Why Can’t Obama Just Handle It?

Why Can't Obama Just Handle It?

This week, President Obama announced that he was delaying the release of a report on the extent of his executive power to stem immigrant deportation. The news was disappointing for the many Americans who’ve been waiting years for fixes to the nation’s broken immigration system. It was particularly crushing for the many activists who’ve put their lives on the line to stop mass deportations. And it sparked what’s just the latest round of questions about whether being The Leader of the Free World is the sort of all-powerful throne that some have presumed. 

Given the post-9/11 era we’re in—where the unitary executive theory of the presidency is ascendant, while the legislative efficacy of Congress is in stagnation—questions about the power of the POTUS are looming, especially for issues that people of color hold dearly. For issues like stopping deportations, raising the minimum wage, climate change and lately, reparations, people wanna know how come Obama can’t just do the damn thing? Why can’t he just solve these things with the stroke of his executive pen?

Looking at what authority the president has beyond Congress, especially in light of Congress’ legislative inaction, Obama has basically three major instruments to work with: executive orders, presidential proclamations and presidential memoranda. The executive orders pack the biggest punch, but aren’t as strong as actual federal laws. In fact, they’re not even mentioned in the Constitution. But they can still get some things done. Obama’s used them this year to up the minimum wage for federal contract workers—a big-impact step, though helpful to a small segment of the population—and to move on climate change— smaller impact steps, but effective for the nation broadly.

What about for big-ticket items, though? Like reparations. Ta-Nehisi Coates has made a rather compelling argument for redress for African Americans’ historical suffering under racist laws in The Atlantic. Our own Imara Jones took the case further. Neither are the first to make the argument. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan has for the last 25 years been trying to get Congress to just study the issue, but to no avail. So what can President Obama do about it?

Well, he can’t just cut the check, for sure. But there are some things he can do to advance the matter, said Harvard Law Professor Randall Kennedy, author of the books For Discrimination: Race, Affirmative Action, and the Law” and “The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency.”

Obama “could certainly have a presidential commission study the issue,” Kennedy told me. “President [Harry] Truman commissioned a committee to look into civil rights in 1948 and that proved to be a very important investigation.”

Obama has created commissions and task forces during his terms to investigate the BP oil disaster and voting problems, as just two examples. Both bodies issued recommendations for how funds and resources might be administered in those cases. But none of the recommendations are legally binding. As Christopher Ingram illustrates in the following infographic from his WonkViz blog, Obama’s record so far in issuing executive orders is pretty sparse compared to past presidents.

Executive Orders_chart.jpgWhat about the deportations? What exactly stops him from just waving the POTUS wand to help bring the 11 million or so immigrants out of the shadows so they can live in peace? As Nora Caplan-Bricker reported recently in The New Republic, the power for that kind of blanket amnesty rests solely with Congress. Since Congress has been flubbing progress on comprehensive immigration reform legislation—a bill passed in the Senate, but the House won’t take it up—Obama can at least slow deportations for certain immigrants. He used his presidential authority to do that in 2012, when he offered “deferred action” for DREAMers, the children of immigrants. Some legal experts believe he can go further.

“I think there’s little serious question that the administration has broad discretion in almost every aspect of the deportation machine,” Yale Law School professor Michael Wishnie told Caplan-Bricker.

One of Obama’s biggest obstacles might be himself. In 2011, he said during a Univision town hall discussion,”With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case.”  

While Obama is uncertain about his anti-deportation powers, he seems to have little doubt about his authority to get his kill on and get his war on. The broad warmaking powers that Congress granted after 9/11 create a different context in this realm of policy, but Obama has used his throne to authorize unilateral military action in Libya and threaten as much in Syria, and to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen abroad who was accused of planning to attack the nation. 

But there’s only so far he can ride such authority, and he can be checked. Congress still holds the strings to funding and can derail any executive order by simply refusing to pay for it. As explained in an April congressional study on the matter, “Congress has used its appropriations authority to limit the effect of executive orders by denying salaries and expenses for an office established in an executive order, or by directly denying funds to implement a particular section of an order.”

In fact, the president has extremely limited access to the nation’s bank account. As Brookings Institute Elaine Kamarck wrote in January:

“The President faces constraints that almost no private sector CEOs face.  He can’t decide to move some money from a new fighter plane over to the education department. In fact, even within programs his ability to move money is quite limited and very often any significant shift in funds—reprogramming is the formal term—needs permission from Congress.”

Welp, there goes reparations.

Meanwhile, the verdict has yet to come in on what he’ll finally do on deportations. Obama says he’ll say by the end of summer. Ultimately, his legacy will be determined by what change his relatively few executive orders actually bring in Americans’ lives. But as with many issues throughout time, change has been most felt when realized by the people, not by the president.

Senior Congressman John Conyers’ Re-Election in Danger

Senior Congressman John Conyers' Re-Election in Danger

Update Friday, May 23 at 4:57 p.m.: A wire bulletin was just released by Associated Press stating that a federal judge has allowed Conyers back on to the ballot.  


Rep. John Conyers, 85, who represents Detroit in Congress, has been denied entry to the ballot for re-election this term due to a petition snafu. With 50 years of service, he has the second longest record as both a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and in Congress. But that may come to an end given election officials found problems with the signatures that Conyers’ team collected for his petition for reelection. Apparently some of the signature gatherers were not themselves registered to vote, a violation of Michigan law, which led to his disqualification. Conyers has been fighting to get back on the ballot since last week, when the errors were reported. He’s also fighting the rule itself, which he says is unconstitutional. But the Secretary of State office made its final ruling today declaring Conyers off the ballot. The merits of the rule itself will be decided later. At this point Conyers has one opportunity to remain in the race, and that is to mount a massive write-in campaign. 

Conyers has not only been a congressional leader on civil rights issues, but also on keeping alive the topic of reparations for African Americans. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent argument for reparations in The Atlantic relies heavily on the fact that Conyers has opened every congressional session for the past 25 years with the introduction of his House Resolution 40 bill, which would call for a congressional study of slavery and its lingering effects. Writes Coates:

That HR 40 has never—under either Democrats or Republicans—made it to the House floor suggests our concerns are rooted not in the impracticality of reparations but in something more existential. If we conclude that the conditions in … black America are not inexplicable but are instead precisely what you’d expect of a community that for centuries has lived in America’s crosshairs, then what are we to make of the world’s oldest democracy?

Congress may never get to explore the answer to that question if Conyers is kept off the ballot and left unable to keep the initiative alive. 

Only Property Owners Should Vote Says Fla. Congressman

Only Property Owners Should Vote Says Fla. Congressman

Republicans have been bluffing lately about helping restore voting rights in the U.S. One of their party members in Florida may have given us a taste of why. Video of Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida, a Tea Party favorite, shows him saying in 2012 that voting should be like back in the day, when black people and women couldn’t vote. 

“I’ve had some radical ideas about voting and it’s probably not a good time to tell them, but you used to have to be a property owner to vote,” Yoho said in a video posted this week by Right Wing Watch.

