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“The Fire This Time”: In Ferguson, A Sense Of Being Left Behind

The fire this time is about invisibility. Our society expects the police to keep unemployed, poorly educated African American men out of sight and out of mind. When they suddenly take center stage, illuminated by the flash and flicker of Molotov cocktails, we feign surprise.

The proximate cause of the rioting in Ferguson, Mo., is the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was stopped, a witness has said, by a white policeman for walking in the street rather than on the sidewalk. Officer Darren Wilson shot Brown at least six times, according to a private autopsy and, reportedly, one conducted by the St. Louis County medical examiner. Two of those bullets struck him in the head.

There we have the familiar narrative: another unarmed black man unjustly killed. Brown thus joins a long, sad list — Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, etc. — that seems to have no end.

This story line is unassailable. Anyone who thinks race is not a factor in these fatal encounters should have to cite examples of unarmed, young, white men being killed by trigger-happy police or self-appointed vigilantes. Names and dates, please.

But the violence in Ferguson tells of a deeper, more fundamental narrative about what African Americans have done, and what has been done to them, in the decades since the urban riots of the 1960s — the fire last time.

Tempted to conclude that nothing has changed? Please note that the Missouri Highway Patrol commander, brought in to bring proportion and discipline to what had been a provocative local police response, is black. The attorney general who interrupted his Martha’s Vineyard vacation to order a Justice Department investigation and a third autopsy is black. And, of course, the president and commander in chief — who also took time from a Vineyard holiday to address the crisis in Ferguson — is black.

Also note that this undeniable evidence of progress on the issue of race — which would have been unimaginable when Harlem exploded in 1964 over the police shooting of a 15-year-old boy — makes no apparent difference to the young men who have been rampaging through the streets of Ferguson.

Why not? Because the tremendous gains achieved by some African Americans have not just left some others behind but made their situation more desperate and hopeless than it was 50 years ago.

When the unrest in Ferguson is over, I predict that there will be a flood of ambitious journalism seeking to assess the status of black America. Most of this analysis will be ignored because it will so contradict what many Americans see every day with their own eyes.

Millions of African Americans took advantage of the opportunities created by the civil rights movement to climb into the middle class — and in some cases far beyond, as exemplified by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Yet millions of other black Americans did not reach the middle class. This group, mired in poverty and dysfunction, finds the paths others took are blocked. They live in neighborhoods with failing schools that cannot prepare them for today’s economy. Secure, high-paying blue-collar jobs are a thing of the past. Racial bias in policing means African Americans are much more likely to be arrested and jailed for minor nonviolent offenses, such as drug possession, than whites who commit the same crimes.

Increasingly, these African Americans who were left behind are invisible. Their neighborhoods either get gentrified — which means they can no longer afford to stay there — or simply bypassed by development. What happens in poor black neighborhoods has less and less to do with the everyday lives of middle-class Americans, white or black.

Yet in Ferguson and other such pockets across the nation, millions of young black men and women grow up knowing that the deck is stacked against them. Did Michael Brown have a chip on his shoulder? Not according to his friends and family, although the convenience store video suggests otherwise. Would it be understandable if he did? Might he have wondered if white kids, living in more affluent parts of town, routinely got hassled by the police for jaywalking?

Brown had no police record. He had graduated from high school. He was about to enter a technical college. Given where he came from, it’s hard to do a whole lot better — and easy to do a whole lot worse.

Now that the streets are filled with incoherent rage — and the rioting must be strongly condemned — we can see Brown’s struggle. Momentarily, at least. After the smoke clears, we will be blind once again.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 18, 2014

August 20, 2014 Posted by | Black Men, Ferguson Missouri, Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Perry Case Complicates Boehner’s Lawsuit”: Republicans Arguing One Thing For Perry, And The Exact Opposite For Obama

The indictment of Governor Rick Perry of Texas and his subsequent court case are about to complicate things politically for John Boehner. No matter the actual outcome of Perry’s case, the arguments made by Perry and his supporters are going to provide an easy equivalence with Boehner’s plans to sue President Obama — an equivalence that would not have existed had Perry not been indicted.

Perry is making the claim that the entire thing is just a partisan witchhunt, driven by out-of-control Democrats in the liberal enclave of Austin. He may succeed in convincing the public of this — and it remains to be seen whether this will help or hurt Perry among Republican primary voters in the upcoming presidential contest. So far, he has signaled that he’s going to wear it as a Republican badge of honor — standing up to liberals trying to tear him down in the courts. Here is Perry’s lawyer, summing up this defense:

The facts of this case conclude that the governor’s veto was lawful, appropriate and well within the authority of the office of the governor. Today’s action, which violates the separation of powers outlined in the Texas Constitution, is nothing more than an effort to weaken the constitutional authority granted to the office of Texas governor, and sets a dangerous precedent by allowing a grand jury to punish the exercise of a lawful and constitutional authority afforded to the Texas governor.

