsizing," a euphemistic term for restructuring health services that will  result in the loss of primary care services in medically underserved areas of NYC - particularly low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

In New York City, these communities already face a shortage of primary care services, and are at greater risk of contracting "Ambulatory Care Sensitive" (ACS) conditions such as diabetes, heart conditions and asthma (see maps below). 


pcpandpoverty_1.png   pcpandacscnew.png
Primary Care and Poverty   Primary Care and ACS

ACS conditions are easily manageable with proper primary care, yet without that care they can develop into dire medical crises with skyrocketing medical costs for patients and taxpayers.  Treating these conditions before they worsen not only saves lives, but it can save hundreds of millions of dollars in medical costs.   

Right sizing measures like those required in exchange for the Bush Administration's $1.5 billion bailout are likely to exacerbate this problem rather than lessen it.  Instead of focusing on right-sizing strategies that leave patients behind, health care reform should focus on rights sizing - or restructuring the health care system based on community needs.  Access to adequate health care is a basic human right.  Protecting that right will not only save the taxpayers' money, it's also the right thing to do.

Oct 4 2006
Blog Post For Better or Worse

If you are in DC and have some free time on September 28th, we recommend you check out this (free) forum at the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.  It should be an engaging and informative discussion about the impact of race, poverty, and gender on African American women and their families.  Details below.


For Better or For Worse: The Implications of Poverty, Gender and Race on African American Women and Their Families

When: Thursday, September 28, 2006, 4 PM – 6 PM

Where: Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
            1629 K Street, NW
            10th Floor – conference room
            Washington, DC 20006

RSVP: RSpraggins@deltafoundation.net or call (202) 347-1337.

The Forum Discussion brings thought-provoking speakers, scholars, activists and community leaders to discuss poverty, race and gender and their impact on African American women and their families. These discussions promise to generate personal reflection and social action within our communities.

This event will show the depths and varieties of women’s poverty.   A distinguished panel will discuss and examine the connection between the social, economic, cultural and political impact of poverty on African American women and their families

Moderated by:  Dr. Chester Hartman, Director of Research, Poverty & Race Research Action Council, and co-editor of There is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster: Race, Class, and Hurricane Katrina just published by Routledge.

Confirmed panelists include:

Dr. Roderick Harrison, Director of Databank at The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, DC.

Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, Director of the Poverty, Education and Social Justice Programs at The Institute for Women Policy Research in Washington, DC.

Dr. William Spriggs, Chair of the Economics Department at Howard University in Washington, DC.

Dr. Susan Popkin, Senior Research Associate, Metropolitan Housing and Communities Planning center at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC.

A Q&A session will follow.

Sponsored by: Delta Research and Educational Foundation, The Center for Research on African American Women, and The Poverty & Race Research Action Council

Sep 19 2006
Blog Post Opportunity Radio: After the Storm


Episode 6 of our podcast, Opportunity Radio, is now available.

After the Storm: A Conversation with Author David Dante Troutt

In this edition of Opportunity Radio, Creative Director Phoebe Eng talks with Rutgers law professor David Dante Troutt about his new anthology, After the Storm: Black Intellectuals Explore the Meaning of Hurricane Katrina  (The New Press).  The author discusses forced migration, geographic disparities, his views on Spike Lee's HBO documentary, and what will be required to rebuild New Orleans as a city of true opportunity.  Also featured: music by singer/songwriter Jonah Smith (30 min).

Subscribe: iTunes | Feedburner

If you have trouble with our subscription links, you can open your iTunes Music Store and search for Opportunity Radio.

Sep 18 2006
Blog Post Human Rights Are Not Just a Foreign Affair

Today's Guest Blogger is Gay J. McDougall, United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues.

Commanding a center stage in the international
community, America has the responsibility to lead as it expects others
to act.  As we mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, that
leadership is sorely needed here at home.

Our nation’s inadequate response to low income
and minority people during and since Katrina was cited in a report that
the United Nations Human Rights Committee released last month.  The
Committee expressed concern that “poor people and in particular African
Americans, were disadvantaged by the rescue and evacuation plans
implemented when Hurricane Katrina hit the United States of America,
and continue to be disadvantaged under the reconstruction plans.”  That
pattern of unequal treatment violates our national values.  It also
violates international human rights standards and undermines our
leadership role at home and abroad.

The UN Committee’s findings followed a hearing
last month in Geneva in which a sizeable U.S. delegation offered
dramatic, first-hand testimony about the treatment of Katrina evacuees
and the still substandard response to pressing human needs.  An elderly
African American woman described how she was prevented from returning
from her house to claim her belongings, including those of her deceased
husband.  She commented that the items were “Cultural things that
brought freedom to him – the freedom that his country could not give to
him, as a disenfranchised African American.”

That testimony is supported by mounting evidence
of continuing unequal treatment.  In one of the most comprehensive
studies of post-Katrina conditions, the Advancement Project found that
many African American survivors of the hurricane have been shut out of
reconstruction jobs as a result of inadequate housing reconstruction,
lack of transportation, and job discrimination.  An Economic Policy
Institute analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data revealed that
African Americans and Latinos in the Gulf Coast were more than twice as
likely as whites to be unemployed two months after the storm.

People still displaced by Katrina have
encountered similar obstacles.  A study by the National Fair Housing
Alliance, for example, found that nearly two-thirds of African
Americans displaced from the Gulf Coast have encountered housing
discrimination in their attempts to relocate.

The Human Rights Committee’s findings should be
our call to action.  As we mark Katrina’s first anniversary, the United
States has an opportunity to claim a leadership role in protecting the
human rights of all people.

An important first step is implementing the UN
Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which the U.S. has
consistently supported in its application to other countries.  The
Guidelines call for equal and adequate access to resettlement, housing,
education and healthcare for affected people and communities, whatever
their race or ethnicity.  It’s time to apply them here at home.

More broadly, the unequal opportunity facing
displaced Gulf Coast residents in other parts of the country
underscores the need to increase civil rights enforcement in housing,
employment, and other sectors.  Our anti-discrimination laws offer an
important model for human rights enforcement, but they require far
greater resources and enforcement than they currently receive.

How a nation treats its racial and ethnic
minority populations is a statement on how tall it stands in the
world.  The Katrina tragedy has called on our government to exert
leadership, not in the far-flung corners of the globe, but within our
borders.  Doing so will strengthen our nation, rekindle the confidence
of the American people, and lead by example within the world community.

Sep 1 2006
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