FCC Issues Order to Lower Prison Phone Rates

FCC Issues Order to Lower Prison Phone Rates

The Federal Communications Commission issued an order on Friday to lower the cost of prison phone rates. It’s an historic move by the Commission and years in the making. More than a decade ago, Martha Wright and several families of inmates petitioned the FCC to regulate the price of prison phone rates that can sometimes cost more than $15 for a 15 minute call.

Today’s order requires phone companies to base rates on actual costs and cap them at 25 cents per minute while the Commission collects more data. The order also prohibts companies from charging deaf and hard-of-hearing customers extra for the use of relay services.

Stay tuned for more from Colorlines.

Asian-American Mayor’s Blood Donation Rejected Because He’s Gay

Asian-American Mayor's Blood Donation Rejected Because He's Gay

Evan Low is the mayor of the small city of Campbell, California. Recently, he organized a blood drive because donations are typically a lot slower during the summer. But, as the organizer and host, Mayor Low can’t actually donate himself because he’s gay.

Since 1983, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has effectively banned gay men from donating blood on the basis of increased risk of HIV.

Low told the Bay Area’s KTVU news that the policy has long been outdated. “We are in 2013 and we use science to determine the criteria for tainted blood,” said Low. It’s very important that we look at behavior and using science instead of a discriminatory policy.”

This week, Mayor Low joined the Red Cross in calling for the FDA to review it screening criteria and change its policies.

(h/t KTVU via Angry Asian Man)


The Dream Defenders Introduce ‘Trayvon’s Law’; Talib Kweli Weighs In

The Dream Defenders Introduce 'Trayvon's Law'; Talib Kweli Weighs In

For four weeks now, the youth justice alliance called the Dream Defenders in Florida have peacefully held the state capitol building captive, pushing for reforms to laws that criminalize youth of color. Today, they unveiled “Trayvon’s Law,” a three-pronged bill that aims at the hearts of problematic policies the Defenders say allowed for neighborhood watch guard George Zimmerman to stalk and kill 17-year-old Trayvon Martin when he was innocently returning to his father’s fiancée’s house from the store. 

Trayvon’s Law seeks to reverse state laws that allow people to shoot-and-kill first then claim self-defense later with impunity, that encourage racial profiling, and that excessively punish black and brown school students for trivial offenses. Many have argued that Trayvon Martin was racially profiled as a black youth by Zimmerman, who initially invoked “Stand Your Ground” self-defense laws after he shot and killed the teen. Martin was suspended from his school in Miami when he was murdered. 

The Dream Defenders have scored a number of victories since initiating their #TakeoverFL sit-in. A number of celebrities and high-profile activists have camped with them, including actor/singer Harry Belafonte, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, and today, rapper Talib Kweli. In their first week, they demanded a meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who at first balked, but then met with the youth leaders. They convinced Florida House Leader Will Weatherford to hold a legislative hearing on the state’s Stand Your Ground laws. Also, Dream Defender executive director Phillip Agnew convinced state Rep. Matt Gaetz to have a debate after the legislator said he doesn’t “support changing one damn comma” of Stand Your Ground legislation.

At the press conference featuring Talib Kweli, the rapper said that he was there supporting in his capacity “as a human being,” and not as a rapper or artist. 

The Dream Defenders are “cherrypicking the best and what has worked from every movement,” before it, said Kweli. “They have taken the greatest lessons from Dr. King and the students from [the 1950s/60s civil rights organization Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] so it’s great to see students taking up the tradition of other students.”


Youth Remix Macklemore Song for Quality Sex Education

Youth Remix Macklemore Song for Quality Sex Education

Young folks with Forward Together, an Oakland-based reproductive justice group, have released “20 Condoms”, a sex positive, protection endorsing riff on Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s song “Thriftshop.”

AG Holder Hints at Major Drug Sentencing Reforms Coming

AG Holder Hints at Major Drug Sentencing Reforms Coming

A few years ago, Attorney General Eric Holder joked that David Simon needed to create another season of the HBO drama “The Wire” — “I have a lot of power … Mr. Simon,” said Holder. In response, Simon told Holder to use that power then to stop the War on Drugs. 

