"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“A Father’s Heartfelt Message”: Trayvon’s Legacy, Helping People To Open Their Eyes And Talk About Subjects They Wouldn’t Before

Tracy Martin readily admits he struggles with regular bouts of guilt over the fate of his 17-year-old son, Trayvon. He wasn’t at home in Sanford, Florida, the night his unarmed son was shot and killed as he walked home from the store with a bag of Skittles and a bottle of Arizona Ice Tea.

George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman, was found not guilty of the second-degree murder of the teenager earlier this month after his lawyers argued it was self-defense.

“I think I feel the guilt that any father would feel who loses a child,’’ Martin told The Daily Beast. “There is a certain amount of guilt at not being able to save my son, and not being able to be there for him like he was for me when he saved me from a fire when he was 9 years old. I couldn’t do that for him as a parent and that is a very painful feeling to live with. But I also know, had I been home, I wouldn’t have heard the incident so I wouldn’t have been able to stop what happened.’’

Martin took a heartfelt message of fatherly love to Capitol Hill on Wednesday where he urged Congress to work to improve the educational and employment opportunities for young Latinos and African-Americans.

Only 52 percent of black males graduate from high school, compared with 78 percent of white, non-Latino males, according to a 2012 report from the Schott Foundation for Public Education. Black males are incarcerated at a rate more than nine times that of white males ages 18–19, according to the 2011 Bureau of Justice figures.

Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s delegate to Congress, and Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL) organized the inaugural hearing of the Congressional Black Caucus on Black Men and Boys to discuss the many obstacles and issues that continue to face black men. Martin said President Obama’s speech last week referencing the murder and trial for his son only increased his resolve to work nonstop to change the lives of young men of color. He and Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, founded the Trayvon Martin Foundation last year to raise awareness of the way violent crime impacts the families of victims.

“I have to fight for Trayvon and all who look like him,’’ said Martin. “There is an assumption by many in this country that our boys aren’t valuable and don’t have the right to walk home with iced tea and Skittles without being considered criminals. There is an assumption that they aren’t raised well and aren’t loved. My son was loved and was raised to respect authority. He knew how to handle himself but that wasn’t enough that night.’’

Martin had regular father-and-son talks with Trayvon, and those conversations often included a mature, in-depth discussion about handling life as a black man in America.

“As a child gets older of course the conversation changes,’’ says Martin. “As Trayvon got older we didn’t talk about Disneyland anymore. We talked about life, decisions, and the future. I think this country feels black men aren’t fathers and aren’t there for their children. That is very far from the truth. Many black men are role models and that needs to be discussed.’’

Martin welcomed President Obama’s words last week on the need for more effort to uplift and support African-American men. He said it was timely and heartfelt despite a number of critical reviews by the Fox News network and PBS host Tavis Smiley.

“I thought he was speaking honestly from his own experience of being a black man and how he could have been Trayvon 35 years ago,’’ said Martin. “That was powerful and from deep in his heart, I think. His speech was very real. To have the most powerful man in the world talk about my son and what he’s meant to people was amazing, needed and very appreciated.’’

While speaking before Congress on Wednesday, Martin discussed the anguish he and Sybrina felt as their son’s name was slandered and demonized during Zimmerman’s trial.

“Trayvon was a teenager, a child. To hear people act as though he was someone on the same level as an adult man who’s lived life, had a job, and married was very hurtful for us. To have people put all the blame on my son who was unarmed and just walking home is something that is very difficult to digest still,” he said.

The Martin family has asked for reform of Florida’s “stand your ground” self-defense law, which permits the use of deadly force rather than retreating when a person has a reasonable fear of serious bodily harm.

“There should be a common sense part to that law that states you can’t get out of your vehicle, pursue someone, and become confrontational,’’ said Martin.

Benjamin Crump, the Martin family lawyer, described the teenager’s family as “extremely disturbed” by Juror B37, who appeared on a CNN show just a day after the not-guilty verdict was announced. That juror suggested that Martin “played a huge role” in his own death.