It’s not the first time Yoho talked this crazy. As reported in Huffington Post, this is the same guy who questioned whether the Civil Rights Acts is constitutional and who said granting in-state tuition for immigrant students was rewarding “bad behavior.” He’s also that Congressman who said the tax on tanning salons in the Affordable Care Act was racist

The Democratic Party seized in on Yoho, responding through Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, also of Florida, who said:  

Ted Yoho’s comments aren’t just from a different decade, they harken back to another century when Americans were denied their basic rights as citizens. Yoho’s view is abhorrent and immoral and should be roundly condemned in the strongest possible terms. Unfortunately, Ted Yoho’s comments are just one example of what is wrong with today’s Republican Party that thinks the problem in our democracy is that there are too many people participating and is systematically trying to make it harder for eligible citizens to participate in the electoral process.” 

Meanwhile, Yoho’s thoughts on voting fit snuggly with his fellow Tea Party compatriots, like Tea Party leader Judson Phillips and Mississippi Tea Party state leader Janis Lane who said that women shouldn’t be able to vote

Newark Wins Ras Baraka; Significant Challenges Ahead

Newark Wins Ras Baraka; Significant Challenges Ahead

Last night, Newark elected city councilman Ras Baraka, son of the recently deceased legendary playwright and poet Amiri Baraka, as its mayor. He edged out challenger Shavar Jeffries, a civil rights lawyer, former assistant state attorney general and Seton Hall professor.

Baraka’s win is viewed as a rejection of the privately funded boutique education reform regime installed by former mayor Cory Booker, who left the mayoral seat to become a U.S. senator. Baraka was a fervent  critic of Booker’s education plans. His campaign was financed by a teachers unions, many of them from outside New Jersey. 

His mayoral opponent Jeffries, also funded plenty by out-of-towners, is cut straight out the Booker mold, with an aversion to city politics and Ivy League college background similar to Newark’s former mayor. Jeffries also had tangential connections to the embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who Booker was more explicitly aligned with, all under the common interest of expanding the charter school and voucher system. 

As mayor, Baraka will have to work with both Christie, who according to The Wall Street Journal said he’s never met Baraka, and Booker to meet the city’s challenges. Among those challenges, from

Left behind are mounting problems for the new mayor that include a $93 million budget deficit that has led to threats of a financial takeover by the state, the city’s highest murder rate since 1990, and protests over the continued state control of Newark’s still-failing school system.

This is the Newark that Booker left Baraka with, meaning many of the economic and school reforms promised by the former mayor were not fulfilled. 

Still, Booker offered words of encouragement for Baraka, saying in a statement, “I look forward to fully supporting him as he steps up to lead Newark, deal with our city’s challenges and continue to move our city into a brighter and better future.”

Two Republican Leaders Give Up on Voter ID

Two Republican Leaders Give Up on Voter ID

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has been on a roll for African Americans lately. First, he came out in favor of restoring voting rights for people formerly convicted of felonies, then, last week, he commented in opposition to voter ID laws. 

“Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing,” said Paul as reported May 9 in The New York Times. “I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.”

The comments appear part of a broader agenda on Paul’s part to appeal to African American voters, especially after a botched past on addressing civil rights concerns. But there are still dots he has yet to connect. On voting rights restoration vs. voter ID, he told The New York Times:

“The bigger issue actually is whether you get to vote if you have a felony conviction. There’s 180,000 people in Kentucky who can’t vote. And I don’t know the racial breakdown, but it’s probably more black than white because they’re convicted felons. And I’m for getting their right to vote back, which is a much bigger deal than showing your driver’s license.”

It’s laudable that Paul is applying a racial justice justification to supporting rights restoration. But what he may fail to realize is that even if you end felony disenfranchisement laws, if a person returns from prison in a voter ID state, she or he still may have a difficult time voting. Police revoke and confiscate people’s licenses when arrested, and those ID’s aren’t always returned when leaving jail—or, if in jail long enough, they expire. Many lose both license and passport privileges when they fall behind in child support while in prison, with no chance of having those privileges restored until all back-pay is covered in some states. The path to society re-entry is not easy, and regaining ID is often one of the most difficult parts of that process.

In other voter ID news, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett also threw in the towel on this issue when he decided not to appeal a court ruling that his voter ID law violated the state’s constitution.

Said Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Leader Sen. Jay Costa, “We should never have gotten to the point where the Corbett administration was deciding whether or not to appeal an unconstitutional law. The law, on its face, was inappropriate and it never should have been adopted.”

Said Mike Rubin, attorney for the law firm Arnold & Porter, which helped fight the law in court: 

“Viviette Applewhite, Bea Bookler, and all of our other plaintiffs and witnesses stood up and fought for the right to vote for themselves and for all other Pennsylvanians. This month Viviette Applewhite—who marched with Dr. King for voting rights—will turn 95 years young. Today’s decision ensures that all voters in Pennsylvania will be able to vote and is certainly the most cherished birthday gift she will receive this year.”

Racist Wisconsin Voter ID Law Banned For Life (or at Least Until the State Appeals)

Racist Wisconsin Voter ID Law Banned For Life (or at Least Until the State Appeals)

Wisconsin became the fifth state to strike down voter ID law today when a federal judge declared it a violation of the Voting Rights Act. Civil rights groups challenged the law under Section 2 of the Act, making this the first time a voter ID law was defeated under that part of the historic civil rights law. Under Section 2, Wisconsin had to prove that the law would not lead to a discriminatory impact on people of color. Well, they didn’t prove it. 

From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

In Tuesday’s decision, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman in Milwaukee determined the law requiring voters to show one of a narrow set of photo IDs at the polls violated the federal Voting Rights Act and established an unjustified burden on the right to vote. He issued an injunction barring the law from being enforced.

Here’s why the law was found discriminatory: A 2005 study by the UW-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute found that slightly fewer than half of blacks and Latinos held a valid driver’s license in Milwaukee compared to 83 percent of whites. For young black men, only 22 percent had valid IDs compared to 43 percent of young Hispanic males and 64 percent of white males.

The voting rights victory comes just days after Arkansas became the fourth state where courts struck down voter ID laws. Advancement Project, which supplied some of the lead attorneys on the Wisconsin case, also were pivotal in fighting off a voter ID law in Pennsylvania — a ruling that was reaffirmed by a state judge yesterday. Wisconsin State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has already pledged that he will appeal today’s court decision. He has stated that the law is needed to ward off voter impersonation fraud. 

“Wisconsin has long been recognized as the Selma of the North, and this case illustrates just why the Midwestern state bears this harrowing distinction,” said Advancement Project managing director James Eichner in a statement. “Wisconsin’s discriminatory voter ID law is virtually indistinguishable from Jim Crow laws of earlier eras, which required poll taxes, property requirements, literacy tests and other contrived, racist measures designed to prevent African Americans from voting. We are encouraged the court concurred and took action to strike down Wisconsin’s voter ID law. For those who believe that in a democracy elections should be free, fair and accessible to all, this is a victory of monumental proportions.”

“We’ve been saying all along that Wisconsin Voter ID law was an attempt to find a solution to an imaginary problem,” the Wisconsin-based League of Young Voters president Biko Baker told Colorlines. “I am happy that the court sided with us.  Given that absolutely no one ever tries to vote illegally, maybe it’s time we finally put to rest this fake (and racist) narrative about voter fraud.”