He is arguing that the voters entrusted Perry with executive powers, which Perry then faithfully exercised, and that the case against him is nothing more than Democrats fighting a partisan battle that they already lost at the ballot box.

Now, I should explicitly point out that I have no idea what the actual facts are and until a jury hears the case, it is impossible to know whether the indictment was partisan overreach or not. I’m not going to argue the facts of the case here, to put this another way — we’ll all have plenty of time to do so as the case makes its way through the legal system in the months to come. I’m instead focusing only on the politics of the case.

Perry and his defenders are going to be making the case for strong executive power, which (they will say) is supposed to be executed without the interference of the courts. That’s Perry’s argument in a nutshell, and so far he has not been shy about strongly making this argument himself.

But this is going to become a major political stumbling block for House Republicans when John Boehner actually files his own lawsuit against President Obama. Because they’ll be arguing that, in Texas, the executive should be allowed to execute his powers without interference from the courts; while at the same time arguing that on the national level the courts should indeed interfere with the executive attempting to exercise his powers. The parallels are going to be obvious to all, in fact.

Again, the facts of both cases won’t even really enter into the discussion much, because while one party thinks the Texas case is weak, the other party is going to say the same thing about Boehner’s case. The real argument, in both cases, is: Should this be the way politics works? At what point should political arguments be handled by the justice system? Perry’s case is all about politics from beginning to end. Boehner’s case will be too.

Republicans were counting on Boehner’s case to whip their base voters into a frenzy, right before the midterm elections. They were all set to pronounce the righteousness of their position, using the justice system to rein in an otherwise-unchecked president. That’s going to be a lot tougher sell now, especially since it is scheduled to happen after weeks and weeks of discussing the merits of the case against Perry. Republicans will be denouncing using the justice system against an executive in purely partisan fashion, and then they’ll have to start arguing that John Boehner has every right to use the justice system against an executive in purely partisan fashion. The turnabout will be so dramatic it might induce whiplash.

To the casual observer of politics, the two cases are going to sound an awful lot alike. Some Democrats, perhaps realizing this, have already expressed doubts about the case against Perry. The woman at the heart of the case isn’t exactly a “poster child” character, since video exists of her drunk driving arrest, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in her personality. To defend the case against Perry means also having to defend her, which is why some Democrats are already backing away from this one.

But Republicans won’t be able to back away so easily from Boehner’s case. This isn’t some squabble in one faraway state; this is national politics. The speaker of the House will be suing the president of the country, which can’t be written off as some sort of parochial affair. House Republicans are already on the record, having voted to proceed with the lawsuit right before the August break. For some Republicans, the lawsuit won’t even go far enough — Boehner is already walking a tightrope with Republicans who want to see him impeach Obama. Boehner won’t be able to back down, to put this another way.

But now the argument for suing Obama is going to get more complicated than anyone could have foreseen. Perry’s case is going to prepare the ground with the public, and provide Democrats with an easy response: “How is this case any different than Perry’s?” Republicans are going to be arguing one thing for Perry, and the exact opposite for Obama. This is going to become more and more obvious to all concerned, in fact.

The best Boehner can hope for, at this point, is that Perry’s case moves very, very slowly. Maybe everyone will forget about it if there is no breaking news from Austin in the next month or so. My guess, however, is that Democrats will be more than ready to remind everyone of the similarities between the two cases, and how Republicans are taking positions in the two which are completely contradictory. The Perry case — again, no matter how it turns out — has certainly made it a lot more politically complicated for Boehner to move forward with his lawsuit.


By: Chris Weigant, The Huffington Post Blog, August 20, 2014


August 20, 2014 Posted by | House Republicans, John Boehner, Rick Perry | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Widening Disparities”: Maine Props Up ‘Two Americas’ With No Medicaid Expansion

The Affordable Care Act, as originally passed, holds tremendous promise to decrease health care costs and increase insurance coverage rates across rural states like Maine. But federal court opinions and repeated vetoes of Medicaid expansion are putting all that into jeopardy. Already, data is pointing to widening disparities between the states embracing health reform and those that have resisted — in the numbers of uninsured, in new health care jobs and in the finances of local hospitals.

Historically, the United States has maintained the highest health spending in the world, but it still had lower life expectancies and the highest rates of infant mortality in the developed world. Health costs have sucked up 18 percent of our gross domestic product, leaching out wage gains and damaging America’s global competitiveness.

These factors drove Congress and the president to enact health care reform. Since then, despite the fact that health care utilization typically increases as the economy recovers from recession, health care cost growth has been held in check and health economists increasingly agree that this is due to the structural reforms initiated by the ACA.