“That was really hard for Tracy and Sybrina to hear a juror blame their son for his own death,’’ said Crump. “It has no base in common sense and shows that she, along with the other jurors, never saw this case from the perspective of Trayvon. They never saw his point of view or tried to put themselves in his shoes as a kid minding his business and walking home. They didn’t consider that Zimmerman never identified who he was to Trayvon. Had he done that we probably wouldn’t be here today.’’

While singer Stevie Wonder has announced a boycott of the state of Florida until “stand your ground” laws are overturned, Martin says he and Trayvon’s mother will continue to work toward ensuring their son’s legacy is one that is remembered for generations to come.

“We will define Trayvon’s legacy as his parents, and I feel it will be a legacy of helping people to open their eyes and talk about subjects they wouldn’t before, like race and the role it still plays today,’’ said Martin. “I hope my son will be remembered as someone whose life and death changed minds and helped make the lives of many others much better.’’


By: Allison Samuels, The Daily Beast, July 25, 2013

July 29, 2013 Posted by | Race and Ethnicity, Racism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Yes, Mess With Texas”: To Ensure Fairness At The Polls, Southern States Still Require Scrutiny

Pro-tip: When you win a big court case giving you the go-ahead to suppress voter turnout for your political opponents, don’t gloat about it.

That is surely one of the lessons in the remarkable news that the U.S. Department of Justice is challenging new voting-rights laws in Texas and elsewhere even after the Supreme Court ruling that eviscerated the part of the Voting Rights Act that the feds had relied on for decades to challenge voting restrictions. What made the ruling especially galling was the celebration that followed from Republicans in states, including Texas, who immediately vowed to proceed with voting restrictions that had been challenged under the now-undermined part of the VRA.

The alacrity with which Texas, North Carolina and other states have rushed to take advantage of the ruling seriously weakened the sober conservative argument, from Chief Justice John Roberts and others, that Southern states no longer needed to be singled out for special scrutiny because they had long since left their discriminatory ways behind. And it all but invited Attorney General Eric Holder to take this new step, to announce that his department would still do everything in its power to ensure fairness at the polls.

This will of course be decried as executive overreach and an assault on checks and balances, but the case for declaring it such would be much easier to make if Texas and other states hadn’t been so gleeful in their rush to capitalize on the ruling. Texas takes the cake for the speed of its response, but North Carolina surely takes the prize for sheer brazenness: The legislation making its way through Raleigh is so extreme that it earned even a tut-tut from arch-conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Stephen Moore. The legislation will not only add a strict Voter ID requirement by the polls, but reduce early voting days from 17 to 10 (early voting has been used disproportionately by African-Americans in the state), prohibit counties from extending polling hours in extraordinary circumstances, like unusually long lines, and eliminate provisional ballots for voters who show up at the wrong precinct, among other changes. A separate bill seeks to give a tax penalty to parents whose dependent children register to vote somewhere in the state other than where the parents reside, a nifty way to discourage voting by college students.

What impact would the changes have? My colleague Nate Cohn, who has generally warned against over-reaction on voter suppression measures, ran the numbers and found that the Voter ID provision alone could swing enough votes to win the state for Republicans in a close statewide election—and that’s not accounting for the early voting cutbacks and other changes. The New York Times has declared North Carolina “first in voter suppression,” a judgment quoted approvingly by election-law expert Rick Hasen, also not one prone to overstatement.

Holder is now, essentially, using the giddy brazenness of the voting-restriction push in these states to justify federal challenges even in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling. Under the “pre-clearance” provision in Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act that was eviscerated by the ruling, a whole swath of states and municipalities, mostly in the South, had to submit voting law changes to the feds for approval as a matter of course. Holder is now threatening to use a different part of the Voting Rights Act, Section 3, which allows the federal government to demand pre-clearance rights by “bail-in.” As the Times puts it, if “the department can show that given jurisdictions have committed constitutional violations, federal courts may impose federal oversight on those places in a piecemeal fashion.” In other words, if the states’ recent track record on voting rights is sufficiently egregious, they may still need federal approval.

