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Watch: HBO’s ‘Gideon’s Army’ Follows Public Defenders in the Deep South

Watch: HBO's 'Gideon's Army' Follows Public Defenders in the Deep South

We’ve recently marked the 50th anniveresary of Gideon v. Wainwright, a landmark Supreme Court ruling that granted the right to an attorney to defendants who couldn’t otherwise afford legal representation. As Seth Freed Wessler reported for Colorlines, the past five decades have only deepened racial inequality in public defense.

It’s with that context in mind that HBO is set to release a new documentary that follows public defenders in the Deep South. And it’s no easy task. The attorneys are often juggling dozens of cases at a time with limited resources, not to mention the crushing law school debt that’s become a depressing feature of the profession. Tambay Obenson applauded it over at Shadow and Act in January, writing that the film “paints a rather sobering portrait of the lives” of the film’s central characters. 

Tune into HBO on July 1 to watch Gideon’s Army.

h/t Shadow and Act.

Connecticut Limits Cooperation With Secure Communities

Connecticut Limits Cooperation With Secure Communities

The Connecticut State Senate voted unanimously on Friday to substantially limit cooperation between local police departments and federal deportation officials. The House already approved the bill. It will now move to the governor, who has vowed to sign it. The state will be the first in the country to pass a version of the so-called Trust Act, which prohibits local authorities from detaining most non-citizens at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement unless the individual has been convicted of a felony or was already ordered deported.

The bill comes in response to the Secure Communities program, a federal-state data sharing program that sends finger print records from local arrests to the federal government.  Though ICE has consistently claimed that it uses the program to target people with criminal convictions, over half of those removed from the country under the program were charged with no crime or a minor violation.

“It’s now unanimous in Connecticut: not one more innocent person should be racially profiled and turned over to Immigration Customs Enforcement,” Megan Fountain of the group Unidad Latina en Acción said in a statement. “Not one more worker should be unable to report abuse to the police.”

Critics say S-Comm feeds on unaccountable local policing, including the use of racial profiling and breeds fear in immigrant communities. A recent study by a University of Illinois Chicago professor found that 44% of the 1000 immigrants and Latinos surveyed said the program made them less likely to contact cops if they are the victims of crime. Nearly 40 percent of respondents said that local immigration enforcement programs make them fearful of leaving their home.

Since the S-Comm program was first rolled out in 2008, 140,000 of the 266,000 people deported through data sharing were convicted of no criminal charge or a low-level charge. The Connecticut legislation will limit local compliance with the program to cases involving serious convictions, as well as to people with outstanding arrest warrants, existing deportation orders, or who’ve been listed on federal gang and terrorism databases. The bill also permits local authorities to detain an immigrant at ICE’s request if cops deem them to “present an unacceptable risk to public safety.”

A verison of the Trust Act has been introduced in other states, including California, where California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill last year. A more limited version has been introduced in the California state legislature. As of March of this year, 80,000 people had been deported from California through S-Comm. In the two years it’s been operational in Connecticut, where Gov. Dan Malloy has said he will sign the bill into law, just 456 immigrants were removed from that state. Immigrant rights advocates say that’s hundreds too many. 

“This is a monumental victory for the immigrant rights movement, Ana Maria Rivera, of the New Haven group Junta for Progressive Action, said in a statement. “The fact that advocates, our Governor and the entire Connecticut legislature worked together to send the message to ICE that we will not allow our communities to be separated is historic.”

The Connecticut bill is the second in a week in that state to protect the rights of uncodumented immigrants.  On Thursday, the state legislature there passed a bill that let’s all residents, incuding those lacking immigration papers, to apply for driver’s licenses.

Ava DuVernay: Black Film’s Big Year Fueled by Indie Movement

Ava DuVernay: Black Film's Big Year Fueled by Indie Movement

This year is gonna be a big one for black films. At least ten are set to hit theaters in the last five months of the year, and they aren’t all directed by Tyler Perry. In fact, they’re a range in everything from musicals to romances to Christmas comedies. It’s a really big deal because they’re actually don’t reduce black folks to mere caricatures. Ava DuVernay had some great insight for the New York Times into how the indie circuit has been cultivating talented black filmmakers for years, and now we’re finally seeing the results. 

“The conversation within the black film community is about this new energy that was jump-started by the indie movement,” said DuVernay, who in 2011 started the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement to issue black-made films that were being overlooked by commercial distributors.