And, with federal subsidies and Medicaid expansion to help cover the working poor, the number of people who are uninsured in the country is going down. These are promising trends, but die-hard reform opponents continue to work to reverse them. Every recalcitrant governor, every contentious court decision impedes health reform from realizing its full potential, despite its proven success to date.

There are two Americas. One is prosperous, long-lived and healthy. The second comprises the working poor who are short-lived, disabled early and beset by chronic illnesses that could have been prevented — diabetes, heart failure, pulmonary disease. Those in this second America are people who have a job — maybe two — but do not earn enough to make ends meet.

We make special provisions for some of the most vulnerable in this group — children, the elderly and disabled — but millions of hard-working Americans fall through the gaps. And unfortunately, the ranks of America’s working poor are increasing, not shrinking.

An American born in one of our rural counties is likely to live a shorter life than a person in Algeria or Bangladesh. Meanwhile, Americans who live in prosperous urban regions have life expectancies that rival the healthiest places in the world. This disparity exists, and it takes money. It costs our economy, through lost worker productivity and the high price of treating people in emergency rooms when they cannot afford less expensive preventive care.

As designed, health reform aimed to erase health disparities. It pumped money into making affordable health care available to Americans in poorer, more rural states like Maine. It offered good jobs and billions in economic impact while improving the quality of care to all Americans wherever they live, whatever their income. It directed money to cost-effective primary care and dedicated scholarship funds to increase the number of doctors in rural and underserved areas, like much of Maine.

The New York Times recently reported that state-level refusal to expand Medicaid combined with the recent court ruling jeopardizing subsidies to residents of states on the federal exchange threaten to undo the national reform and create a state-by-state patchwork. This would effectively maintain the two Americas. The states that declined to expand Medicaid or design state exchanges are mostly the poorer, less healthy states. Right now, Maine is on this list.

Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed majority votes to expand Medicaid five times. If we continue in this direction, 12 percent of Mainers will continue to be uninsured while 96 percent of residents in nearby Massachusetts are insured.

Politics threaten to block health reform from fulfilling its promise: to bridge the yawning gap in health and economic potential between the two Americas. Partisan politics shouldn’t block Maine from reaping the benefits of health reform — both in better health outcomes and in expanded economic opportunity.


By: Christy Daggett, Policy Analyst, The Maine Center for Economic Policy; Published in The Bangor Daily News, August 19, 2014


August 20, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Medicaid Expansion, Paul LePage | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obama’s Executive Order Rights A Wrong”: One Of The Most Important Positive Steps For Civil Rights In Last 20 Years

Little noticed in coverage of President Barack Obama’s signing of the Fair Play and Safe Workplaces executive order July 31 was a provision that has been called “one of the most important positive steps for civil rights in the last 20 years.”

The statement comes from Paul Bland of the public interest group Public Justice, quoted by Emily Bazelon of Slate. He’s right; what he’s referring to is a provision of the order that bars employers from forcing workers to bring workplace discrimination, sexual assault or sexual harassment cases only through arbitration. As Bazelon reports, the order applies to firms with federal contracts valued at more than $1 million. But that’s plenty.

The arbitration provision got little public attention after the signing, in part because business lobbyists were so busy carrying on about other aspects of the executive order.

As my colleague Christi Parsons reported, businesses are exercised about a rule requiring prospective federal contractors to disclose labor law violations dating back three years and government agencies to take those violations into account when handing out federal contracts. The idea is to goad employers into settling the violations before they apply for contracts.

Business mouthpieces complain that the provision will create a “blacklist” barring companies with even minor violations from hopping on the government gravy train. Repeat after me: “Tough.”

The arbitration provision, however, addresses what may be an even more important abuse. As a private venue for dispute resolution, arbitration may be an effective way to keep commercial disagreement from clogging court dockets. That’s true chiefly when all the parties come to arbitration with roughly equivalent resources.

When it’s used by employers against employees, or by corporations against aggrieved customers, and when it’s forced down complainants’ throats against their wishes, however, it’s a scourge.

Arbitration provisions have proliferated everywhere, and it’s a safe bet that many, if not most, people forced into arbitration didn’t even know they were subject to the requirement until after their dispute arose – arbitration clauses are buried in the boilerplate you sign when you enroll with a cable company, go to a doctor or hospital, or take a new job. Arbitration typically favors the bigger party — they know their way around the process better, and they can take better advantage of what are often very loose standards of evidence and testimony in arbitration.

The Obama order strikes at the heart of this injustice by allowing complaints about workplace discrimination or abuse to be arbitrated only with the consent of the parties after the disputes arise. Surprise arbitration clauses, in other words, are out.