Justice Department to Begin Collecting Racial Profiling Data

Justice Department to Begin Collecting Racial Profiling Data

Today, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the U.S. Justice Department would begin collecting data on how many times people are stopped, searched and arrested by police as a way of sussing out problematic stop-and-frisk and racial profiling practices. Said Holder in a video released this afternoon:

“This overrepresentation of young men of color in our criminal justice system is a problem we must confront—not only as an issue of individual responsibility but also as one of fundamental fairness, and as an issue of effective law enforcement.  Racial disparities contribute to tension in our nation generally and within communities of color specifically, and tend to breed resentment towards law enforcement that is counterproductive to the goal of reducing crime.”

The new initiative, called National Center for Building Community Trust and Justice, will operate not only as a data collection service for racial profiling, but also “to analyze and reduce the effect of racial bias within the criminal justice system,” said Holder. 

These efforts were triggered in part by the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida, which moved President Obama to call for “a better understanding between law enforcement and young men of color.” Holder said that Obama charged the Justice Department with working more closely with local police agencies and to improve training around racial profiling problems. 

The initiative also is working in alignment with President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, which is meant to help young black and Latino men take better advantage of educational and economic opportunities. This National Center for Building Community Trust and Justice appears to also aim at addressing racist policies that often block young men of color from those opportunities. 

“As a key part of this initiative, we will work with grant recipients and local law enforcement to collect data about stops and searches, arrests, and case outcomes in order to help assess the impact of possible bias,” said Holder. “We will conduct this research while simultaneously implementing strategies in five initial pilot sites with the goal of reducing the role of bias and building confidence in the justice system among young people of color.  This work will likely include anti-gang and mentoring projects intended to empower young African-American and Latino males and break the vicious cycle of poverty, incarceration, and crime that destroys too many promising futures each and every day.” 

“I think it’s wonderful that the Department of Justice wants to support reductions in racial disparities,” said Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff, assistant professor of social psychology at UCLA. He also serves as president of the Center for Policing Equity, which was the first center for gathering and analyzing data on police stops and searches in major cities across the nation, starting last year. “This kind of work is central to achieving our democratic principles, and it will take many partners to make it happen.”



Arkansas Becomes Fourth State For Voter ID Court Defeat

Arkansas Becomes Fourth State For Voter ID Court Defeat

Arkansas became the fourth state where a voter ID law was voided by courts when a county judge ruled yesterday that it violated the state’s constitution.  Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox declared the law “unenforceable,” due to complicated ID requirements around absentee ballots that Fox said did not have legal backing. The voter ID law was scheduled to go into full effect on May 5. 

Three other states — Pennsylvania, Missouri and Texas — have had voter ID laws struck down. Courts allowed voter ID laws to fly in Georgia and South Carolina, but only after significant modifications to those laws at the courts behest. Indiana’s voter ID law survived only after reaching all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court for validation.

Wisconsin is presently awaiting a court decision on its voter ID law, while trials are revving up in North Carolina and Texas (again) for those states’ laws. 

In Arkansas, the American Civil Liberties Union also had a separate lawsuit out against the voter ID law, noting how 10 percent of citizens there lacked ID, and how the state didin’t provide help for compliance by offering transportation or fetching necessary documents. The ACLU chapter is good with yesterday’s ruling, though. 

“The important thing is it indicates voters will be able to vote,” says Arkansas ACLU legal director Holly Dickson. “It matters not which suit as long as voters will be able to vote.”


Obama and Holder to Expand Clemency for Unfair Prison Sentences

Obama and Holder to Expand Clemency for Unfair Prison Sentences

Twenty years ago, Nas took a walk down “Memory Lane” with grief about “judges hangin’ niggas [with] uncorrect bails for direct sales.” It was an observation that young African-Americans were getting handed punishments too extreme for the petty drug crimes for which they were arrested. Since taking the White House, President Obama has been taking measures to correct that. First, he signed the Fair Sentencing Act into law in 2010 to reduce racial sentencing disparities for crack-cocaine offenders; and then, he released eight men and women from prison last December who were jailed far too long compared to the crimes they were convicted for. Attorney General Eric Holder has been doing his own cleanup job in the meantime by reforming sentencing guidelines, tweaking racial profiling policies, and pushing for restoration of voting rights for those with past felony convictions.

Today, Obama and Holder are looking for ways to bring even more justice to those unfairly punished. They are seeking ways to expand Obama’s clemency powers so that the president can release more people from prison who are victims of what Holder calls the “old regime” of “tough on crime” criminal justice policies. Holder announced today that he has created new clemency criteria that will allow the Justice Department and Obama to consider and grant get-out-of-jail free cards to a larger field of eligible prisoners. 

“The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety,” said Attorney General Holder in this video message posted today. “The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences.”

Holder said he expects thousands of new applications for clemency to be submitted after this new criteria takes hold. To meet the demand, the Justice Department is bringing in extra lawyers to help review the applications. 

“As a society, we pay much too high a price whenever our system fails to deliver the just outcomes necessary to deter and punish crime, to keep us safe, and to ensure that those who have paid their debts have a chance to become productive citizens,” said Holder. “Our expanded clemency application process will aid in this effort. And it will advance the aims of our innovative new Smart on Crime initiative—to strengthen the criminal justice system, promote public safety and deliver on the promise of equal justice under law.”

Midterm Test: Who’s Courting the Youth?

Midterm Test: Who's Courting the Youth?

Since 2004, the League of Young Voters Education Fund has been teaching young people of color about political issues and helping increase their participation in elections. Its executive director, Rob “Biko” Baker, wrote about political issues for magazines such as the The Source long before that. I caught up with Baker a couple of weeks ago to discuss to discuss the critical takeaways from the presidential election of 2012 and the importance of this year’s midterm elections. Our interview below, edited for clarity and length, shows how both the Democratic and Republican parties have been failing young voters and how the political game has been rigged against people of color. Also, you’ll want to know why we should pay close attention to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. 

In 2010, just before the last midterm elections, you assembled a bunch of bloggers, journalists and writers to discuss the stakes of those races. What did you learn from that?

I realized how much more the blogosphere was in tune with the with the civic engagement space. I didn’t think at first that people understood the details and difference between [for example] what the Supreme Court was doing and what legislative and executive branches did. But if you look at what Bossip, Vibe, were doing, they were all keeping track of what was going on. 

After the gathering, voter turnout was pretty low and the Democratic Party got wallopped, losing their majority in the House and watching the rise of the Tea Party. How did you feel about that? 

While you said the Democratic Party got walloped if you look at counties where there are young and black people, the trend of our increased vote share continues to rise. So in many counties across the country you saw increases between 2006 and 2010 in our vote share, but we’re reaching a plateau where it seems they’re trying to get water out of a rock. [Meaning] the Democratic Party hasn’t embraced youth culture and youth leadership. They are doing the same thing that they been doing. I think where the Democratic Party and progressive left make investments in youth of color leadership there will be increased turnout, but I also think that some of the progressive left has given up on fighting because of redistricting. 

Explain how redistricting has complicated the elections game. 

Because of the [Republican Party’s] 2010 wins and because they were able to control redistricting process in many states, communities have been gerrymandered. So black voters can only vote for black officials and those officials hold little power outside of a few key [congressional] districts throughout the United States. And the subtext of this is that in many places, some of that gerrymandering was illegal. In many states there wasn’t a transparent redistricting process. 