Among this year’s films to watch out for: Ryan Coogler’s Oscar Grant narrative, “Fruitvale Station”; Lee Daniels’ historical account of a White House butler called, not surprisingly, “The Butler”; and the romance “Baggage Claim”, written and directed by David E. Talbert, who likened this year’s crop of black films to a resurgence of the Harlem Reniassance in the Times. In addition to those, there are seven slavery-themed films hitting theateres this year.

Celebrities Don Fedoras to Push Immigration Reform

Celebrities Don Fedoras to Push Immigration Reform

Julianne Moore, Rosie Perez, Cynthia Nixon, John Leguizamo and Christy Turlington Burns are among the notable Hollywood celebrities adding their names to efforts to support comprehensive immigration reform in a photo project called “Fedoras for Fairness.”

The portraits were taken by fashion photographer Albert Watson, who immigrated to the United States from Scotland in 1970. The photo series was commissioned by We Belong Together, a campaign focused on supporting comprehensive immigration reform and highlighting the experiences and needs of immigrant women. 

The campaign is using fedoras as both a metaphor and a symbol: a metaphor for women’s multiple roles and identities; and a symbol of support for reform legislation that is inclusive of the needs of women.  

We Belong Together is a national campaign anchored by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. We Belong Together hopes supporters will also upload photos of themselves wearing fedora hats to their website.

Sherri Shepherd

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Christy Turlington Burns:

“My mother immigrated from El Salvador in the late ’40s, and at that time you know she was separated from her father for probably about three to four years before the rest of the family came over. Where she comes from is such a part of who I am, and so her story is my story. … Really all of us are in this country connected to this issue.” - quote via NYT

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Julianne Moore

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Fast Food Workers Strike In Seattle As National Trend Begins To Show Results

Fast food workers shut down as many as six restaurants in Seattle yesterday as a national movement of service workers demanding wage hikes and union rights gains momentum and logs small victories. 

Seattle is the sixth city in two months where fast food workers have gone on strike. The walk-outs, which usually last one day, are organized by local community and labor groups with the support of national unions.  Similar efforts are underway with other service workers as well. Earlier this week, New York City carwash workers won a contract for higher wages, guaranteed sick days and the creation of a grievance process. The Huffington Post reports:

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said workers at the Astoria Car Wash & Hi-Tek 10 Minute Lube in Queens voted overwhelmingly in favor of the contract, which increases wages from the current minimum wage of $7.25 to $9.18 after three years. The agreement also guarantees sick and personal days for workers and establishes a grievance process for complaints.

Unions, in concert with faith and community groups, have made a significant push in recent years to organize the mostly Latino immigrant workforces that clean cars in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. Workers often toil for the minimum wage or less, handling potentially dangerous chemicals, with little or no job security.

The fast food strikers are hoping for similar victories. The same group that spearheaded the car wash union drive, New York Communities For Change, also organized the first fast food strike in New York last year. But so far, no fast workers in any of the strike locations have formed a union or won the $15 hour wages they demand. In addition to New York and Seattle, workers have staged walk-outs in Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Chicago.

Though a significant victory, the $9.18 wage hike for the car wash workers does not amount to a living wage for a family in New York City. According to an MIT calculation, a single adult needs to earn more than $12 an hour to get by.  An adult with one kid needs to make twice that amount.

The struggles of low-wage service sector workers do appear to be getting some small attention from Washington, where the Congressional Progressive Caucus announced it would make low wage work one of it’s core issues.  Rep. Keith Ellison, D—Minn., told MSNBC this week that he another other CPC members would launch a national tour to “highlight the problem of stagnant and low wages for American workers.”

Graduation Rates at Historically Black Colleges Drop

Graduation rates at historically black HBCUs, which were already facing scrutiny under a national push to improve outcomes in higher education, have fallen over the last five years, according to U.S. Education Department data analyzed by The Associated Press.

The AP with more details:

The AP found graduation rates declined at 57 of the 80 four-year HBCUs that have complete data between 2006 and 2011. While total HBCU enrollment increased about 3 percent overall, the aggregate graduation rate for HBCU students fell from 37.7 percent in 2006 to 33.7 percent in 2011, the AP found.

That means of the 47,139 students who entered HBCUs six years before, just 15,885 had completed their degree by 2011, though the figures do not include transfers or part-time students.