“He can’t do it,” Simon told me when I interviewed him a couple years ago. 

Maybe Simon was wrong about that. In an NPR interview yesterday, Holder suggested that a conclusion to the drug war was in the works. 

“The war on drugs is now 30, 40 years old,” Holder told Carrie Johnson at NPR. “There have been a lot of unintended consequences. There’s been a decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color.”

According to Johnson’s report, Holder has been working with attorneys on a number of proposals that would reverse policies like three strikes laws and max-out sentences for low-level dealers. These reforms are expected to be announced as early as next week. 

“We can certainly change our enforcement priorities, and so we have some control in that way,” Holder said in the NPR report. 

“Attorney General Holder is clearly right to condemn mass incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Both he and the president have an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy by securing substantial, long overdue drug policy reform.”

The Alliance is calling for the Obama administration to push for The Smarter Sentencing Act, a bill with bi-partisan support in Congress that would lower mandatory minimums for certain drug offenses, make the recent reduction in the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity retroactive, and give judges more discretion to sentence certain offenders below the mandatory minimum sentence if warranted. 

Holder hinted in June that reforms were coming when he spoke at the American Film Institute’s screening of “Gideon’s Army,” a documentary about the challenges of the public defender system in America. In that speech, he spoke about some of the root problems that have led to mass incarceration of young black men, which he observed when he was a Superior Court judge in Washington, D.C. 

“Day after day, lines of young men—most often African American young men— streamed through my courtroom,” Holder said of his time as a judge. “In some cases, they had committed serious crimes.  In almost every case, they had had long histories of interactions with social services—and educational and juvenile justice systems— which had failed to interrupt the dangerous and potentially avoidable trajectory that led them to my courtroom.”

Looks like it might be time for season six of “The Wire.”

NYPD to Clear Stop-and-Frisk Names Database

NYPD to Clear Stop-and-Frisk Names Database

New York City can no longer permanently store the names of people who have been stopped-and-frisked when cases had been “dismissed or resolved with a fine for a noncriminal violation.” The New York Civil Liberties Union reached an agreement with the city yesterday on a 2010 lawsuit, requiring the city to purge the database of names within 90 days. According to the NYCLU, the NYPD has allegedly gathered hundreds of thousands of names since it began the practice in 1999. 

Decried by many as a form of racial profiling that does little to reduce crime, the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk tactic remains in effect despite widespread protests and efforts by the New York City Council

Slate Will Call the Washington NFL Team the ‘Washington NFL Team’

Slate Will Call the Washington NFL Team the 'Washington NFL Team'

Slate isn’t waiting around for Washington, DC’s NFL franchise to get its act together and change its racist name. David Plotz writes at Slate:

Americans think differently about race and the language of race than we did 80 years ago. We now live in a world, for instance, in which it’s absolutely unacceptable for an NFL player to utter a racial slur. Changing the way we talk is not political correctness run amok. It reflects an admirable willingness to acknowledge others who once were barely visible to the dominant culture, and to recognize that something that may seem innocent to you may be painful to others. In public discourse, we no longer talk about groups based on their physical traits: No one would ever refer to Asians as yellow-skinned. This is why the majority of teams with Indian nicknames have dropped them over the past 40 years.

The entire piece is really worth reading. It’s also worth noting that Slate is owned by The Washington Post Company.

Rap Legend DMC: ‘Lil’ Wayne, Jay Z Ain’t Hot,’ Fans ‘Brainwashed’

Rap Legend DMC: 'Lil' Wayne, Jay Z Ain't Hot,' Fans 'Brainwashed'

Darryl McDaniels, widely known as DMC from the pioneering rap group Run-DMC, has some choice words for today’s highest selling rap artists. In an interview with the UK’s Metro recently, DMC called the state of hip-hop “disrespectful.”

“Ninety-eight per cent of hip hop music that’s out now I say is just bad demos,” the 49-year-old DMC said, before adding: “Lil Wayne, Jay Z ain’t hot, it’s just they’re programmed so many times people are brainwashed,” DMC said.

He then added the oft-heard refrain that hip-hop has strayed from its roots.