Do you think young voters get how important redistricting is to voting rights, the way they see fighting voter ID laws, for example?

Yes, there are a few us who get the Census and understand its connections to redistricting. I just don’t think people understand how deeply entwined this is to political power and maintaining it. [Is it important] to the average kid I would meet while canvassing at a party? Hell no. But I’d say maybe 20 percent get it and are more active about addressing it today than when I was growing up. 

So as we approach midterm elections this year, what’s your call to action to young voters this time around?

It’s the same message that it’s been: If voting rights weren’t important, would they be trying to steal them from you? Would they be trying to make it harder for you to vote and passing weirder laws to control election administration? It’s the same story. You have our group or population that have been voting at high levels since 2004, but things have gotten harder for them materially lately. So hopefully this year we’ll get some wins for [young people]. 

What’s it going to take for the political parties to take young voters of color seriously?

It’s going to take these older organizations being honest with themselves and them passing over the reins to younger leaders. These older organizations are going to have to because they’re going over a cliff. The progressive left need to be making some significant changes in the leadership of these organizations, or we’ll continue to have the same ol same ol.’ One thing I’ve seen, is young white kids and young people of color working together in ways I’ve never imagined. State and federal level polls show that young white voters and young voters of color can be messaged to in the same way, but older organizations continue to run these shops. They have these silos, and they do all their messaging accordingly. On certain issues there’s some nuance you can pull out for messaging, but every poll I’ve seen shows that young voters have similar values that they vote on across race. The older organizations need to think about that instead of trying to create all of these different silos. 

Just so we’re clear, who are these “older organizations”?

Mainly labor unions, but also some civil rights and your traditional voter engagement groups. And I love being the 35 year-old at these meetings. I was at one of these [voter engagement] meetings recently and a young college grad at the table comes up to me afterward and says, ‘I don’t get this at all.’ [Young people] just don’t connect to the very important information that these older organizations were sharing. 

The Democratic Party has suggested recently that they anticipate the same robust voter turnout this year that they had in 2012. Do you see that?

If any field person told you they were using 2012 as a metric, it better be with a whole bunch of 2010 and 2006 data as an average. If they’re not then they’re not doing good work. I do think there will be some surprises this year. Some youth of color will have huge turnouts in some areas, but the way the game is rigged due to gerrymandering, even if we have great turnout we’re only influencing a congressional district here or there. For governors’ races we’ll be able to make some impact, but the parties are not making the necessary investments in us that they need to, and then the organizations that are doing a bunch of this work on this are cash-strapped—moreso now than almost anytime since [League of Young Voters] have been around. 

Are there any recent examples of progressive candidates who’ve benefitted from young people of color turning up to vote?

I feel there’s been some good stuff at the local level. New York’s new mayor Bill DeBlasio and other examples like Cory Booker. Locally, in Milwaukee’s alderman race, there are a bunch of brothers under 40 running. But if we’re not fighting for voting rights and protecting young voters from voter suppression, and if we’re not fighting for jobs and investments in entrepreneurialism, and not seriously dealing with the criminal justice system, then any party is going to lose young people. You know what scares me, though? A guy like Rand Paul, who is all about state’s rights, but he comes out saying we should end the war on drugs and stop NSA spying — he is connecting with a lot more young people than anyone knows. In some ways this is good because that makes for more competition, but with that appeal on those issues you can see a lot of young black voters going for Rand Paul. 

Do you think Paul is genuine when he advocates for those things, or this is just part of a strategy to attract young voters of color to the Republican Party?

Every politician has ulterior motives. I feel like it’s a strategic play, but it also aligns with their core messaging and ideology. For progressives and millennials, in many ways the War on Drugs and the NSA spying stuff is closer to their hearts, so they align with conservatives on these things. Could you imagine a MIke Huckabee and Rand Paul type mix or Rand Paul and Paul Ryan running in some of these states where you only need a 10,000 to 15,000 voter edge to win. You have some of these young black men who were just cool on Obama and you start to pull some of those guys away, the scenario looks crazy.   

What are some of the more effective strategies for turning out young voters of color that you all have employed?

We have been developing a strong text message list. In some of these communities, we have contact information for thousands of young voters that no one else has. On Election Day, we bought ads on websites that young people of color visit most frequently, like Global Grind, World Star Hip Hop,, giving out voting information. We were sending out information every 30 seconds in urban hubs that no one else touches. We were able to recently recruit a bunch of kids from SXSW, which isn’t about voting at all. Also, League of Young Voters just acquired the Generation Alliance, which is a coalition of a dozen youth organizations that have as part of their mission the goal of engaging people of color around voting. So we’re not only expand our own tools, but also sharing and using tools developed by a dozen other organizations. 

The Republican Party says they have upped their game in terms of outreach to people of color. Can you see the improvements?

It’s interesting because on one side you see that Republicans have hired some smart African-Americans and given them a little bit of freedom with the checkbook for outreach programs. I feel like that’s smart and strategic, but only because the Democratic Party isn’t doing the same thing. In this moment, they are not rewarding youth of color with leadership positions. So they’re losing this opportunity. if there is an Achilles heel for Republicans, it’s race. They say they don’t want to let go of the Latino vote, but they are dragging their feet on immigration reform. They’ll likely get better at it, though. 

Any parting message about prospects for young voters of color as we approach the midterms?

Just that, the rising electorate of voters of color is real, and the data doesn’t lie. We have to look at all these demographics seriously. You have to know where they are and not run away from them. When corporate America wants to attract young people of color they go and get the coolest, hippest rappers, graphic designers and others who we will flock to. You cannot look at any political party or civic engagement group and say they are as competitive as Adidas with this demographic. 

People in Glass Houses Shouldn’t Throw Stones

People in Glass Houses Shouldn't Throw Stones

Around this time last year, the Republican Party was finally coming to terms with why they lost the presidential election in 2012. They first claimed voter fraud was the culprit for Mitt Romney’s loss. But after some soul-searching they came to the realization that they were just really bad at connecting with voters of color. The party released an “autopsy report” of what went wrong in 2012 candidate and listed failed “minority outreach” as a primary cause of death. 

This year is supposed to be the time when they show America that they’ve learned from their mistakes. With an important mid-term congressional election season on our hands, 2014 is the year where the Republican Party is expected to show and prove how much they’ve evolved on race. The Democratic Party has already seized upon the one-year anniversary of the Republican autopsy by declaring the Republican rebranding a failure. 

Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida wrote in The Huffington Post that the GOP “is a year older and not a bit wiser.” That might be true, but things aren’t looking so bright for the Democratic Party either, a year-and-change after their big 2012 win. After all, Wasserman wrote this just a couple of weeks after her party experienced a crushing defeat in a congressional special election held in her own Florida backyard.

With that in mind, her op-ed read like a kid making fun of a student who got left back a grade, but only as coverup for the fact that she flunked her first major exam. The real issue Wasserman might want to concern herself with is whether the Democratic Party has evolved at all on its own outreach to people of color.   

