Friday, May 29, 2009

Hey Newt, Rush, and Coulter: Do Me A Favor And Shut Your Big Fat Mouths

President Barack Obama’s nominee to the U. S. Supreme Court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, is under attack by three lunatics to the right of the fringe right of the Republican Party for comments she made during a speech during a 2001 lecture at the University of California-Berkeley.

Referring to former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's saying that "a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases," Judge Sotomayor said, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Because of this statement, the “three horsemen of the loony right,” Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are calling her a racist and are demanding that she withdraw her name from consideration for the nation’s highest court.

Judge Sotomayor will make history if she is appointed to the High Court; she is the first Latino(a) to be nominated for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Most importantly, she comes with impeccable qualifications.

She was the first American of Puerto Rican descent to be appointed to the Federal bench in New York. Appointed a federal judge at the ripe-old-age of 38, Sotomayor chose public service over the luxurious life of a commercial litigator.

After only two and half years on the U.S. District Court, according to an April 1, 2009, New York Times article, Judge Sotomayor had “earned a reputation as a sharp, outspoken and fearless jurist, someone who does not let powerful interests bully, rush or cow her into a decision."

"She's tough and tenacious as well as smart," said Justice Jose A. Cabranes of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, a mentor and former professor of Sotomayor's at Yale Law School. "She is not intimidated or overwhelmed by the eminence or power or prestige of any party, or indeed of the media."

Her story is quite amazing given the fact that she grew up in a single parented household – her father died when she was 9 years old – in a housing project in the South Bronx in New York City.

That Newt, Rush and Coulter actually have the nerve to level such an absurd charge at Sotomayor is amazing. The loony horsemen ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Talk about the “pot calling the kettle a racist!”

Here is just a small sample of some of the toxic, hateful and racist statements that have come out of the mouths of these “three hatemongers:”

Ann Coulter

-- Ranted against Muslims: "I think our motto should be post-9-11, 'raghead talks tough, raghead faces consequences.'"

-- Bill Clinton "was a very good rapist."

-- Attacked the religion of Islam: "Islam is "a car-burning cult."

Rush Limbaugh

-- Told an African-American caller to his show to "take that bone out of your nose."

-- Resigned his position on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown pregame show after saying the media rooted for Donovan McNabb because he is black: "I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team." He later argued that the media rooted against Rex Grossman because he is white.

-- Made disparaging remarks about Nelson Mandela and argued that we should not have replaced the white government in South Africa: "…and you go into South Africa, you get rid of the white government there. You put sanctions on them. You stand behind Nelson Mandela – who was bankrolled by communists for a time, had the support of certain communist leaders…"

Newt Gingrich

-- Ranted against bilingual education: “The American people believe English should be the official language of the government. … We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.

-- Attacked gay activists: "Look, I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants impose its will on the rest of us. It is prepared to use violence, to use harassment… I think that it is a very dangerous threat to anybody who believes in traditional religion. And I think if you believe in historic Christianity, you have to confront the fact, and frankly for that matter if you believe in the historic version of Islam or the historic version of Judaism, you have to confront the reality that the secular extremists are determined to impose on you acceptance of a series of values that are antithetical, they’re the opposite of what you’re taught in Sunday school."

It is clear who the real bigots are. And, Newt, Rush and Coulter are unapologetic about their racism, homophobia, xenophobia and other various prejudices.

Sotomayor is no bigot. She was very clear about what she meant during that 2001 Berkeley lecture:

"To understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Others simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage."

That is not the ranting and raving of a racist. That is someone who understands the value of having diverse voices at the table.

Now, Judge Sotomayor is not the kind of progressive jurist that I would like to see appointed to the High Court. Based on what I have read about her, like the President, she is a "play it safe" moderate. But, to accuse her of being a racist is just plain wrong.

If Sotomayor is appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, let us all hope that her experience of growing up in the projects in the South Bronx of New York will allow her to bring a level of sensitivity – about the needs and interest of the poor, the working and middle-classes, and people of color – that is noticeably absent from most of the judges that sit on the current Court.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Unseen, Unrecognized and Unaddressed: A Silent Depression in Communities of Color

According to the authors of, The Silent Depression: State of the Dream 2009, an annual report by United for a Fair Economy, people of color are suffering through a “Silent Depression” because although the evidence of its devastating effects are everywhere, it is going largely unseen, unrecognized and unaddressed.

Instead, the country’s attention has been focused on the year-old recession afflicting the nation. People of color, however, have been experiencing a recession for the last five years, which has evolved into a full-blown depression where they live. “But there has been no recognition of this depression by the Congress, the President, or the mainstream news media. There has been no bailout, no aid package, no rule changed to reverse this disaster,” write the co-authors of the report.