Morehouse College, where President Obama spoke earlier this month, has one of the very highest graduation rates amongst HBCUs. An estimated 55%

Good News in Mississippi: School-To-Prison Pipeline Closes

Good News in Mississippi: School-To-Prison Pipeline Closes

The sealing of the school-to-prison pipeline in Meridian, Miss. has officially started after a U.S. District Court judge approved what the Department of Justice is calling “a landmark consent decree” that features a “far-reaching plan to reform discipline practices … that unlawfully channel black students out of their classrooms and, too often, into the criminal justice system.

In March, the Justice Department reached agreement with the Meridian Public School District to decrease excessive suspensions and expulsions of mostly young black students for trivial infractions like wearing the wrong colored socks. Kids were lucky if they were only suspended — in many of these cases, schools called the police to arrest the students, as young as 10 years old, and send them to juvenile facilities, as reporter Julianne Hing found last November.

This consent decree essentially cancels most, if not all, police intervention for any issues that ca  be “safely and appropriately handled under school disciplinary procedures.” This includes: disorderly conduct, school disturbances and disruptions, loitering, trespassing, profanity, dress code violations, and fighting that doesn’t include physical injury or weapons. Further, the school district can not share any information on students’ discipline records with any law enforcement agency unless court-ordered. It also requires schools to track discipline data, including by race, and then take corrective action if they find racial disparities. 

Last month, Jocelyn Samuels, deputy assistant attorney general for DOJ’s civil rights division, told Hing that Meridian “is just the tip of the iceberg,” and that this consent decree could be a model for tackling the national problem of excessive punishment of black students.

Yesterday, Samuels said in a press release: “The consent decree approved by the court today will propel meaningful reform in Meridian schools and serve as a blueprint for school districts across the country. We commend the Meridian Public School District for its commitment to keeping its students in safe and inclusive classrooms, and out of the school-to-prison pipeline.”

A separate lawsuit DOJ filed against the Meridian Police Department, Lauderdale County Youth Court and the State of Mississippi is still pending — the cops have not been let off the hook. 

Bad News in Mississippi: Rats-to-Prison Pipeline Opens

Bad News in Mississippi: Rats-to-Prison Pipeline Opens

A state prison in Mississippi is over-crawling with rats, and civil rights lawyers are suing the state over it — call it Master Splinter’s revenge. The Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the Mississippi Department of Corrections for their East Mississippi Correctional Facility for mentally ill inmates in Meridian, a city that’s also crawling with civil rights violations in its schools and police department. 

Ryan Nave at Jackson Free Press reports that the rat infestation is so bad there, “that some of the prisoners have adopted the disease-carrying vermin as pets, sometimes taking them on walks around the prison on leashes fashioned of paper clips and string.”

Writes Nave about the complaint:

“The complaint details numerous claims, including broken plumbing systems that result in people sometimes having to defecate in trash bags or food. It charges that chronic understaffing often leads to prisoner-on-prisoner altercations and rapes, as well as excessive use of force by corrections officers.” 

SPLC’s lawsuit against horrendous prison conditions in New Orleans led to a federal consent decree agreement reached in December. Under that agreement, a new prison currently being built in New Orleans is expected to enforce a number of reforms to improve conditions for inmates, including mental health and language translation services. SPLC recently asked a U.S. District Judge to review the new prison design to make sure it complies with that consent decree’s requirements.  

Connecticut to Allow Undocumented Immigrants to Apply for Driving Licenses

Connecticut to Allow Undocumented Immigrants to Apply for Driving Licenses

The Connecticut state senate on Thursday narrowly approved a measure that will allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses. Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy has pledged to sign the bill, which passed the Senate by a 19-16 vote.

“This bill is first and foremost about public safety. It’s about knowing who is driving on our roads, and doing everything we can to make sure those drivers are safe and that they’re operating registered, insured vehicles,” Gov. Malloy said in a statement. “There’s a reason these measures have been supported by local police and city leaders, and that other states are taking similar common-sense steps. They’re changes that benefit everyone taking a car out onto our roads and highways.”

Malloy also called on the federal government to allow all immigrants to apply for driving licenses.

“It should also be noted that, like many issues, action on the federal level would address this problem in an even more comprehensive and sensible way. I continue to support those broader efforts at national reform, and urge Congress to follow the example being set by Connecticut and other states,” Malloy went on to say.

