Obama at the Vatican, Wu Tang’s Art and a Dwarf Planet

Obama at the Vatican, Wu Tang's Art and a Dwarf Planet

Here’s what I’ve been reading up on this morning: 

  • Amnesty’s annual death penalty report is out; the US remains the only country in the Americas that executes people, and is fourth on the worldwide executors list. 
  • Not sure I can take Nate Silver seriously anymore after reading this
  • Thanks to federal public funding, Chad Trujillo observes a planet on the edges of our solar system—80 AU away in the Oort cloud. 
TAGS: Morning Rush

Black Woman, 74, Freed After 32 Years In Prison

Black Woman, 74, Freed After 32 Years In Prison

Mary Virginia Jones, 74, walked out of a Calif. prison late Monday evening after serving 32 years for a murder she did not commit. Her son Robert who has a felony was not allowed to visit her prison. As a result, according to the LA Times, Monday is the first day he’d seen his mother in 30 years. Jones’ story reads like those of so many incarcerated women. It includes a lifetime of physical and emotional abuse from parents and boyfriends, rape, and grief from the loss of a 4-year-old daughter.

Jones, who used a magnifying glass in court to help her see, was convicted in 1982 of first-degree murder, kidnapping to commit robbery and robbery. She always maintained that she did not willingly participate in the crime that led to a man’s murder. Jones’ boyfriend, the shooter, died in 1988 while on death row.

None of Jones’ initial and subsequent trials had taken into account her history as a battered victim, said attorney Heidi Rummel of USC Law School’s Post-Conviction Justice Project.

United Students Against Sweatshops Want Teach for America Off College Campuses

United Students Against Sweatshops Want Teach for America Off College Campuses

United Students Against Sweatshops, a national college student organizing group, wants Teach for America off college campuses. In a “TFA Truth Tour” launched this week, student activists, Teach For America alumni and local teachers are visiting college campuses and speaking up about the politics of Teach for America, and education reform. The tour is slated to hit over a dozen college campuses over the next two weeks to target the undergrads who are the backbone of the Teach for America teaching corps. TFA focuses its recruitment operations on college campuses and often partners with local universities to offer provisional teaching licenses to fresh college graduates who are brought in for two-year teaching stints in poor communities, says Jan Van Tol, a national organizer with USAS.

“TFA recruits based on a social justice and community service message,” says Van Tol. “We think that’s deceptive and doesn’t get at what TFA is really about,” which is about dismantling democratic institutions of public education with market-driven education reform.

At a TFA Truth Tour event at the University of Pennsylvania on Tuesday night, half the room was filled with UPenn undergrads who had already applied or were considering applying for TFA, says Van Tol. “I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard of students at schools being told, ‘If you get a job offer from Goldman Sachs you can defer that offer and still do Teach for America and then carry on with your real career,’” says Van Tol. “That runs counter to what we believe, which is that teachers should be well-trained, well-educated professionals. Teaching is not a hobby you just do for two years.”

TFA is indeed a lightning rod in the education reform debate. Long supported by corporate-reform-minded foundations and school superintendents like the Broad Foundation and TFA alumni Michelle Rhee, TFA is often blamed for being part of the larger political effort to hollow out public education, villify school teachers and their unions, and ultimately destabilize poor comunities and communities of color.

USAS’s goal is to use the tour as a launching pad for a longterm campaign to kick TFA recruiters off college campuses and question universities’ current role in sustaining TFA. 

Black College Student Files $5 Million Discrimination Suit

Black College Student Files $5 Million Discrimination Suit

Donald Williams, an 18-year-old black freshman, has filed a $5 million lawsuit against San Jose State University in California. The claim alleges that the university failed to protect Williams from racial bullying and investigate last fall’s incidents sooner. 

Between last September and October 2013, according to police reports, e-mails and court documents, four white suitemates racially harassed Williams, then 17. The incidents include: flying the Confederate flag and displaying Nazi imagery in the dorm; calling Williams “three-fifths” and “fraction;” and wrestling Williams to the ground and fastening a bicycle lock around his neck among others.