Both parties are worth sizing up on this matter, but first, let’s see if Democrats had a point in their autopsy of the GOP autopsy. The case, as laid out by Wasserman, isn’t that convincing. Wrote the DNC chair: 

In the past year, we’ve heard Republican leaders and operatives call a female candidate an “empty dress,” talk about women’s “libidos,” and — once again — try to downplay abuse. We’ve heard them use derogatory terms to describe Latino immigrants, use insulting stereotypes for African-Americans and our president, and support outright discrimination against LGBT Americans.

Probably the most blatant and recent example of this was when Rep. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s pick for vice president in 2012, sent a racial dog whistle out about “inner-city” men being too lazy to work. That was pretty bad. Can Obama’s party claim the high ground here, though? MSNBC news show host Melissa Harris-Perry has already called them out this, writing last week in The Nation, “After all, [Ryan’s] comments have been the mainstream view of the Democratic Party for decades.”

It was the Democratic President Bill Clinton, and a whole lot of Dems in Congress, who created the laws that pushed millions of people of color off of welfare rolls in the 1990s — #facts.

Also this:

“{E]specially in this high-growth environment, where are you going to get people to work to clean our hotel rooms or do our landscaping? … we don’t need to put those employers in the position of hiring undocumented and illegal workers.” 

That was the Democratic candidate Alex Sink talking about Latinos, not a Republican.

The Democrats are correct about Republicans obstructing legislative progress on immigration reform and raising the middle wage. Republicans also keep shooting themselves through serial votes to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act — enough times that Obamacare could file a restraining order on them at this point. 

But, the Democrats have been holding up progress on a few items themselves. It wasn’t just Republicans that voted to block the much-respected attorney Debo Adegbile for head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division. Democrats helped make that happen. And while the GOP is definitely responsible for shutting the government down last fall, quite a few Democrats in the House joined that melee. 

One way that Republicans claimed that their minority outreach would be serious was by getting behind more candidates of color. I interviewed a few of those candidates in December. Two of them, Katrina Pierson of Texas and David Williams III of Illinois, were defeated in Republican primaries this month. Another black Republican candidate, Erika Harold, also lost in Illinois. (Williams was been calling me almost every week with stories about how he thought his fellow Republicans were purposely trying to sabotage his campaign.) 

To the Democrats credit, they helped get Cory Booker elected to the Senate last fall. But that will not make us forget that when Senate Republicans proposed legislation to kick people with past felony convictions off of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) last summer, Democrats went along with it in the first instance.

All goes to show that instead of dancing on the Republican’s supposed grave, perhaps Democrats might want to make sure they’re not digging themselves a hole in the process. 

FBI Arrests Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon

FBI Arrests Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon

Today, the FBI arrested Charlotte, North Carolina Mayor Patrick Cannon, accusing him of taking bribes as an elected official, reports the Charlotte Observer. He’s also been charged with wire fraud and extortion. He had been under investigation since 2010 when the FBI were tipped off that he might soliciting and accepting cash rewards for favors, both as a city councilor and as mayor. 

According to this press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Western District of North Carolina:

The complaint and law enforcement affidavit allege that Cannon accepted the bribes from the undercover FBI agents on five separate occasions. On the last occasion, on February 21, 2014, Cannon allegedly accepted $20,000 in cash in the Mayor’s office. According to the complaint and the affidavit, between January 2013 and February 2014, Cannon allegedly accepted from the undercover agents over $48,000 in cash, airline tickets, a hotel room, and use of a luxury apartment in exchange for the use of his official position.

Cannon was just elected mayor last November. He succeeded former mayor Anthony Foxx, who Obama tapped to become Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation last year, and Patsy Kinsey who served out the remainder of Foxx’s term. If convicted, Cannon faces a maximum ten years in prison and $250,000 fine for the bribery charge, 20 years and a $1 million fine for the wire fraud charge and another 20 years and $250,000 fine for the extortion charge. 

Obamacare Deadline Extended for Some

Obamacare Deadline Extended for Some

President Obama is extending the March 31 healthcare insurance enrollment deadline for those who’ve already started signing up via the Affordable Care Act’s market exchange but haven’t completed the process. This means that if you began purchasing a healthcare plan on, or through other offline mechanisms via Navigator groups, but the transaction has not been completed, you will not be penalized. 

As Julie Bataille, director of communications for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services explained it on a press call this afternoon, “Just like on Election Day, if you were in line when the polls closed, you still were able to vote. The same applies here if you were already in line for health insurance when the deadline came.”

Bataille stressed that the deadline technically is still five days from now, but that this extension is owed in part to the malfunctioning website and also the expected surge of people who will begin signing up at the last minute. If you take advantage of the extension, the federal government will take you on your word that you began the transaction, as it does not have an actual verification system for this. 

There is precedent for this. Back in 2006, when President George W. Bush was pushing his new Medicare prescription drug benefit plan, he extended the deadline for signing up for the program for low-income elderly users. 

According to the Washington Post, people who qualify in that “special enrollment” group will have until mid-April to close out on a a plan — just in time to pay taxes. But after that, if you are not an official enrollee and are not insured elsewhere (through your parents if under 26 or employer), you will be assigned a penalty on your taxes and will not have another chance to enroll until 2015, with few exceptions. 

These pie graphs below, released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation, show that roughly six in 10 people are unaware there was a deadline to begin with. 

kaiserobamacare.jpgRead more on what we’ve learned thus far on Obamacare from Kai Wright’s news feature today.  

TAGS: Obamacare

Is It Time To Finally Stick a Fork In the Tea Party?

Is It Time To Finally Stick a Fork In the Tea Party?

Yesterday, the research and policy think-tank Brookings Institution launched “The Primary Project,” an examination of this year’s midterm congressional primaries as a way of gathering insight on the future of the Democratic and Republican parties. Since primaries are considered the “neglected stepchildren of American elections,” as Brookings called it, they are the races that are least likely to garner media coverage or intensive study. 

“Since incumbent members of Congress pay as much - and often more - attention to their primary constituency as they do to the general election, we want to know what shapes the worldviews of Congress,” wrote Elaine Kamarck, founding director of Brookings’ Center for Effective Public Management. 

The biggest question they’ll be looking at: Is the Tea Party dead, yet? Both Republican leaders House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have already begun publicly dismissing the Tea Party as nuisances. But they want be able to swat them away so easily. 

This graph below looks at the kinds of primary challengers in Republican races held thus far in Illinois and Texas. Of the challengers, those of the Tea Party brand clearly outweigh all other types. 

teapartyprimarychallengers.jpgThe special election in Florida a couple weeks ago wasn’t a primary. But the Tea Party candidate David Jolly won, and in a district he wasn’t expected to carry, and without the support of the Republican Party. If that doesn’t signal that the party is still alive and tea-baggin’, then I don’t know what is. 

That said, Tea Party candidates failed miserably in both the Illinois and Texas primaries held so far. We’ll be watching the body count closely as well. 