Immigrant rights advocates are also applauding the decision. 

I know there are a lot of people who don’t think this makes sense but really it does benefit all of us in terms of reduced insurance premiums. The fact that you won’t have a bunch of uninsured drivers on the road, the fact they will be paying fee revenue to the state,” Angel Fernandez-Cavero of the immigrants right group CONNECT told WTNH.

The new law, which will make 54,000 undocumented immigrants eligible for a driving license, takes effect on January 1, 2015. (There are about 120,000 illegal immigrants in Connecticut, according to Reuters.)

Maryland, Illinois and Oregon adopted similar legislation that allows undocumented immigrants to apply for driving licenses this year.  New Mexico, Washington and Utah have permitted undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers licenses for several years.

Cheerios Ad Starring Interracial Family Ignites Racist Hate Storm

Cheerios Ad Starring Interracial Family Ignites Racist Hate Storm

We’ve seen interracial couples on television for decades but corporate companies have largely stayed away from including them in advertising. 

The sitcom “I Love Lucy,” which premiered in 1951, was the first television program to feature an interracial couple starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. In 1975, “The Jeffersons” also featured one of the first black and white couples on TV with Tom and Helen Willis (Franklin Cover and Roxie Roker), neighbors of George and Louise Jefferson. More recently shows like “Boy Meets World,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” have featured interracial couples in leading roles. 

Earlier this week Cheerios released a commercial featuring an interracial couple and their daughter and you’d think it would be no big deal since we’ve seen interracial couples on TV for decades. Not so.

The ad, posted to YouTube on Tuesday, received such a negative response that Cheerios had to close the comments section on the video sharing site. The ad also made it to Reddit where the discussion thread is still thriving with bigoted comments.

Cord Jefferson at Gawker highlited the following racist comment on Reddit: “Shoving multi-culturism down our throats when we know it fails.. awesome.”

It’s been 46-years since the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that prohibiting marriage between people classified as “white” and people classified as “colored” was unconstitutional. The case, Loving vs. Virginia, led to a decision that ruled all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States were unconstitutional. 

Despite the court ruling and more than half a century of interracial couples on TV, the bigotry (at least online) is still alive and thriving.

Tim Nudd at Ad Age points out that the controversy may stem from people just not being used to seeing interracial couples in ads that are lobbying for their dollars. 

“The problem is that TV ads have always lagged TV programming in this regard, as so many brands are clearly scared of being perceived as making a political statement with the casting of their commercials,” Nudd write at AdAge. ”Thus, the Cheerios ad, despite its characters being representative of tens of thousands of actual couples in America, sticks out like a sore thumb.”

The good news is that there are some people complaining the ad doesn’t go far enough. 

“Every commercial with an interracial family show a black man and white woman. You never see Asians or Native Americans or Mexicans or even a white man with a black woman,” wrote one user on Reddit. “I’m not satisfied with the family, they need to be more interracial.”

Kendrick Lamar Thinks ‘Molly’ Is Bad for Hip-Hop

Kendrick Lamar Thinks 'Molly' Is Bad for Hip-Hop

Everybody’s favorite rapper, aka Kendrick Lamar, sat down with MTV’s Sway recently to talk about the impact of “Molly” on rap. Molly, of course is the powdered form of the ecstacy compound MDMA and everybody from rappers Danny Brown and French Montana to 2 Chainz has shouted it out in recent songs. But to Lamar, the only thing that “Molly” does for hip-hop is water it down.

“Sometimes you have the trends that’s not that cool. You may have certain artists portraying these trends and don’t really have that lifestyle and then it gives off the wrong thing. And it becomes kinda corny after a while,” Lamar told Sway. “When everybody consciously now uses this term or this phrase and putting it in lyrics, it waters the culture down. So it’s really just time to move on. It’s really about keeping hip-hop original and pushing away the corniness in it.”

Watch Kendrick Lamar’s interview with Sway over at Okayplayer.

Alice Walker Absolutely Does Not Want Alicia Keys to Perform in Israel

Alice Walker Absolutely Does Not Want Alicia Keys to Perform in Israel

Alice Walker and Alicia Keys are two well-known black female artists whose work exists in very different worlds. Walker is a renowned author and outspoken activist and Keys is a Grammy-winning recording artist. That’s all to say that, generally speaking, their paths don’t cross much. But on Wednesday, Walker released an open letter to Keys in which she tries to get the singer to consider the political consequences of an upcoming performance in Israel. And she throws some serious shade.