“The reason why hip-hop exists is because it started out with good intentions, once all the good intentions left the music became polluted, it became disrespectful, it became immature.” 

(h/t The Metro via The Grio)


HBO Developing Issa Rae’s ‘Awkward Black Girl’ Comedy

HBO Developing Issa Rae's 'Awkward Black Girl' Comedy

It’s turning out to be a great year for Issa Rae. After years of building a loyal fanbase on YouTube with her hit Web series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl”, Rae was tapped by ABC’s Shonda Grimes to work on a comedy series called “I Hate L.A. Dudes.” Then it was announced that Rae would play the role of Nina Simone in an upcoming Lorraine Hansbarry biopic. And now there’s news that Larry Wilmore and Rae will co-write a comedy series loosely based on Rae’s popular YouTube series. She will also star in the project.

Wilmore is known for his role “The Daily Show” as the Senior Black Correspondent.

(h/t Deadline via New York Magazine)

The Dream 9 Come Home

The Dream 9 Come Home

The campaign to bring the Dream 9 home proved successful. The nine transnational activists who crossed the southern border at a port-of-entry two and a half weeks ago were released from the Eloy Detention Center late Wednesday. 

The nine, who are part of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, had established credible fear Tuesday, and were seeking parole pending an asylum hearing. They arrived to Tucson from Eloy in two groups, to the joyful tears of family, friends, and supporters. Adriana Diaz, Claudia Amaro, Lizbeth Mateo, Lulu Martinez and Maria Peniche arrived first; Ceferino Santiago, Luis Leon, Marco Saavedra and Mario Felix arrived a short while later. Twitter and Facebook users followed the #BringThemHome hashtag, and watched a Ustream live feed of their release with excitement.

The asylum process can be a long one—but all nine are entitled to remain in the US until a hearing date. The nine will hold a press conference near a border fence in Nogales, Ariz., later today, close enough so that Mexican press can participate. The Dream 9 will then begin their individual journeys back home to their families and communities in the US in the coming days. Lizbeth Mateo begins her first year at Santa Clara University School of Law on Monday. 

B. Scott Files $2.5 Million Suit Against BET for Gender Discrimination

B. Scott Files $2.5 Million Suit Against BET for Gender Discrimination

Transgender television personality B. Scott has filed a $2.5 million suit against BET for gender discrimination, claiming to be humiliated by the network, forced into wearing men’s clothes, and then being yanked off of BET’s awards show earlier this summer. The suit was first reported by TMZ.

Scott recounted the incident in an open letter on July 1, writing, “It’s not just about the fact that BET forced me to pull my hair back, asked me to take off my makeup, made me change my clothes and prevented me from wearing a heel. It’s more so that from the mentality and environment created by BET made me feel less than and that something was wrong with who I am as a person.”

BET later issued a staement saying that it “regret[s] the miscommunication” and “embrace[s] all gender expressions.”

Scott released a personal statement on Wedsnesday, writing: 

Over the years my love muffins and strangers alike have questioned me about my gender identity. What IS B. Scott? As a society we’ve been conditioned to believe that a person has to be ‘exactly’ this or ‘exactly’ that. Biologically, I am male — as my sex was determined at birth by my reproductive organs.

Scott included a definition of what it means to be transgender as “the state of one’s gender identity not matching one’s assigned sex” and concluded by writing, “It is also by that definition that BET and Viacom willingly and wrongfully discriminated against my gender identity during the 2013 BET Awards Pre-Show.”

TAGS: B. Scott BET

ABC Announces the First Latino ‘Bachelor’

ABC Announces the First Latino 'Bachelor'

After 18 seasons of exclusively white bachelors, ABC has announced the first ever Latino star of the popular TV show “The Bachelor.” Juan Pablo Galavis, a Venezuelan former soccer player, is a doting father who says he’s looking for a great stepmom for his daughter Camila.  He was dumped by Desiree on Season 9 of “The Bachelorette,” but this time he’ll be the one doing the dumping. 

ABC came under fire last year when it was accused of being racist against potential contestants, even leading to a lawsuit that was later dismissed. The show’s Executive Producer Mike Fleiss didn’t seem terribly bothered by the racism accusations in an interview with, saying: 

“We really tried, but sometimes we feel guilty of tokenism. Oh, we have to wedge African-American chicks in there! We always want to cast for ethnic diversity, it’s just that for whatever reason, they don’t come forward. I wish they would.”