Alex Sink Fails to Turn Up Voters of Color in Florida … Again

Alex Sink Fails to Turn Up Voters of Color in Florida ... Again

So, what just happened in Florida? The special election for the District 13 House seat in Congress Tuesday was supposed to go to the Democratic candidate Alex Sink, according to political experts, but somehow her Republican opponent Dave Jolly was able to edge her by less than 4,000 votes. Jolly raised just half of the funds Sink was able to net for the race. Over $12 million was collectively spent between the candidates and their political allies, which is an unusually large amount for a special election (this race was to fill the seat vacated when Rep. Bill Young died last fall). A huge chunk of that money — about $3.7 million — came from Democratic PACs, who saw this as a make-or-break election for their party. It was a seat previously held by a Republican, and for a long time, but Obama carried the district in both 2008 and 2012. Sink also won the district when she ran for governor in 2010. She even led Jolly in early voting and absentee ballot returns.

So what happened?

There’s a lot of conjecture floating around about why Sink lost in what was supposed to be a must-win campaign. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is spinning it as proof they can compete in a regularly Repubican field. In an email blast from the committee they note that Florida’s 13th District “could not be further from a typical battleground district” because “it’s less diverse than any other comparable district.” To back that up they point out that white voters made up 77 percnt of the national electorate in 2010, but white voters made up 90 percent of Florida’s 13th District electorate in 2012. Yeah, but that didn’t stop Obama from winning there in his re-election campaign. 

I wrote back in January that this race would be a referendum on whether Sink could motivate voters of color to the polls. She failed to do this when she ran for governor in 2010, which she also lost by a slim margin, and this may be why she failed in Tuesday’s race.  

Examining the election returns for yesterday’s race, it appears that she failed again to get black and brown voters out. The two maps below (from the Pinella County Supervisor of Elections website) are Exhibits A and B. In the first map on the left, the red areas are precincts that went to Jolly, and the blue areas for Sink. The second map on the right shows voter turnout. The yellower the area, the higher the turnout — 40 to 60 percent — while the browner areas shows turnout between 20 and 40 percent. The lower turnout areas overlap with the areas that went to Sink, while the high turnout areas mostly went to Jolly. 

Precincts for Jolly and Sink.tifPinellasvoterturnout.tif













Those precincts that went to Jolly running up the left bank of the district are all coastal areas where beaches like Clearwater are. This is where your whiter and wealthier voters are, many of whom live in beachfront properties. Sink’s precincts in that huge blue section in the southeastern region is mostly St. Petersburg, which is the most urban part of the district. Clearwater is 80 percent white compared to St. Pete, which is 68.7 percent white. Black people make up almost a quarter of St. Pete compared to 10 percent for Clearwater.

And while the Latino population is larger in Clearwater, a lot of them are immigrants who arrived there only in recent years, meaning many of them probably can’t vote, or don’t due to language barriers. It’s not out of the range of possibility that the increased voter turnout there is not itself a reaction from white voters to the growing Latino immigrant population. A huge part of Jolly’s campaign platform was for strict immigration policies. 

Then again, Sink may have sunk herself by turning off Latinos who do vote due to her own bigoted remarks about immigrants. During a February debate she said this

“Immigration reform is important in our country. It’s one of the main agenda items of the beaches chamber of commerce, for obvious reasons. Because we have a lot of employers over on the beaches that rely upon workers and especially in this high-growth environment, where are you going to get people to work to clean our hotel rooms or do our landscaping? And we don’t need to put those employers in the position of hiring undocumented and illegal workers.”

That couldn’t have helped her.

The Washington Post’s “The Fix” said in January that “If Democrats can’t win here with their dream candidate, they are in for a long 2014.” That’s because this race was supposed to take the political temperature to determine if the Democratic Party would be able to gain more control of the House of Representatives in the upcoming midterm elections. If this race is any indication, it doesn’t look good for them, which means it will remain tough to get immigration reform through Congress along with any other laws that might help people of color. 

As political expert Larry Sabato said: “The special election result does strengthen our belief, as expressed in this space for months, that Republicans are in position not only to hold the House but to add some seats to their House majority in November. This was one of the GOP’s most vulnerable seats, and they held it.”


Racism’s at Root of Adegbile Denial

Racism's at Root of Adegbile Denial

There are many reasons why the Senate blocked former NAACP LDF attorney Debo Adegbile from becoming head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and none of them have anything to do with his qualifications. The surface reason for why Adegbile garnered not one vote from Senate Republicans, is because they associated him closely with Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former Black Panther and MOVE activist who was convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1982.

The unstated reason for why they blocked Adegbile’s nomination, as I wrote about at Policy Shop, has to do with a conservative agenda that seeks to strip enforcement powers away from our civil rights legal protections. 

Adam Serwer called it a “Republican war on civil rights laws” over at Meanwhile, NAACP LDF president Sherrilyn Ifill said in her op-ed in The Root that the failed nomination of Adegbile was “just another battlefield in the ongoing challenge to the legitimacy of our nation’s civil rights laws.”

At least one Republican, though, Sen. Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, believes that he denied Adegbile on the grounds of upholding justice. According to Toomey, what disqualified Adegbile was his supervision of the LDF’s litigation department when it filed legal briefs arguing that the jury in Abu-Jamal’s trial were given improper instructions in the sentencing. In the video below, Sen. Toomey calls the day he voted to obstruct Adegbile’s nomination “a good day for the United States and for anybody who cares about integrity in our criminal justice system.”

You know who else cared enough about the criminal justice system to file a legal brief in support of a man convicted of murder? The attorney John Roberts, who is today the Chief Justice of the United States. Before rising to that post, Roberts devoted hours free of charge to helping defend John Errol Ferguson, a man convicted of killing eight people in one of the most gruesome crimes in Florida’s history. This fact did not obstruct Roberts in his rise to become the senior justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. 

For Toomey, the problem with Adegbile isn’t just the briefs he helped file on Abu-Jamal’s sentencing. His beef is also with the NAACP LDF. That legal organization was founded by Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, and whose professional career was dedicated to fighting racism in American institutions. He founded LDF with the mission to continue that fight. But it’s this fight that has irked not only Toomey, but other Republicans in the Senate.

As reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Toomey assembled a file on LDF that included statements and quotes from any staff member who dared to challenge racism in the criminal justice system. One of the people he seized upon was LDF attorney Christina Swams who said at an Abu-Jamal rally: “There is no question in the mind of anyone at the Legal Defense Fund that the justice system has completely and utterly failed Mumia Abu-Jamal and in our view, that has everything to do with race and that is why the Legal Defense Fund is in this case.”

Senate Republicans grilled Adegbile about Swams comments though he was not at the rally when she made them. 

At the time, LDF was filing the briefs in question to have Abu-Jamal’s death sentence overturned due to improper jury instructions. The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld this argument twice, leading ultimately to Abu-Jamal’s removal from death row and given a life sentence. Toomey referred to this successful appeal as a “mockery of our justice system,” in the Inquirer and indicted Adegbile for his participation in it. 

When Toomey shared parts of his anti-Adegbile file with the Inquirer, the newspaper reported that “[n]one of the information they provided cited direct comments or actions by Adegbile.”

But that didn’t stop Toomey from distributing the file, padded with comments about “racism,” from anyone within six degrees of Adegbile, and members of the Judiciary Committee, and also to police unions like the Fraternal Order of Police, before the vote on his nomination. The FOP had already been actively lobbying against Adegbile’s approval, and Toomey makes sure to thank them in the video above.