Walker writes:

Study: Immigrants Put Billions More Into Medicare Than They Use

Study: Immigrants Put Billions More Into Medicare Than They Use

Conservative arguments against immigration reform took another blow yesterday with the release of a new study about immigrant contributions to the federal safety net. According to a new study published in the journal Health Affairs, immigrant communities contribute billions more to the Medicare Trust Fund than they use. And since the opposite is true of the U.S. born, immigrants are paying for everyone’s grandmother’s healthcare.  According to the data, this will remain true for decades to come.

The new findings should come as a bit of an embarrassment to fiscal conservatives who are threatening to hold up or derail the immigration overhaul over stated concerns about health care costs.  The L.A. Times reported last week that Republicans in the House hoped to include language in an immigration bill that would lead to the deportation of immigrants who failed to pay hospital bills. The new data makes quite clear that immigrants are already paying those bills, and some.

The article in Health Affairs figures expenditures from naturalized, documented and undocumented immigrants left nearly $14 billion in Medicare Trust Fund surplus in 2009.  That’s in contrast to $31 billion in deficit from U.S. born people who paid in less than they used.  Between 2002 and 2009, immigrants produced $115 in Trust Fund surplus. 

This surplus is mostly because immigrants tend to be younger, working age adults who contribute more than their share to payroll taxes.

“Most of the surplus from immigrants was contributed by noncitizens and was a result of the high proportion of working-age taxpayers in this group,” the from Harvard and The City University of New York researchers wrote.

The authors add that immigration reform will expand this number of workers who labor in the formal economy and pay these taxes.

“Policies that restrict immigration may deplete Medicare’s financial resources,” the authors wrote.

The report is the latest to establish that immigrants and immigration are good for the overall economy. Everyone except the Heritage Foundation and its minions seems to agree. In fact, the Heritage Foundation’s latest report on the fiscal costs of immigration and immigration reform has been widely discredited on methodological grounds and because its co-author wrote a Harvard thesis arguing that immigrants aren’t as smart as native-born people. That revelation made bluntly clear that fiscal arguments against immigration are more about cultural and racial anxiety than they are about cost. The new data from Health Affairs should help nail shut the Heritage report’s coffin.

 

 

George Zimmerman Legal Team Asks Public for Cash

George Zimmerman Legal Team Asks Public for Cash

George Zimmerman is set to go on trial to face charges for the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin next month but he’s out of money and has turned to his website to raise funds. 

Zimmerman’s attorneys posted on their website Wednesday that his defense fund had less than $5,000 left. The fund had almost $315,000 in January.

“We’ve calculated that we need another $120,000 to give George the defense he deserves,” the lawyers wrote  “At the barest minimum, we need $75,000 to give George a fighting chance.

“Had we declared indigency, George’s defense would end up costing Florida taxpayers more than $1,000,000. As it stands now, with a little extra support, we’re going to get through trial for less than half that figure, and we’ll have done it, not with taxpayer funds, but with the money generously donated by people from across the country who believe George is innocent and that he is being wrongly prosecuted,” the post says.

According to the website, neither of the lawyers, Mark O’Mara and Don West, have been paid for their services.

On Thursday morning Zimmerman’s website announced they had raised $12,000 on the first day of the latest fundraising campaign. 

Sheriff Joe Arpaio Will Appeal Racial Profiling Decision

Sheriff Joe Arpaio Will Appeal Racial Profiling Decision

In a video statement yesterday, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, AZ said he would appeal a major federal court ruling from last week that ordered an end to practices of racial profiling.  The decision from Judge Murray Snow of U.S. District Court in Phoenix, was a major blow to the Sheriff who has made a career as a flamboyant anti-immigrant force who admits to targeting Latinos during neighborhood sweeps and traffic stops.

“We will appeal this ruling,” Arpaio said yesterday (see video above).

In the meantime, Arpaio said that he ordered his deputies to stop detaining undocumented immigrants solely because of their immigration status. “[T]he court’s order is clear,” he said. “We will no longer detain persons believed to be in the country without authorization whom we cannot arrest on state charges.”