This year’s report, released on the 80th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., presents some jaw-dropping statistics about unemployment, and income and wealth inequality in American society:

-- The unemployment rate among blacks is about 12 percent. Among young black males between the ages of 16 and 19, the unemployment rate is 32.8 percent.

-- The median household incomes of blacks and Latinos – $38,269 and $40,000 respectively – are substantially lower than the median household incomes of whites ($61,280).

-- Poverty disproportionately impacts people of color in America. The poverty rates for Blacks (24 percent) and Latinos (21 percent) are more than twice the poverty rate for whites (10 percent).

-- Nearly 30 percent of blacks have zero or negative wealth, compared to only 15 percent of whites.

-- Whereas, 43.4 percent of whites have retirement accounts, only 18 percent or people of color are similarly situated.

-- On the median, blacks and Latinos have 15 cents for every dollar of white wealth. On average, for every dollar of white wealth, blacks and Latinos have only 8 cents of wealth.

A May 18, 2009 article in The Washington Post puts into perspective just how precarious life is for poor people of color. The article begins, “You have to be rich to be poor.” This is the kind of paradoxical insight that only someone who really knows the experience of being poor can truly understand. “Put it another way: The poorer you are, the more things cost. More in money, time, hassle, exhaustion, menace. This is a fact of life that reality television and magazines don’t often explain,” the writer explains.

In fact, the poor are exploited and abused in a number of ways. The poor pay more for food at urban corner stores. They pay more for housing in rundown, dangerous neighborhoods. And, because they are less likely to have checking accounts or easy access to credit, the poor end up cashing their check and borrowing money at check-cashing and payday loan joints that charge outrageous fees for their services.

Some businesses even prey on the poor by offering them a loan in exchange for car titles. If the loan is not repaid, the business takes possession of their automobile.

But, the black and Latino poor are not the only one’s who are economically insecure these days.

A recent report by Demōs and the Institute for Assets and Social Policy (IASP) at Brandeis University reinforces the idea that even before the current economic downturn, black and Latino middle-class families were less likely to be economically secure than other members of the middle class.

The report, “The Downslide Before The Downturn: Declining Economic Security Among Middle Class African Americans and Latinos, 2000-2006,” presents some troubling findings about the precarious position of middle-class black and Latino families:

-- Compared to middle-class white families, economic security in the form of assets, education, affordable housing, essential expenses, and healthcare access has declined more rapidly for blacks and Latinos. While 76 percent of middle-class families experienced economic insecurity in 2006, 84 percent of black and 88 percent of Latino middle class families were not financially secure, up from 74 and 77 percent in 2000.

-- Between 2000 and 2006, the number of families lacking health insurance jumped from 18 to 30 percent among blacks and from 26-39 percent for Latinos.

-- During the six year period, the median assets of blacks declined by 33 percent, while those held by Latinos dropped by 60 percent.

The assets of middle-income families of color have been especially hard hit by the melt-down in the housing market. A May 16, 2009 article in the New York Times showed that middle class families of color have been hurt the most by the subprime crises in New York City. The Times article is consistent with studies showing that across the nation, people of color – even middle and upper income borrowers of color – are more likely to receive subprime, predatory loans, than whites.

Unable to pay these high-cost loans, people of color have been disproportionately burdened by foreclosures in cities all over the nation.

Homeownership is a key to wealth generation in the black and Latino communities. The total loss of wealth for people of color from foreclosures and the decline in home values could reach $213 billion, including $92 billion for blacks and $98 billion for Latinos.

Blacks and Latinos suffer disproportionately because of institutional racism and public policy that evolves out of it. “Institutional racism is embedded in the structures (i.e., cultural, organizational, governmental and academic, etc.) of our society and manifests itself in the distribution, implementation and access to resources and opportunities,” write the co-authors of The Silent Depression report.

Let’s be clear, this form of racism does not grow out of hatred of people of color by a few racist whites. In the case of the housing crisis, it is the product of the deregulation of financial markets and institutions during the Administration’s of Reagan, Bush(s), and Clinton placed on top of a foundation created by decades of housing segregation – de jure and de facto.

Let's be honest with ourselves, if the white population was experiencing similar rates of poverty, unemployment, a lack of access to quality and affordable healthcare, a lack of social mobility, and exorbitant rates of foreclosure on their houses, a national emergency would have been declared a long time ago.