Again, while Toomey’s campaign was orchestrated around tensions concerning Abu-Jamal, the co-benefit for Republicans of blocking Adegible was that it was another dent registered in the armor of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. A huge blow was delivered to civil rights protections last summer when conservative members of the U.S. Supreme Court stripped the Voting Rights Act of one of its key provisions.

Ifill points out that Republicans’ beef with the Civil Rights Division stretches back farther than that. They forced President Clinton to withdraw lauded civil rights professor Lani Guinier from consideration when he nominated her for the role. They applied extra vilification to current Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick when Clinton nominated him in the 1990s as well. Ditto for civil rights Bill Lan Lee, who was officially confirmed during a recess appointment when the Senate Judiciary Committee refused to advance him. 

All three were LDF attorneys cut from the civil rights cloth of Thurgood Marshall. But Republicans today appear more dedicated to the fabric that preserves racism’s dye rather than lawyers like Adegbile working to see racism die. 

The Senate’s denial of Adegbile registered negative reactions from a variety of organizations representing multiple strands of civil rights advocacy. Asian Americans Advancing Justice called it a “travesty of justice,” stating “It’s clear that politics were in play when Mr. Adegible’s nomination was blocked simply because he provided an American his constitutional right of having a lawyer… Punishing those who take an oath to uphold the law for granting that representation mocks the very foundation on which this country was built.”

From the National Partnership for Women and Families: “At a time when gender- and race-based wage discrimination persist, when complaints of pregnancy discrimination are on the rise, and when women and men of color too often are denied opportunities to advance their careers, confirming a fair and tireless advocate should have been an easy call and a top priority for every senator.”

Despite Toomey’s declaration, these organizations also care about the integrity of the criminal justice system; they just serve an agenda that seeks to fight discrimination, not preserve it.  



Senate Blocks Obama’s Pick for New Civil Rights Chief

Senate Blocks Obama's Pick for New Civil Rights Chief

[Updated with statement from President Obama at the end of this post]

Today, Senate Republicans and Democrats voted to block President Obama’s pick for Justice Department Civil Rights Division head Debo Adegbile, the former lead attorney on voting rights for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). Republicans opposed him mostly because of his involvement as an LDF lawyer in the appeal for the imprisoned human rights activist Mumia Abu-Jamal. Adegbile’s assistance in that case consisted of helping file a brief claiming that the jury in Abu-Jamal’s trial — where he was convicted for killing a police officer — received improper instructions for their deliberations.

The judge in that case did find merit in that brief, but members of the U.S. Senate apparently did not. Many of the Republicans accused Adegbile of helping a “cop killer.” National law enforcement associations encouraged the Senate to block Adegbile for the same reasons. 

On top of that, seven Democrats joined with Republicans to block Adegbile on similar grounds, some of them afraid that a favorable vote would hurt their re-election chances this year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, also voted against Adegbile, but only under a technical procedure so that he could bring Adegbile back up for a vote in the future. 

“I believe that Republicans have distorted this good man’s record in an attempt to score political points and block confirmation of a faithful defender of voting rights,” said Reid at the vote hearing today. “Republicans have not given this good man a fair shot at confirmation.”

It was thought that Adegbile would have a smoother transition through the Senate thanks to a rule change sparked by Reid in November that would require only a simple majority vote (51 votes) for nominees to federal agencies, as opposed to the 60 votes that were needed in the past. But today’s obstruction was largely covered in racial animus, according to those present for the vote. 

“Today’s vote demonstrated the worst elements of our political system,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Unhinged rhetoric trumped substance, racialized language triumphed over thoughtful discourse, and our legal and political system will pay the price. It’s hypocritical for Senators to claim to support civil rights enforcement and then turn their backs on our communities by voting against the consideration this nominee on his merits.”

President Obama released this statement on the Senate’s failure to confirm Adegbile:

“The Senate’s failure to confirm Debo Adegbile to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice is a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant. Mr. Adegbile’s qualifications are impeccable. He represents the best of the legal profession, with wide-ranging experience, and the deep respect of those with whom he has worked. His unwavering dedication to protecting every American’s civil and Constitutional rights under the law - including voting rights - could not be more important right now. And Mr. Adegbile’s personal story - rising from adversity to become someone who President Bush’s Solicitor General referred to as one of the nation’s most capable litigators - is a story that proves what America has been and can be for people who work hard and play by the rules. As a lawyer, Mr. Adgebile has played by the rules. And now, Washington politics have used the rules against him. The fact that his nomination was defeated solely based on his legal representation of a defendant runs contrary to a fundamental principle of our system of justice - and those who voted against his nomination denied the American people an outstanding public servant.”

Obama Favors Expanding Schools and Reducing Prisons in New Budget

Obama Favors Expanding Schools and Reducing Prisons in New Budget

President Obama released his new budget proposal for the coming fiscal year that starts October 1, and it’s a relatively safe package of spending wishes carefully customized to not rock the boat for this year’s mid-term elections. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calls it “a solid blueprint that would reduce deficits, alleviate poverty, and boost investment in areas needed for future economic growth, such as infrastructure, education, and research.”

 Some of Obama’s proposals, as listed in a fact sheet sent form the White House to the press:

  • Supports a “Preschool for All” initiative, in partnership with the states, to provide all low- and moderate-income four-year-olds with access to high-quality preschool,
  • Provides 100,000 teachers in 500 districts with access to professional development to help them make effective use of new broadband connectivity, 
  • Raises the minimum wage to $10.10 and indexing it to inflation thereafter, while also raising the minimum wage for tipped workers for the first time in over 20 years,
  • Expands the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for childless workers aged 21 to 24, doubling the maximum credit to $1,000. 

The Wall Street Journal is reporting, meanwhile, that the GOP isn’t feeling Obama’s anti-poverty measures. Rep. Tom Price (R., Ga.), the vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, said that Obama “wants to take more taxpayer money and throw it at programs that don’t work.”

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, felt differently, saying in a press statement,“By expanding the earned income tax credit and other middle class tax cuts and providing needed investments in jobs and infrastructure, this budget provides pathways out of poverty for millions of families.”

Obama hopes that this budget, if passed, will drop the deficit by $434 billion come 2024. The fact sheet from the White House states that under Obama the deficit has already been cut in half as a share of the economy, the largest four-year deficit reduction since the demobilization from World War II.

The Department of Justice, which is hoping to bulk up its “Smart on Crime” initiatives to reduce mass incarceration and racial bias in the criminal justice system, would get a nice stack — $173 million targetted toward those efforts: 

  • Requests $15 million for U.S. Attorneys, including prosecution prioritization, prevention and reentry work and promoting alternatives to incarceration such as the establishment of drug courts and veteran courts,
  • Sustains $15 million for the Bureau of Prisons to expand the Residential Drug Abuse Program at the federal level and $14 million provided in the FY 2014 appropriation to assist inmates with reentering society and reducing the population of individuals who return to prison after being released,
  • Requests $115 million for the Second Chance Act Grant program, through state and local assistance programs, to reduce recidivism and help ex-offenders return to productive lives,
  • And $273 million to help meet the nation’s civil rights challenges—including an $8 million program increase.

Hmm, between the call for more resources for schools and teachers, and funds for keeping people out of prison, it looks like a plan to help hammer away at that school-to-prison pipeline in America. 