But the impact of the ruling in the Melendres v. Arpaio case is not yet clear. Though the court issued an immediate injunction against unconstitutional practices of racial profiling, Arpaio’s statement suggests he may continue to target immigrants under the pretense that they’ve broken state laws. Arpaio’s 800 deputies regularly stop and arrest Latinos in Maricopa County by citing state laws written to target immigrants, including one anti-human smuggling law that makes it possible for the county to charge individuals with smuggling themselves into the country.  

This shiftiness leads many to wonder about the impact of the injunction. “We’re going to have to wait and see what happens,” says Carlos Garcia, an organizer with Puente Arizona. “For people to be able to go to work without fearing that they are not going to be stopped or raided would something amazing.”

In his statement, Arpaio also shifted blame for his department’s profiling practices to the federal government.

“One hundred of my deputies were authorized and trained by the federal government, ICE, to enforce federal immigration law,” he said. “Now, a federal court has ruled that federal training was unconstitutional, and it led to racial profiling.”

Maricopa County deputies were indeed trained by federal officials to act as immigration enforcers through the 287(g) programs and were instructed they could use race as a factor in making stops, according to the decision from Judge Snow. But while the federal government helped empower Arpaio’s worst practices, when the 287(g) terminated the agreement, Arpaio continued to detain immigrants and changed his justification saying that he had inherent authority to enforce immigration laws.

Garcia and other advocates are also concerned about the thousands of people who Arpaio has already arrested.  

“Who knows how many people have been illegally detained and arrested who’ve ended up with criminal convictions or removed,” said Cecillia Wang, an attorney with the ACLU, which brought suit. “Our case really was looking for injunctive relief to bring an end to the policy and practice of targeting Latinos and detaining people because of immigration status.  But this decision does not have any direct impact for people already facing changes.”

Litigants will head to court again on June 14th when Judge Snow will outline next steps to remedy the illegal profiling practices. These could include the introduction of an independent monitor and data collection requirements. 

Ten Members Of Congress Urge Washington Redskins To Change Name

Ten Members Of Congress Urge Washington Redskins To Change Name

A group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill is calling on the Washington Redskins to drop the name that has long been deemed offensive to Native Americans, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

The ten members of Congress sent letters to Redskins owner Dan Snyder, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Redskins sponsor FedEx, and the other 31 NFL franchises.

“Native Americans throughout the country consider the ‘R-word’ a racial, derogatory slur akin to the ‘N-word’ among African Americans or the ‘W-word’ among Latinos,” read the letter to Snyder.

The letter goes on to say:

“The current Chairman and Chief of the Penobscot Nation, Chief Kirk Francis, recently stated in a joint statement that the [R-word] is ‘not just a racial slur or a derogatory term,’ but a painful ‘reminder of one of the most gruesome acts of … ethnic cleansing ever committed against the Penobscot people.’  The hunting and killing of Penobscot Indians like animals, as declared by Chief Francis, was ‘a most despicable and disgraceful act of genocide’…

“In this day and age, it is imperative that you uphold your moral responsibility to disavow the usage of racial slurs.  The usage of the [R-word] is especially harmful to Native American youth, tending to lower their sense of dignity and self-esteem.  It also diminishes feelings of community worth among the Native American tribes and dampens the aspirations of their people.

The 10 Congress members who signed the letter include the co-chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) and Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Arizona), Gwen Moore (D-Wisconsin), Michael M. Honda (D-California), Donna M. Christensen (D-Virginia), Zoe Lofgren (D-California), Barbara Lee (D-California), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), and Eni F.H. Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa).

As the Washington Post’s Mike Jones noted, the Redskins franchise has no comment on the letter. Redskins owner Dan Snyder has previously said he “will never change the name of the team.”

‘What Kind of Asian Are You?’ Answered in Hilarious Video

'What Kind of Asian Are You?' Answered in Hilarious Video

Ever been asked where you’re from? Or where you’re parents come from?

For Comedy Week on YouTube, David Neptune and Ken Tanaka (author of Everybody Dies: A Children’s Book for Grown Ups) directed a video called “What Kind of Asian Are You?” that takes the question head on. 

Apple Announces New Upgrade: Former EPA Chief Lisa Jackson

Apple Announces New Upgrade: Former EPA Chief Lisa Jackson

Former EPA chief Lisa Jackson will be vice president for environmental initiatives at web products company Apple. CEO Tim Cook announced the Jackson hire during a live interview he gave during the D11: All Things Digital conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. Jackson will “be coordinating [environmental] efforts across the company,” and will report directly to Cook.