“Three-fifths” refers to the pre-Civil War constitutional compromise, in which the U.S. counted enslaved persons as three-fifths of a human being. SJSU is the alma mater of track athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos who famously struck the Black Power salute at the ‘68 Olympics. SJSU honors their protest with a statue on campus. 

(h/t University Herald)

Undocumented Activists Seek Meeting with Obama

Undocumented Activists Seek Meeting with Obama

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson met with several immigrant rights group’s representatives Tuesday, following President Obama’s call for a review to conduct enforcement “more humanely.” While some groups remain hopeful that the Obama administration’s detention and deportation record may change under Secretary Johnson, others are skeptical. 

Among those that attended was Tania Unzueta, who works with the National Day Labor Organizing Network. Unzueta, who was the only undocumented person present at the meeting, says she’s unsure whether the meeting was called to truly change immigration enforcement practices, or to prevent changes from happening.

Unzueta has temporary relief from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and would like to see that policy extended to more undocumented immigrants (DACA is now limited according to age and other restrictions). She’s also part of a group of 25 undocumented people who have formed a commission and is now demanding a meeting with Obama. “Instead of participating in the pageantry of the meeting, I asked for a conversation with the President on behalf of the Blue Ribbon Commission of undocumented leaders that formed in response to his review,” says Unzueta. 

Flight MH 370, Lollapalooza and Hep C Pills

Flight MH 370, Lollapalooza and Hep C Pills

Here’s what I’m reading about this morning: 

TAGS: Morning Rush

NSA Overhaul, Madoff Five and Spacesuits

NSA Overhaul, Madoff Five and Spacesuits
Here’s some of what I’m reading about this morning:
  • An Obama-backed NSA overhaul bill will likely mean that the transparent-sounding Surveillance Court will have to subpoena your phone records. 
  • More than two weeks after the Malaysian Airlines flight disappeared, there is still no hard evidence of what really happened. 
  • At least 14 people are dead, and up 176 are missing following a massive mudslide in Washington state. 
  • Walgreen’s second quarter profits fall by less than one percent, largely due to a mild flu season; the corporation will close 76 stores
  • When taken by pill or oral spray, marijuana reduces symptoms related to multiple sclerosis. 
TAGS: Morning Rush

Undocumented Immigrants Block Alabama Detention Center

Undocumented Immigrants Block Alabama Detention Center

Seven undocumented immigrants working with the #Not1More campaign, chained themselves and blocked the entrance to the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama for several hours today.

Etowah has long been considered one of the worst immigrant detention centers in the country. In a phone call recorded by Detention Watch Network, one detainee named Oscar Quintero describes the facility as “a concentration camp for immigrants:”

The seven activists, Teresa Flores, Carlos Ramos, David Comparan, Evelyn Servin, Gabriel Machabanski, Monica Hernandez and Gwendolyn Ferreti Manjarresz, were all arrested; the group Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice is raising money for their release on bond. 

Two Major Birth Control Cases Hit the Supreme Court

Two Major Birth Control Cases Hit the Supreme Court

Arguments begin tomorrow March 25 for the Supreme Court cases Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius. The cases center on whether the for-profit businesses can refuse to cover no-cost birth control—part of the Affordable Care Act—in its insurance plans because of religious objections. According to the National Women’s Law Center more than 100 lawsuits have been filed in federal court challenging the ACA’s birth control coverage benefit.  In a statement, Adam Sonfield, a researcher for the Guttmacher Institute, lays out some of the risks of the two cases:

“[T]he Supreme Court must also be aware that its decision could have consequences far beyond contraception. For example, there are many important coverage guarantees included in the ACA, and federal law more broadly, and if the Court sides with the plaintiffs, it could truly open a Pandora’s box of discrimination. Employers might claim religious objections to coverage—for everyone or, for instance, for those who are young, unmarried or gay—of HPV vaccination, STI testing, breast-feeding equipment, maternity care, blood transfusions, HIV medication and mental health care.”