Yeah, I wonder why they won’t come forward. It is yet to be seen, but Galavez could represent a step in the right direction for diversity on the show. 

NFL Star Marshawn Lynch Cameos in Adorable Oakland Schools Video

NFL Star Marshawn Lynch Cameos in Adorable Oakland Schools Video

The school year is almost here and officials in Oakland Unified’s School District wanna get the message out: attendance is necessary. And school is fun. This is the cutest thing I’ve seen today. Seattle Seahawks star ruunning back and Oakland native Marshawn Lynch even makes a cameo at around 54 seconds. 

(h/t OUSDNews)

Watch Aura Bogado’s Live Chat with Maria Hinojosa on the Dream 9

Watch Aura Bogado's Live Chat with Maria Hinojosa on the Dream 9

Aura Bogado, News Editor for, has been on the scene at the Eloy Detention Center for the past 6 days reporting on the so-called Dream 9. This group of undocumented youth left the U.S. then attempted to re-enter by pentitioning on humanitarian grounds, and were detained on July 22. She has been covering these young people’s experiences day-to-day as they participated in hunger strikes and were put in solitary confinement, and brought attention to the harsh realities inside the immigrant detention facility. As of yesterday, all 9 had established credible fear, which is one step towards getting an asylum hearing. 

In this live Google Hangout today, Bogado talks with journalist Maria Hinojosa from NPR’s Latino USA, activist Yajaira Saavedra—whose brother Marco Saveedra is one of the Dream 9, and immigration attorney Matthew Kolken

Proposal Heats Up to Merge City College of San Francisco

Proposal Heats Up to Merge City College of San Francisco

There have been many opinions on how to deal with City College of San Francisco’s impending loss of accreditation. The college, which serves more than 90,000 students, has been beset by political woes and fiscal mismanagement. One idea that seems to be picking up steam is to merge the school with neaby San Francisco State University, creating something akin to City University of San Francisco. 

The idea’s been floating around Bay Area news outlets this week and was formally introduced at an Open Forum at the school on Monday. While City College stands to lose its accredition next July, San Francsico State’s accreditation was just renewed for another ten years.

Robert Shireman works as the executive director of California Competes and is a former Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Eduaction. He recently wrote the following at the San Francisco Chronicle, which was adapted by the Huffington Post:

San Francisco State is not a stuffy, ivory tower university incompatible with the grassroots nature of a community college. Much to the contrary, San Francisco State was praised by its accrediting agency for its commitment to social justice and civic engagement, representing “the gold standard” for an urban university, “not merely aspiring to be responsive to diversity but embracing it wholeheartedly as the intellectual and civic lifeblood of the university.”

San Francisco State and City College already serve many of the same students and offer similar programs. More than 80 percent of the City College students who transfer to the California State University system go to San Francisco State. In addition to traditional academic courses, the university extension offers hundreds of courses in adult education and job training. And San Francisco State long ago committed itself to serving all comers with its Open University program, inviting anyone to enroll in its courses.

It’s an intriguing and somewhat radical idea. Still, there’s a monumental fight being waged to save City College of San Francisco in its current form as shown in this video in which faculty and staff sat down at the bargaining table with CCSF administrators this week.

A New Plan Emerges to Restore Yoga To Its South Asian Roots

A New Plan Emerges to Restore Yoga To Its South Asian Roots

Over at The Aerogram, Kavita Das writes about writes about a new initiative called South Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America (SAAPYA):

SAAPYA was founded by Roopa Singh, Esq., who is both a yoga teacher and part-owner of Third Root, a Brooklyn-based health and wellness center.  Singh founded SAAPYA as a “platform and network for the voices of yoga teachers and students from across the South Asian diaspora.”

But for Singh, SAAPYA is also a deeply personal endeavor. She has long viewed herself as a cultural “bridge.” But as an advocate, organizer, and yoga teacher, she became concerned by the dual trends of yoga’s growing popularity and the loss of South Asian heritage. Singh says, “while we have more spaces that feel more reflective of who we are as a diasporic presence in this country, we find that we’re being simultaneously segregated out of these much needed, patiently awaited spaces.”