It’s hard not to see the order as a reproach to the Supreme Court and other courts. Judges are big fans of arbitration, in part because it keeps tedious commercial disputes out of their hair. The key case upholding arbitration clauses involved AT&T and a customer dispute over the real cost of “free” cellphones sold by the mobile carrier.

A California federal judge and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected AT&T’s demand to compel arbitration. But the Supreme Court sided with the company in a 5-4 ruling (naturally).

This was a reflection of what legal scholar David Cole recently called the court’s “unremittingly conservative” narrowing of access to the judiciary to remedy legal wrongs. The Earl Warren Court, he observed in the New York Review of Books, “viewed the courts’ highest calling in a constitutional democracy as safeguarding those who cannot protect themselves through the political process.”

The Roberts Court has put its thumb on the other side of the scale.

The Obama order shifts the balance just a little bit back the other way.


By: Michael Hiltzik, Columnist for The Los Angeles Times; The National Memo, August 14, 2014








August 20, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Executive Orders | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Imagine, Registering People To Vote”: By All Means, We Should ‘Politicize’ Ferguson

After another chaotic night in Ferguson, MO, there are a dozen competing narratives swirling about this crisis, with everyone hoping that their preferred interpretation of what is happening, why it’s happening, what it means, and what should be done about it, will lead the discussion. A new argument is emerging on the right, one articulated by Paul Ryan when he addressed the issue this morning:

“The first thing I do is don’t try to capitalize on this tragedy with your own policy initiatives,” Ryan said in an appearance on “Fox & Friends.” “Don’t try to link some prejudged conclusion on what’s happening on the ground right now.”

“What I don’t want to do, as a political leader, is try to graft my policy initiatives or my preferences onto this tragedy,” he added. “I think that would just be disrespectful.”

Today on, there’s an article about how appalling it is that some people set up a table in Ferguson to register voters. The executive director of the Missouri GOP says:

“If that’s not fanning the political flames, I don’t know what is,” they quote the executive director of the Missouri GOP saying. “I think it’s not only disgusting but completely inappropriate.”

Imagine — registering people to vote! Disgusting.

This argument isn’t just wrong, it’s precisely backward. “Politicizing” this crisis is exactly what we should be doing.

“Let’s not politicize this” is something we hear whenever a dramatic (and especially tragic) event occurs, and talk inevitably turns to the larger issues and policy implications raised by the event in question. The guardians of the status quo always say that this isn’t the time to talk about those implications (this is particularly true of gun advocates, who inevitably argue that the latest mass shooting isn’t the time to talk about the fact that our nation is drowning in firearms).

But what’s a better time to talk about those larger issues than when the nation’s attention is focused on a particular crisis or tragedy? The events in Ferguson have highlighted a number of critical issues — the treatment of black people by police, the unequal distribution of power in so many communities, the militarization of law enforcement, and many others. Does anyone think that if we all agreed not to propose any steps to address any of those problems for a few months, that we’d actually restart the debate over these issues unless there was another tragedy that forced it into the news?

The emerging conservative “move along, nothing to see here” caucus can call it “exploiting” the crisis if they want, but you can put that label on anyone who talks about it. Are the libertarians and liberals who want to talk about the long-developing issue of the militarization of law enforcement “exploiting” Ferguson for their own purposes? If you mean that they’re hoping that the crisis will lead to change, and making a case for why it should, then I suppose so.

But that’s how change happens. When events draw public attention, they spur people to think about things they might have been unaware of or just been ignoring. Politicians feel increased pressure to come up with ways they can address the problem, which will vary depending on where they’re situated. So members of Congress want to reexamine the 1033 program that has transferred billions of dollars of military equipment to local police forces, because that’s an area where the federal government’s actions have played a part in what we’re seeing in Ferguson.

Meanwhile, people in that community may be thinking more about their lack of political power, which might lead them to do things like register voters. I’m sure that all over the country, local activists are starting to ask questions about their own police departments and whether they suffer from some of the pathologies we’ve seen in Ferguson. That’s not exploitation, it’s the political process in action.

Since I’m generally cynical, I’m not particularly optimistic that creative and far-reaching solutions are going to come out of this crisis. The deepest problems it has revealed, like the general hostility with which police so often view black people, are the ones that can’t be fixed with a bill in Congress. The militarization of law enforcement is about the equipment they’ve been given, but it’s even more about a mentality that has spread through departments all over the country.

But change certainly isn’t going to happen if we all agree to defer talk about the policy steps we can take to solve those problems until the media leaves Ferguson, everybody’s memory fades, and the urgency disappears. If we want to make crises like this less likely in the future, this is the best opportunity we have.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, August 19, 2014

August 20, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Politics, Voter Registration | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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