For more (non-partisan) analysis and facts, read the rest of the Guttmacher statement.

Google Hangout Today: Women and Black Male Achievement

Google Hangout Today: Women and Black Male Achievement

The public dialogue around black male achievement got a real boost from President Obama’s welcome-if-unambitious, My Brother’s Keeper initiative. At 6:30pm EST today, the conversation continues with a Women’s Herstory Month-themed Google Hangout: Why Women are Key to the Success of My Brother’s Keeper. It’s sure to be a rich session. Some of the ten panelists include Michéle Stephenson (American Promise producer and co-director), Damon Hewitt (senior adviser, Open Society Foundations) and co-host, Nicole Franklin (co-director of Little Brother, a film project that talks to black boys about love in their lives).

Check out the rest of the line up and don’t forget to RSVP. The YouTube link for the event goes live at 6:25pm EST.

Playing While Black

Playing While Black

By now, much of the country has heard of last Friday’s Department of Education data that black preschoolers are more likely to be suspended than white preschoolers. (Yes, 4- and 5-year-olds face suspension, too) The data didn’t get at why but one new study fills in some of the gap. It suggests that a child’s race influences how teachers evaluate child’s play. The research in Early Childhood Research Quarterly looks at 171 Southern California preschoolers, evaluated mainly by Hispanic and white female teachers, and finds that:

Among Black preschoolers, imaginative and expressive pretend play features were associated with teachers’ ratings of less school preparedness, less peer acceptance, and more teacher-child conflict, whereas comparable levels of imagination and affect in pretend play were related to positive ratings on these same measures for non-Black children.”

Suspicious behavior of blacks, it appears, begins even at age four. Check out study findings and limitations (i.e., observations took place in a child-friendly laboratory setting and not in classrooms)*.

(h/t Pacific Standard)

*Post has been updated.

Black Preschoolers Suspended More Than White Preschoolers

Black Preschoolers Suspended More Than White Preschoolers

The school-to-prison pipeline may begin sooner than previously thought. According to the Associated Press, new numbers will reveal that preschools disproportionately suspend black children: 

Data to be released Friday by the Education Department’s civil rights arm finds that black children represent about 18 percent of children enrolled in preschool programs in schools, but almost half of the students suspended more than once. Six percent of the nation’s districts with preschools reported suspending at least one preschool child.

During the 2011 to 2012 schoolyear, some 5,000 preschoolers were suspended once, and some 2,500 were suspended more than once. Schools are getting tough on children, and on black children especially—even at age four. 

Criminal Record Bars Young Women of Color from Work

Criminal Record Bars Young Women of Color from Work

One Philadelphia legal clinic noticed a few years ago that a disproportionate number of clients coming through their doors were young women of color. They all had criminal records and they all sought help because they were having a hard time finding good jobs or any work at all. Their numbers were notable because, as Community Legal Services of Philadelphia explains in a new report: “the vast majority of research, programming, and policy attention regarding criminal records and barriers to employment have focused on men. The impact of criminal records on young women seeking employment has largely been overlooked.”

So CLS undertook a small local study. (Nationally, women are the fastest rising segment of the prison and jail population.) Among the findings: despite the low risk women pose to public safety, they may face more barriers to employment than men. One reason could be social expectations. Women are seen to have committed two offenses: one against society and another against “expectations of how women are supposed to behave.” 

Read more at ThinkProgress.

In Ga., Poor Educational Outcomes for Growing Immigrant Youth Population

In Ga., Poor Educational Outcomes for Growing Immigrant Youth Population

Almost 20 percent of youth aged 16 to 26 in Georgia are immigrants and the U.S.-born children of immigrants. Their educational outcomes, a new study says, are cause for concern. On one end of the spectrum, the population of second generation children has increased nearly 50 percent in the last five years and at the other end Georgia’s native white population is aging rapidly. The educational outcomes of first and second generation youth are expected to shape the state’s future workforce competitiveness.