You can watch an unedited SAAPYA discussion in its entirety over on YouTube. The group recently brought folks together to talk in New York City. Note: It’s a discusion that lasts over two hours, but it’s certainly interesting. 

A Tribute to Japanese-American Sculptor Ruth Asawa

A Tribute to Japanese-American Sculptor Ruth Asawa

Pioneering Japanese-American sculptor Ruth Asawa died of natural causes on Tuesday. She was 87 years old.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

“Ruth Asawa will be remembered for the extraordinary wire sculptures that so beautifully interweave nature and culture,” said Timothy Burgard, curator of American art at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. He characterized her “as a pioneering post-World War II modernist whose works have transcended the multiple barriers she faced as an Asian American woman artist working with traditional ‘craft’ materials and techniques. She lived to see all of these confining categories challenged and redefined.”

For more than five decades, Asawa’s work influenced the American art world. Her elegant steel structures have become staples of public art in the Bay Area, known especially because Asawa initially designed them using oragami paper models. Back in 2009, Asawa discussed her work with KQED, Northern California’s public television station. 

San Francisco’s School of the Arts now bares Asawa’s name.

TAGS: Ruth Asawa

Dwyane Wade, Spike Lee’s Sons Join Trayvon’s Family on EBONY Cover

Dwyane Wade, Spike Lee's Sons Join Trayvon's Family on EBONY Cover


(h/t Yahoo! Sports)

‘Gazillion Voices’ Explores Race and Identity in Adoption

'Gazillion Voices' Explores Race and Identity in Adoption

The Baby Veronica saga brought national attention to the complexities and failures of the U.S. adoption system. This week a group of Minnesota-based adoptees launched “Gazillion Voices,” an online magazine that aims to inject race into the adoption conversation and provide a platform for adult adoptees to talk about their experiences. 

In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, “Gazillion” founder Kevin Vollmers, along with contributors and fellow adoptees Shannon Gibney and Laura Klunder, discussed the often harsh realities of being a person of color growing up in an adoptive white families. They said adoption success stories often overshadow the stories of loss

“There’s this story out there that we started when we fell out of the plane, we were destined for our adopted families, and that we are just like you, we are exceptional—we are not like the the poor, undocumented communities we were born from,” Klunder says in the radio interview. 

Gibney said her family tried to erase her race by insisting they “didn’t see color,” but that those attitudes made it difficult for her when she hit puberty and people in her community began to treat her differently. 

Vollmers insists that adoption agencies need to do a better job of preparing adoptive parents for the challenges their children will face, and says the adoption storybook narrative can be harmful and problematic. 

Sure, many adoptions turn out great for all involved.  However, those adoptions only make up some of the whole “adoption story” in the U.S.  What’s storybook about international and domestic adoptees being “rehomed” into the foster care system when their adoptions disrupt in their adoptive families? What’s storybook about adoptive parents who discover their Ethiopian and Chinese children were actually not true orphans, but rather have families in their place of birth?” he told me by email.  

Through this and other such stories, Volmers and his contributors aim to complicate notions around adoption in the U.S., and amplify the voices of adoptees in a conversation they say has been largely dominated by parents and institutions. 

Hunger Strikes Continue at Guantanamo After Six Months

Hunger Strikes Continue at Guantanamo After Six Months

More than 60 inmates at the Guantánamo Bay Naval base remain on hunger strike today, marking six months of protests. The strike, which began in March after a routine cell search, has put Guantánamo back in the spotlight and brought attention to the 86 inmates who have already been cleared for release, as well as others who have not been formally charged.  

Some well-known celebrities are speaking out against the protest. Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) produced a video response to the hunger strike, where he demonstrated the standard procedure used by US agents for force-feeding detainees. Most recently, singer PJ Harvey released a haunting song dedicated to Shakur Amer, a UK citizen detained at Guantánamo Bay for 11 years without being charged. 

Despite President Obama’s 2008 campaign pledge to close Guantánamo Bay, and his continued promises to prioritize the closure, the facility still houses 166 inmates

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