Given the long history of racially-biased public policy which has provided most whites with unearned advantages in our society, addressing the vulnerabilities of black and Latino families both at the bottom and the middle of our nation’s class system and other aspects of racial inequality that characterize American society will require public policies that are race-specific. On the national level, the Congress and the President must work together to pass legislation that will encourage jobs creation in the inner-city, help families of color build assets and reduce debt, deal with the housing crisis, and tackle the problem of access to affordable healthcare.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Herbert Lee And The Continuing Struggle To Secure Voting Rights

On September 25, 1961, in the small town of Liberty in Amite County, Mississippi, Black farmer, Herbert Lee, 52, was shot and killed by E. H. Hurst, a white member of the State Legislature.

At a coroner’s inquest, Hurst, testified that Lee owed him money and that when he asked about being paid, Lee had “come at him with a tire iron.” Hurst explained that the .38 he was holding “accidentally” fired a bullet into Lee’s head. “I must have pulled the trigger unconsciously,” he swore.

An all-white jury ruled Lee’s murder a “justifiable homicide.” His killer, Representative Hurst, never spent a moment in jail.

It is highly unlikely that Lee would have attacked Hurst. The father of nine children, Lee was a small (5 feet, 4 inches, and weighing only 150 pounds) man. As a matter of fact, two of three witnesses who testified at the inquest later admitted that they were coerced by the Sheriff and others into testifying that Lee had tried to hit Hurst (6-2 and 200 pounds) with the tire iron found under Lee’s body.

The real reason behind Lee’s murder, however, was that he had volunteered to drive Robert Moses around and had attended many voter registration classes organized by Moses. At the time, Moses was leading a voter registration campaign for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the Magnolia State.

Moses’ was in Mississippi to teach Black people how to vote so that they could become first-class citizens. E. W. Steptoe, the Amite County NAACP leader, summed up the significance of the SNCC registration drive this way: “Every Negro in Amite County wants to register to vote, but they’re just afraid…. If Negroes voted, we wouldn’t have any trouble.”

Nearly four years after Lee’s murder, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the National Voting Rights Act of 1965. The NVRA prohibits states from imposing any "voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure ... to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color."

Herbert Lee did not die “for nothing.”

According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, the electorate that turned out for the 2008 presidential election was the most racially and ethnically diverse in the history of the nation – Black (12.1 percent), Latino (7.4 percent), and Asian (2.5 percent) voters accounted for a record share of the 131 million Americans who voted in last year’s presidential election.

In the case of the black population, much of the growth in the black vote was driven by a surge in turnout by black women and young people. The voter turnout rate for black women increased by 5.1 percentage points, from 63.7 percent in 2004 to 68.8 percent in 2008. For black youth between the ages of 18-29, the turnout rate increased by 8.7 percent, from 49.5 percent in 2004 to 58.2 percent. Among racial and ethnic groups, black women and black youth had the highest turnout rates – a first.

Nonetheless, the full potential of the votes of people of color are not being fully realized due to felon disenfranchisement laws. Nationally, 5.3 million Americans (one in forty-one adults) cannot vote – some permanently – because they have been convicted of a felony in their state. According to The Sentencing Project:
  • 48 states and the District of Columbia prohibit inmates from voting while incarcerated for a felony offense.
  • 35 states prohibit felons from voting while they are on parole and 30 of these states exclude felony probationers as well.
  • Two states deny the right to vote to all ex-offenders who have completed their sentences. Nine others disenfranchise certain categories of ex-offenders and/or permit application for restoration of rights for specified offenses after a waiting period (e.g., five years in Delaware and Wyoming, and two years in Nebraska).

Black men have been especially hard hit by felon disenfranchisement laws. An estimated 13 percent of black men (1.4 million) are denied access to the ballot, a rate seven times the national average. If current trends in rates of incarceration continue, three in ten of the next generation of black men can expect to lose their right to vote at some point in their lifetime. Shockingly, in states that strip ex-offenders of their voting rights, as many as 40% of black men may permanently lose their right to the franchise.

And, even though most states that disenfranchise have a process for restoring voting rights, the restoration processes is so confusing and difficult that few citizens convicted of a felony effectively navigate the system.

The Right To Vote campaign is a national coalition of the American Civil Liberties Union, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, and The Sentencing Project that is tackling this problem head on. Formed in 2003 with other national civil rights and civil liberties organizations, the mission of The Right To Vote campaign is to:

  • Change state felony disenfranchisement policies
  • Ensure compliance with state laws that protect voting rights
  • Support targeted voter registration
  • Create a national climate that supports re-enfranchisement

Stripping the voting rights of ex-offenders is a vestige of Jim Crow segregation and a contemporary form of systemic racism. If we want to honor Herbert Lee’s sacrifice, restoring the voting rights of people convicted of a felony must become a major priority of those of us who stuggle for civil rights.