Here’s more from the Migration Policy Institute report:

* English language learners have a four-year high school graduation rate of 44 percent; the state’s is 70 percent.

* Nearly one-third of foreign-born youth ages 21 to 26 don’t have a high school diploma or GED. 

* Nearly 30 percent of English language learners in high schools have been in U.S. schools for six years or more.

The study acknowledges that Georgia’s recent education reforms have been ambitious. But they don’t go far enough in addressing the needs of immigrant youth, especially English language learners.

Georgia ranks 8th in immigrant population size in the nation, up from 16th place in 1990.


‘Vanishing Pearls’ in Theaters Soon

'Vanishing Pearls' in Theaters Soon

ARRAY/AFFRM has acquired “Vanishing Pearls,” a documentary that follows Louisiana’s black oystermen following BP’s disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The film, directed by Nailah Jefferson, will be in theaters starting April 18, which marks the fourth anniversary of the spill. 

Diversity Critics Target New Media Start-Ups

Diversity Critics Target New Media Start-Ups

The next generation of news providers looks a whole lot like the old generation: they’re mainly white and male. That’s the new gist of an old and resurgent debate about diversity in new media newsrooms that NPR’s Michel Martin tackled yesterday on “Tell Me More.” It all boils down to who’ll be providing news for 2042 America—and whether that group of talking heads and influencers will look much the same like the mainly white cast of today’s Sunday talk shows.

In an open letter last week to new media ventures expected to become the next “New York Times” or “Wall Street Journal,” (Buzzfeed, Vox, FiveThirtyEight, Politico, etc.)  the National Association of Black Journalists invited principals for a diversity chat. And Buzzfeed editor Shani O. Hilton in a widely circulated to-do offered great analysis and one solution for both job seekers and employers: expand your networks.

Check out the above conversations. But other questions to ask if improving newsroom diversity in order to fairly cover America today and in 2042 is the goal: One, what’s happening with the journalist pipeline? Namely, which students (and their families) can best afford to sustain multiple years of unpaid or poorly paid internships in order to become competitive in the field? And two, what’s the FCC’s role if any in ensuring that newsrooms accurately reflect and cover their communities—particularly those who are underserved? 

Individual actions like better and broad networking by both employers and applicants are important. But, structural issues play a part in shaping this newsroom diversity conversation, too.

(h/t Tell Me More)

How Bad Is the Black-White Disparity In Your State’s Drug Arrest Rate?

How Bad Is the Black-White Disparity In Your State's Drug Arrest Rate?

Blacks in the U.S. are almost four times as likely as whites to be arrested for possession of marijuana, even though whites report higher rates of usage than blacks. Today the ACLU is putting those arrest statistics at your fingers with The Uncovery. The project, produced with the brand strategy company Interbrand, compiled statistics on drug arrests for marijuana possession broken down by state and race, as well as dollar figures for how much each state has spent on drug enforcement for pot. 

In a country where more than half of all drug arrests in 2010 were marijuana-related, the statistics put the War on Drugs’ deep racial disparities into sharp focus.

Visit The Uncovery and check out the racial disparities in your state.

Common Performs for Black Workers in the South

Common Performs for Black Workers in the South

This Friday night, Common will headline a Jackson, Miss., concert in support of autoworkers seeking to unionize. Admission is free. Located in nearby Canton, the Nissan plant differs in one key respect from the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. where workers’ in a February election with national implications, voted against joining the UAW. The Chattanooga plant is 90 percent white. The Canton plant, according to Labor South, is 80 percent black. (Blacks, immigrants, and low-wage workers, labor experts say, are all more likely to choose unions. White southern males are not.)

A couple of other things are working in the Canton workers’ favor, too. Jackson, still mourning visionary mayor Chokwe Lumumba, is a Democratic stronghold. And it’s looking like the Canton election will coincide with the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. Indeed, the civil rights legacy is said to be strong. One popular pro-union slogan: “Labor Rights are Civil Rights.”