“The proposed budget released today by the President shows a clear and unequivocal commitment to expanding the middle class and providing educational, economic, and employment opportunities for all Americans,” said Henderson. “If implemented, this budget would change the lives of students and families across this country for the better; we call on Congress to pass it.”

TAGS: budget Obama

EPA Pays Tribute to Rep. John Lewis and Environmental Justice

EPA Pays Tribute to Rep. John Lewis and Environmental Justice

Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency hosted a ceremony celebrating the 20th anniversary of Executive Order #12898 on environmental justice in the Rachel Carson Green Room of its D.C, headquarters. The guest of honor there was Congressman John Lewis, the long-time civil rights champion who also was one of the earliest advocates for environmental justice in Congress.

In 1992, Rep. Lewis introduced the Environmental Justice Act, the first piece of legislation dedicated to abolishing racial disparities in how environmental protection was applied. He introduced this law along with his colleague in the upper chamber, Al Gore, then a senator for Tennessee, and who was also one of the earliest champs in the federal government for the cause. Both men helped get the executive order over the finish line two years later under President Bill Clinton, who signed it.

Yesterday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy presented Rep. Lewis with an award for his work in marrying environmental public policy with civil rights principles, which McCarthy has been pushing as a key element of the agency’s work.

In his keynote before the audience, Lewis recalled growing up in Jim Crow Alabama and asking his family why there was racial discrimination. “They said, ‘That’s just the way it is. Don’t get in the way. Don’t get in trouble,’” said Lewis, before turning to the many activists and government officials in the room to say, “Thank you for getting in the way. Thank you for getting in trouble — good trouble. For bringing environmental justice to all of the people in our nation. It is the right thing to do. It is the necessary thing to do.”

Lewis then gifted McCarthy with a copy of the graphic novel he stars in called “March,” which illustrates the story of the many civil rights demonstrations he participated in throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

Watch this video clip from the ceremony:

John Lewis EPA 20th EJ Anniversary from Be Mock on Vimeo.

Read more about the history of environmental justice over at my blog at

The White Supremacy of ‘House of Cards’

The White Supremacy of 'House of Cards'

The specter of white supremacy looms throughout the new season of the Netflix political fiction “House of Cards.” The show is supposed to serve as a window into how power is gained, stolen and exploited in the highest levels of government. But all you need is to read Politico or ProPublica on any given day to know that, and the reality is much creepier. A deeper view of “House of Cards” reveals how racism has worked and continues to work for the preservation of power in America that people of color can’t seem to penetrate. If you want to know why our real-life African-American POTUS appears too often constrained by forces beyond his control, this show and this season in particular provides glimpses into the mechanics that make those constraints possible.

It also shows the roots of those constraints. About a third into this season, Frank Underwood, the U.S. vice president and the show’s lead character, is “visited” by his ancestor Augustus Elijah Underwood, a Confederate soldier. Frank is at a battleground in Spotsylvania, Va., where a Civil War reenactment is taking place, and where one of the battlefield actors is revealed as the veep’s great-great-great grandfather (get how great he is?) Augustus, who was killed during battle.

At first, Underwood takes a hallowed interest in his ancestor’s character, mostly because he didn’t know that he, himself, is a Son of a Confederate veteran. But he soon discards all interest saying, “I personally take no pride in the Confederacy. Avoid wars you can’t win, and never raise your flag for an asinine cause like slavery.”

Underwood is a South Carolina Democrat so you’d think that he’s taking a noble position on the most ignoble of causes. But that’s not it. It’s just that slavery isn’t worth fighting for — or rather the enslaved African-Americans weren’t worth it.

Episodes later, when controversy engulfs Underwood’s one black friend, Freddy Hayes, threatening to undermine the vice president in the process, Underwood decides Hayes isn’t worth fighting for either, and disposes of him.

The main thing that “House of Cards” wants you to know is that power, for some, must be preserved and expanded at all costs. Power in this tale, in this White House, is white privilege and supremacy. It’s something that cannot be bought, though many characters of color in this political saga try the best they can. This power rests snuggly in the federal executive office, lording over America. The Confederates failed; white supremacy still won.

This is what resonates most deeply during the second season of this Netflix drama based on a British show about corruption in Parliament. The American version is also about corruption, but not neatly as a critique of it. Instead, in the American card house, we find that corruption is an exclusive province in the federal government that no non-white person can access, even with wealth and Cabinet-level security clearances.

Almost every person of color in the show thinks they have some measure of power, until white power wielders — namely Underwood and his nemesis, the Koch Brother-ish Raymond Tusk — show them what power really is. Running down the list (Spoiler alert!):

  • Remy Danton, an African-American lobbyist and political influence dealer who thinks Tusk has his back. Well, he doesn’t.
  • Linda Vasquez, the Latina White House Chief of Staff, who believes she controls the POTUS’s schedule and agenda until Underwood disabuses her of that notion.
  • Freddy Hayes, Underwood’s black friend and BBQ pit owner who is cut loose by the Veep when a media report exposes Hayes’ criminal history.
  • Daniel Lanagin, a Native American casino owner who’s helping Tusk buy political influence in ways that undermine Underwood.
  • Xander Feng, a Chinese billionaire diplomat who Underwood uses to create political turmoil between the United States and China.

All of these characters are chopped down, in one way or another by Underwood or Tusk. In one key scene, Underwood slides away from the aforementioned Civil War reenactment to secretly meet with Feng. He wants Feng to finance a bridge project in Long Island and is seeking a deal over a lawsuit the U.S. has against China about currency manipulation. Underwood demands a lot of the Chinese representative here, but he offers little in return. The insult of this causes Feng to spit on Underwood’s great-to-the-third-power-grandfather’s Civil War grave.

“There is no sacred ground for the conquered,” Feng tells him.

In another scene, Underwood visits the Native American billionaire Lanagin at his home to confront him about his financing of Underwood’s political opponents. When Lanagin tells him to get out his face, Underwood reminds him of the power of the White House. Lanagin responds by reminding Underwood that his executive power means nothing on sovereign tribal grounds, and also that he has enough money to ignore the vice president.

But in the end, both Feng and Lanagin are subdued. Despite their wealth and connections, neither has direct influence; both have to purchase it by using another white man  — Raymond Tusk — as their proxy. No other person of color in the political saga even comes close to touching Underwood’s power.

Political and social issues including feminism, rape culture and energy policy are all entertained by Underwood, and his equally cold-blooded wife Claire, but only in their quest to attain more power. They make no serious attempts to resolve any of those problems, instead using them to leverage more political capital. It’s a tangled web indeed, but it’s only a web of intrigue for viewers of color if you care about how white supremacy and privilege is maintained in America. Since we all live mostly as the victims of that maintenance, there is very little illumination here.

The only thing that matters at the end of this season is that the Underwoods have manifested their destiny. The Civil War ghost shows that for some white people, power and privilege is inherited, and those at the top have no interest of letting go of it — definitely not to honor or defend the causes of people of other races and nations.

“Choosing money over power is a mistake that almost everyone makes,” Underwood says in the first season of “House of Cards.” The second season, though, shows that many choose money because they have conceded that they can’t access power that has been passed down by birthright. This is white supremacy’s legacy, and “House of Cards” shows how it manages to live on.


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