That is not to say, though, that the Supreme Court ruling was not enormously consequential. It will be much harder for the federal government to press its case by the Section 3 route.  And whether the DOJ decides to make the effort to move against states will depend even more on which party holds the White House. As South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley boasted when I saw her on the stump in Greenville with Mitt Romney in early 2012, whereas the Obama administration had challenged her state’s stringent new Voter ID law,  “President Romney [will say] that’s our right.”


By: Alec MacGillis, Senior Editor, The New Republic, July 26, 2013

July 29, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hoping For The Best”: In The Race For The Future, Virginia Foxx And House Republicans Are Willing To Tolerate Defeat

There’s been a fair amount of talk on Capitol Hill recently about student loans and interest rates, which led to an unsatisfying compromise in the Senate. But as part of the larger discussion, a notable lawmaker said something interesting that stood out for me.

Getting American kids into college without saddling them with massive debt shouldn’t be the government’s job, according to a prominent House Republican and possible 2014 Senate candidate. “It is not the role of the Congress to make college affordable and accessible,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said Wednesday morning during a committee markup of legislation that would halt federal officials from regulating for-profit educational institutions.

Foxx likened federal standards for things like the definition of a credit-hour to totalitarianism.

Well, sure, of course she did. She’s Virginia Foxx.

But it’s worth noting that there’s nothing inherently incorrect about her views on the federal role in higher education. It’s an inherently subjective question — some people believe federal policymakers have a role in making college affordable and accessible, some don’t. Foxx has her opinions on the matter, I have mine.

I’ve long hoped, however, that this generates a larger conversation about the future of the United States as a global superpower. There’s a spirited competition underway, and we have real rivals who’d be delighted to see us settle for second place. To remain on top, we’re going to need an educated workforce and electorate, and with this in mind, it makes sense if Americans were represented by a Congress that prioritized access to affordable higher-ed.

Or perhaps the nation prefers Foxx’s vision: some states will help young people get degrees; some won’t; Congress doesn’t care. Under this approach, education is of relative importance, but it’s just not a national priority.

Long-time readers have no doubt seen me mention this before, but I often think about some specific remarks President Obama made in 2009. He’d just returned from a trip to East Asia, and Obama shared an anecdote about a luncheon he attended with the then-president of South Korea.

“I was interested in education policy — they’ve grown enormously over the last 40 years. And I asked him, what are the biggest challenges in your education policy? He said, ‘The biggest challenge that I have is that my parents are too demanding.’ He said, ‘Even if somebody is dirt poor, they are insisting that their kids are getting the best education.’ He said, ‘I’ve had to import thousands of foreign teachers because they’re all insisting that Korean children have to learn English in elementary school.’ That was the biggest education challenge that he had, was an insistence, a demand from parents for excellence in the schools.

“And the same thing was true when I went to China. I was talking to the mayor of Shanghai, and I asked him about how he was doing recruiting teachers, given that they’ve got 25 million people in this one city. He said, ‘We don’t have problems recruiting teachers because teaching is so revered and the pay scales for teachers are actually comparable to doctors and other professions.’

“That gives you a sense of what’s happening around the world. There is a hunger for knowledge, an insistence on excellence, a reverence for science and math and technology and learning. That used to be what we were about.”

Right. The United States used to be about a lot of things.

But as we discussed in April, many American policymakers have shifted their focus away from insisting on excellence and towards, well, a Virginia Foxx-like attitude. Countries like South Korea and China can have their hunger for knowledge; we’ll just keep cutting education spending and hope for the best.

We’re the wealthiest country on the planet by an order of magnitude, so maybe we can just coast for a while, neglecting key priorities. Maybe we can stop looking at areas like education, energy, health care, and transportation as national problems — the way our competitors do — and can instead hope states figure something out. Someday. With some elusive resources.

Put it this way: while some countries are insisting on excellence in education, our country shrugs its shoulders while kids get thrown out of pre-schools because of budget cuts and young adults get priced out of college. Which side of the ocean is preparing for the future?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 26, 2013

July 29, 2013 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“You Expect Me To Read The Bill?: NC Governor Admits He “Doesn’t Know Enough” About The Voter Suppression Bill He’s About To Sign

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) said Friday he would sign a bill passed by the North Carolina legislature that would become the most suppressive voting law in the nation. But when asked to speak about a provision in the bill that would prohibit 17-year-olds from registering in advance of their 18th birthday, McCrory admitted he “did not know enough” and had not read that portion of the bill.