Jackson, who was the first African American EPA chief administrator, resigned after her first four-year term in February. During her time there, she made environmental justice — policies that address disproportionate environmental burdens on poor neighborhoods and communities of color — a priority for the federal government. 

Jackson told Politico about her hire: 

“Apple has shown how innovation can drive real progress by removing toxics from its products, incorporating renewable energy in its data center plans, and continually raising the bar for energy efficiency in the electronics industry. I look forward to helping support and promote these efforts, as well as leading new ones in the future aimed at protecting the environment.”

Cook stated at the D11 conference that Apple’s data centers ran on 100% renewable energy and that they had the largerst solar farm of any non-utility company.

Jackson, who grew up in New Orleans, worked in government and public service for basically her entire professional career, after obtaining a Masters degree in chemical engineering from Princeton in 1986. Last month, Jackson told a story to The Moth about evacuating her mother from New Orleans after the Hurricane Katrina federal levee failures and floods. Jackson was working for New Jersey state government at the time, and she had a moment then when she realized that had she worked for the private sector she could have “bought my mother a new house, or raised the one she had.” But her mother encouraged her to remain in public service.

Perhaps now, a new house is in the works.  

Wal-Mart Smacked With $110 Million in Fines for Environmental Crimes

Wal-Mart Smacked With $110 Million in Fines for Environmental Crimes

Mega-retail company Wal-Mart plead guilty on Tuesday for Clean Water Act violations that involved years of illegally and improperly handling hazardous liquids and pesticides in California and Missouri. The company is on the hook for $81.6 million in criminal environmental fines for violating federal laws and another $30 million to resolve state environmental law violations. 

Documents from the U.S. District Court in San Francisco say that “from a date unknown until January 2006, Wal-Mart did not have a program in place and failed to train its employees on proper hazardous waste management and disposal practices at the store level. As a result, hazardous wastes were either discarded improperly at the store level - including being put into municipal trash bins or, if a liquid, poured into the local sewer system - or they were improperly transported without proper safety documentation to one of six product return centers located throughout the United States.”

In Missouri, Wal-Mart employees improperly handled pesticides that customers had returned.  “Truckloads of hazardous products, including more than 2 million pounds of pesticides, were improperly handled under Wal-Mart’s contract,” said Tammy Dickinson, U.S. Attorney for Western District of Missouri.

In 2006, Wal-Mart began sending certain damaged household products, including regulated solid and liquid pesticides, from its six return centers to Greenleaf LLC, a recycling facility located in Neosho, Mo., where the products were processed for reuse and resale. Because Wal-Mart employees failed to provide adequate oversight of the pesticides sent to Greenleaf, regulated pesticides were mixed together and offered for sale to customers without the required registration, ingredients, or use information, which constitutes a violation of Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, or FIFRA.

For all of these violations, Wal-Mart will pay roughly $110 million in criminal fines, at least $20 million of which will go to community service projects and programs to train people on how to legally handle hazardous waste.  Their plea agreement includes requirements to ensure adequate environmental personnel and training at all levels of the company, proper identification and management of hazardous wastes, and the development and implementation of Environmental Management Systems at its stores and return centers. Compliance with this agreement is a condition of probation imposed in the criminal cases.

Virginia Governor Will Restore Nonviolent Felons’ Voting Rights

Virginia Governor Will Restore Nonviolent Felons' Voting Rights

Yesterday, a task force commissioned by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli found no legal basis for either the governor or the general assembly to automatically restore the voting rights of former convicted felons, but the governor found a way to do it anyway. This morning, Gov. Bob McDonnell announced that he would lift the permanent civil rights ban for those convicted of nonviolent felonies, but he’d have to do it on a case-by-case basis. This means, for the thousands who currently can’t vote (or run for office) due to a nonviolent felony on their criminal record, the governor will send a letter to each person he can find telling them their rights are restored. Before this, a person with a nonviolent felony had a two-year wait after release from prison to begin an application process that might lead to their rights restored within 60 days of submitting that application. Those with violent or drug felony convictions will still have to wait five years to apply for rights restoration.

According to Rebecca Green, co-director of the Election Law Program at William and Mary Law School in Virginia, the fact that the governor can simply write a letter to individuals to restore rights shows that his powers are expansive enough that he should be able to provide automatic rights restoration, while the fact that those with violent and drug felonies still have to wait and apply shows there continues to be a lack of due process. 

“In a world where the governor could literally flip a coin to determine whose rights are restored and whose aren’t, I don’t understand why he then couldn’t issue blanket restoration for all rights,” says Green. Yet, if McDonnell did attempt a blanket restoration, “he would be doing what the [task force said the] legislature can’t do, which is change the law.”

The task force’s findings that the governor can’t do sweeping restoration is an “odd argument given the broad authority the Virginia Constitution delegates to the governor to restore rights,” says Green. Green helped prepare an amicus brief in a U.S. District Court case where former Richmond city councilmember Sa’ad El-Amin is suing the state to overturn the felony disenfranchisement law on the basis it has racist origins. A federal judge is allowing for that racial history to be explored to determine if the law is, in fact, unconstitutional on equal protection grounds.

The irony here is that El-Amin may now no longer have standing in that case. El-Amin himself has a nonviolent felony conviction, for tax crimes, which invalidated his voting rights. He is legally challenging the disenfranchisment law, but he never himself applied for restoration of his rights. Now he doesn’t need to. The governor will be sending him a letter telling him his rights are now restored, which might affect his standing. 

Indeed, finding every person in the state with a nonviolent felony to send a letter too will be tough for the governor. As Secretary of the Commonewealth Janet Kelly told the Richmond Times-Dispatch

“If you’re sitting in prison right now, we know where you are,” Kelly said. “If you got out of prison 20 years ago, we don’t know where you are.”

Overall, roughly 350,000 people lack voting rights due to felony convictions in the state. A report from the NAACP on felony disenfranchisement in Virginia says that if the governor had to review an application from every disenfranchised person it would take him 51 years to get through them all. That application review is now gone for nonviolent felons, but stay tuned to see how this affects those with  violent felonies. 

UPDATE (1:03 P.M. EST)


From civil rights community law organizing nonprofit Advancement Project:

Following the Governor’s announcement, Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly is meeting this afternoon with Virginia grassroots rights restoration advocates and national civil rights organizations, including Advancement Project, to discuss implementation. 

“We commend Gov. McDonnell for doing what his predecessors would not - taking an executive action to loosen Virginia’s grip on its antiquated felony disenfranchisement law,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “We are interested in hearing his implementation plan for re-enfranchising as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. While today’s announcement represents a positive step forward, Virginia still needs a more permanent solution through a Constitutional amendment from the General Assembly to automatically restore civil rights for all citizens who have served their time. We hope to build on this development in order to move Virginia fully toward America’s promise of a robust and inclusive democracy.”

Many grassroots advocates, several of whom have been personally impacted because of prior felony convictions, are also attending this afternoon’s stakeholder meeting with the Governor’s office.

“I appreciate today’s announcement and hope that Gov. McDonnell will use the full extent of this executive action to restore rights to as many people as possible,” said Michael Edwards, founder and director of Secure Organization Building Educational Recovery, Inc. (S.O.B.E.R.). Edwards lost his right to vote for distribution of marijuana in the 1970s, before finally having his rights restored in 2011. “Since the new rules make a distinction for people with certain kinds of convictions, I’d like to see some other process in place to more efficiently re-enfranchise these individuals who pay taxes and live in our communities.”

UPDATE (10:10 A.M. EST): 

Virginia New Majority, a non-profit that organizes community and conducts leadership development programs for progressive causes, is planning a major voter registration drive on the heels of Governor Bob McDonnell’s planned announcement to streamline the rights restoration process for people with non-violent felony convictions.

“Gov. McDonnell is taking a huge step forward today. We’ve been actively working on this issue for the past four years. It’s a huge milestone for us,” said Tram Nguyen, Deputy Director of Virginia New Majority.

“We’re going to celebrate today, but we have to get right back to work tomorrow. We’re making plans to ensure that people with non-violent felony convictions will be registered in time for the November elections,” said Jon Liss, Executive Director of Virginia New Majority. “We don’t know how many people will be impacted by the Governor’s decision, but we think it will be in the thousands.”

Virginia New Majority is meeting with the Governor and other advocacy groups following the press conference to finetune the new rights restoration process. The state-based civil rights group also intends to continue its push for a permanent solution that would automatically restore voting rights for everyone who has a felony conviction.

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