This Friday’s concert, “Fight 4 Justice,” also features Danny Glover. We’ll be checking to see how it and other local organizing efforts impact the Canton election, as well as the larger fight to unionize the South.

Obama Wants Immigration Enforcement to Be Done ‘More Humanely’

Obama Wants Immigration Enforcement to Be Done 'More Humanely'

President Obama met with Latino lawmakers in Washington on Thursday, where they talked about immigration. Undocumented immigrants, allies and some advocates have long called for a halt to the Obama administration’s record-setting deportations. Now, with legislation unlikely to happen in an election year, an increasing number of high-profile groups as well as politicians are looking for the president to do the same. 

One of the representatives who met with Obama in the Oval Office is Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rubén Hinojosa (D-Tx.), who as recently as three months ago did not sign a letter penned by Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-Az.) and signed by 27 other representatives urging Obama to offer relief from deportation for more undocumented immigrants—the way his administration has with youth under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

After meeting with Hinojosa and others, the White House issued a statement reflecting that immigration enforcement will once again be under review.

“The President emphasized his deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system,” reads the statement. “He told the members that he has asked Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to do an inventory of the Department’s current practices to see how it can conduct enforcement more humanely within the confines of the law.”

But some are unsure that the review will create any meaningful change. Pablo Alvarado, who heads the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, whose organization has long been seeking an end to deportations, wants Obama to be more concrete moving forward. “Relief delayed is relief denied.” says Alvarado, “The President has no excuse to continue his unjust deportation policy, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus should not delay joining what is now a consensus position that the President can and should suspend deportations, expand deferred action, and end the disgraceful Secure Communities program.”

This is not the first time immigration enforcement has been under review by the Obama administration. The head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) John Morton issued what’s referred to as the Morton Memo in 2011, which should have resulted in far fewer detentions and deportations—but has hardly done that. Morton left ICE last year, and the agency remains without a leader. It’s unclear which director, if any, would implement any proposed changes to immigration enforcement. 

Obama Administration Tries Again With Regulations Targeted at For-Profit Colleges

Obama Administration Tries Again With Regulations Targeted at For-Profit Colleges

After courts blocked the Obama administration’s prior attempts to rein in the for-profit college system, the Education Department is back again this week. Late Thursday the Education Department released a revised “gainful employment rule,” which judges schools based on the debt load they leave students with and seeks to crack down on schools that send students and graduates away with tens of thousands of dollars of debt they’re ill-equipped to repay.

“We want to protect students from enrolling in poorly performing programs that leave them with debt they cannot pay and a degree they cannot use,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, Politico reported.

Under the new proposed rules, the Education Department would cut off colleges’ federal student aid eligibility—which often serves as the backbone of revenue for for-profit schools that target low-income students and students of color—if schools fail to meet a certain threshold. Programs would fail if students leave schools with debt loads higher than 12 percent of their incomes and 30 percent of their discretionary incomes. If students have debt-to-income ratios between 8 and 12 percent, schools would be labeled as in “the zone,” and would be required to inform students that they could lose their aid at that particular school. If programs fail these tests two times in a three-year period or stay in “the zone” without moving out of it for four consecutive years their students would become ineligible for federal student aid, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported. The proposed rule will be open to public comment for 60 days.

As it is, for-profit colleges enroll just 13 percent of the nation’s higher education students, but are responsible for a whopping 46 percent of the nation’s student loan defaults, according to The Institute on College Access and Success (TICAS) (PDF). They enroll a disproportionately high number of students of color. As it is, in the 2010 to 2011 school year, the for-profit college University of Phoenix was the nation’s top producer of black baccalaureates.

The well-intended regulations don’t do enough to protect students who are easy prey for for-profit universities. “Rather than requiring failing programs to limit enrollment until they improve, the draft rule gives bad programs every opportunity to put more students at risk,” TICAS Vice President Pauline Abernathy said in a statement. “And it does not require schools to provide any relief to students who took on debt to enroll in programs that lose eligibility for federal funds.”

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