The bill, passed just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act and paved the way for new suppressive state laws, imposes a laundry list of new restrictions on access to the ballot, including eliminating same-day registration, cutting early voting, easing campaign contribution limits, and expanding the mechanisms for alleging voter fraud. In remarks saying he would sign the bill, McCrory focused on his support for the bill’s voter ID requirement — a particularly suppressive and discriminatory policy that McCrory has long supported. But when asked by an Associated Press reporter about another provision in the bill to limit new voter registration opportunities, McCrory said, “I don’t know enough. I’m sorry. I haven’t read that portion of the bill.”

McCrory also dodged questions about two other elements of the bill that restrict early voting and end same-day registration, choosing instead to tout new campaign contribution limits, and pointing to an amendment — added by Democrats — that would expand early voting hours to make up for the limited early voting days.

When a reporter repeated the original question, McCrory said same-day registration concerns him because of the “possibility for abuse.” He added: “There’s plenty of opportunity for voter registration — online, off-line, through many methods. I thought that was a fair system before, and I think it’s a fair system now.” The Associated Press pointed out that North Carolina has no online voter registration, although voters can download a form online and print it out

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision that effectively disables federal oversight of states with a history of voting discrimination, states have raced to pass new restrictive voting laws. On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder said he would challenge a voter ID law in Texas under another provision of the VRA not affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling. Holder hinted he would pursue similar actions against other states with restrictive laws, saying, “This is the department’s first action to protect voting rights [after the Supreme Court’s ruling]. … But it will not be our last.”


By: Nicole Flatow, Think Progress, July 28, 2013

July 29, 2013 Posted by | Voting Rights, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Your Call Republicans”: Either Job Creation Is The Top Priority Or It Isn’t

I’d very nearly given up trying to convince the political world that sequestration cuts still matter. But then yesterday, something changed my mind.

For those who still care about the policy that was designed to hurt the country on purpose, there’s been quite a bit of news lately, all of it showing the sequester doing what it was intended to do. In addition to the voluminous list of documented problems, just over the last few days we’ve gotten a better sense of the ways in which the policy is hurting the military, public schools, parks, and the justice system. The poor and minorities are disproportionately suffering.

Did the political world care about these stories? Not really. Generally speaking, the slow-motion disaster on auto-pilot just keeps plodding along, with little more than indifference from the Beltway.

So what made yesterday different? This did.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on Thursday estimated that keeping the spending cuts from sequestration in place through fiscal 2014 would cost up to 1.6 million jobs.

Canceling the cuts, on the other hand, would yield between 300,000 to 1.6 million new jobs, with the most likely outcome being the addition of 900,000, the CBO said.

The full CBO report, requested by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), is online here.

And why might this part of the sequestration story matter, even after the other elements of the story were largely ignored? Because it offers the political world an important test.

A month ago, several congressional Republican leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), insisted publicly that job creation is their “number one priority.” If those claims were true, I have good news — now they can prove they meant it.

After all, we now have independent confirmation that this one policy, if it remains in place, will cost the nation about 1.6 million jobs through next year. End the policy, on the other hand, and the U.S. economy adds 900,000 jobs.

For those who say the job market is their “number one priority,” this is what’s commonly known as a “no-brainer.”

Let’s make this incredibly simple for Congress: either job creation is your top priority or it isn’t. If it is, then the House and Senate could take five minutes, scrap the sequester, and help the U.S. job market. A lot.

Is it really that simple? Well, yes, actually it is that simple.

But won’t that mean slightly higher spending levels? And won’t that mean slightly less deficit reduction?

Perhaps, but either job creation is your top priority or it isn’t. If someone says, “I’d like to end the sequester, but not if it means increased spending and higher deficits,” then we know, in a very literal sense, that the jobs are not their “number one priority.”

It’s a straightforward, binary choice. Your call, Republicans.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 26, 2013

July 29, 2013 Posted by | Jobs, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

%d bloggers like this: