What’s coming through the door? Prepping for Obamacare patients

By: MARY ELLEN SCHNEIDER,

Millions of Americans can now purchase health insurance through the federal and state exchanges. But while interest is high, no one knows for sure just how many people will end up enrolling in a plan.

And the bigger question for physicians is how many patients will show up in their offices early next year when coverage starts.

The answer may depend on where you live, according to Paul B. Ginsburg, Ph.D., an economist and president of the Center for Studying Health System Change.

Multiple factors dictate demand

States with the highest number of uninsured residents are likely to have the most people entering the insurance market, Dr. Ginsburg said. But the expansion of Medicaid is also a factor.

Texas has one of the highest rates of uninsurance in the nation, but is not expanding its Medicaid program. Arkansas, Arizona, and New Mexico – all with high rates of uninsurance – are.As originally enacted, much of the increased insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act was to come from the expansion of Medicaid. That changed when the Supreme Court gave states the choice of whether or not to expand eligibility for their programs; so far 25 states are actively moving forward with expansion.

The exchanges will allow some patients in the system – who are currently without coverage – to gain insurance, said Dr. Reid B. Blackwelder, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). This should provide some relief for struggling physicians, he said.

In a survey of members, the AAFP found that family physicians provide free or reduced rate visits for uninsured or underinsured patients an average of 10 times a week.

“A lot of the folks that will get insurance are already in the system,” Dr. Blackwelder said. “They are already being cared for, but cost the system money. This will actually help.”

Tough for solo practices

So who will be coming through the front door? Experts say it will be both the sick and the healthy.

Suicide Rate Climbs by 30 Percent in Kansas as Government Slashes Mental Health Budgets

kansassuicides_wichitaeagle_imgBy Allison Kilkenny,

(Wichita Eagle)

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment recently released a startling report(PDF) showing a 30 percent increase in suicides from 2011. Nationwide, the number of deaths by suicide surpassed the number of deaths by motor vehicle accidents in 2009, the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided data.

The Wichita Eagle reports that the largest increase in suicides in Kansas occurred among white males, who already were the segment of the population most likely to take their own lives. More than 80 percent of suicides in Kansas last year were men, like Scott Dennis, a 42-year-old fitness company owner.

Last year, Dennis was busy getting ready for an industry convention in Las Vegas.

Dennis had already paid for a $20,000 sponsored dinner, booked his flight, hotel and rental car and sent out some work e-mails.

He showered and shaved. He packed his bag.

“He wrote a note that said, ‘I can’t live like this anymore,’ and left his wallet and his watch on his desk, drove to Wal-Mart down the street and shot himself in the chest,” said Brook Phillips, a friend of Dennis for 35 years.

Nationally, the CDC reported a spike in suicide rates in 2010 among the middle-aged, a 28 percent rise overall, a 40 percent jump among white Americans, and among men in their 50s, suicides increased by more than 48 percent. Guns remained the leading method used in all suicides, followed by poisoning, overdoses, and suffocation.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC told PBS: “We don’t know what specifically is causing [the suicide spike], but the trend has been consistent, and if anything our numbers would underestimate the gravity of the problem.”

Frieden also commented that more people die from prescription opiates today than from heroin and cocaine combined, and called alcohol a “significant contributor to depression and to mental health problems.”

But many people consume opiates and alcohol to self-medicate, or to escape their dire economic circumstances. One popular theory floated to explain the suicide epidemic is that the recession has caused emotional trauma in individuals.

Pat Smith, the violence-prevention program coordinator for the Michigan Department of Community Health, told The Huffington Post the recession may have pushed already troubled people over the edge. Being unable to find a job or settling for one with lower pay or prestige could add “that final weight to a whole chain of events,” she said.

There does appear to be a correlation between the recession and increasing suicide rates. For example, calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline increased by 36 percent in 2008, and another 15 percent in 2009.

Data compiled by The Wall Street Journal in late 2009 showed increases in several states. Of 19 states surveyed, 13 saw marginal increases in suicide rates. Tennessee had the highest rate of increase, with over 15 percent more suicides in 2008 than 2007. Across the 19 states, the average increase was 2.3 percent.

And as The Huffington Post notes, this same trend was also seen during the Great Depression, when the suicide rate increased by 21 percent in the early 1930s (about 17 of every 100,000 people).

Even though there have been horrific stories in the news related to the nation’s poor mental health care of its citizens (Aaron Alexis’ attack in Washington’s Navy Yard and Miriam Carey’s murder by DC police), officials seem determined to continue slashing funding. From 2009 to 2011, states cut mental budgets by a combined $4 billion, the largest single combined reduction to mental health spending since de-institutionalization in the 1970s.

In Chicago alone, state budget cuts combined with reductions in county and city mental health services led to shutting six of the city’s 12 mental health clinics, Forbes reports.

Threats of sequestration in 2013 had a significant impact on people’s ability to access mental health services and programs, including children’s mental health services, suicide prevention programs, homeless outreach programs, substance abuse treatment programs, housing and employment assistance, health research, and virtually every type of public mental health support. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) claimed it alone would be cutting $168 million from its 2013 spending, including a reduction of $83.1 million in grants for substance abuse treatment programs.

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Since 2009, a community health center in Sedgwick County, Kansas, has lost 53 percent of its state funding, according to Marilyn Cook, executive director of Comcare of Sedwick County. She told The Wichita Eagle the county is trying to appeal to the state to replace some of that money.

“This is a community problem and a public health problem, not just a mental health problem,” Cook said. “Treatment dollars have gone down and more and more people are coming to us, a growing number without any other payment for services.”

She said they’ve seen an increase in the number of calls to the crisis program and more law enforcement officers have been trained in crisis intervention, which is a good thing, she said, but “without adequate funding, it’s difficult for us to get to everybody who needs care and help.”

In 2012, Sedgwick County 911 dispatch received more than 2,400 calls related to suicide threats or attempts and more than 61,000 crisis phone calls for suicide risk or urgent mental health help.

Liz McGinness, a member of the Sedgwick County Suicide Prevention Coalition and a retired school psychologist and mental health crisis team director for USD 259, says the suicides may be related to social stigmas and the economy.

“I think one of the biggest things we can rally around is reducing stigma and talking about getting help,” McGinness said.

“There has been an uptick in suicides in middle-class, white professional men.… We do likely attribute that incidence as being related to the economy, for men particularly. So much of their identity is tied up in their job, and they lose their moorings.”

Spanking linked to later behavioral and emotional problems

By: MARY ANN MOON,

Young children who are spanked by their mothers or fathers show more externalizing behavior and less cognitive capacity several years later, compared with their peers who are not spanked, according to a reportpublished online Oct. 21 in Pediatrics.

This secondary analysis of data from a longitudinal cohort of 1,933 families across the United States could not establish whether spanking exerts a direct effect on cognitive and emotional development “through stress, trauma, or other physiologic or neural processes, or whether spanking is simply an indirect proxy for other unmeasured parenting practices that negatively affect cognitive development.” However, all the data in this rigorously controlled analysis point toward a direct effect “that cannot be simply explained away as spanking families being also less likely to speak to or engage their child in ways important for cognitive development,” said Michael J. MacKenzie, Ph.D., of Columbia University School of Social Work, New York, and his associates.

These study findings are of particular concern because a full 57% of these children were spanked by their mothers and 40% by their fathers at 3 years of age, and those rates declined only slightly at 5 years of age, the investigators said.

At age 5 years, 52% of the children were spanked by their mothers and 33% by their fathers. Most mothers estimated that they spanked their children less than twice a week, but 5.5% reported spanking two or more times per week. Most fathers said they spanked their children less than twice a week, but 3% reported doing so two or more times per week (Pediatrics 2013 Oct. 21 [doi:10.1542/peds.2013-1227]).

Compared with no spanking, both high-frequency and low-frequency spanking by mothers at ages 3 years and 5 years were strongly associated with significantly higher levels of externalizing behaviors at age 9 years. This association remained robust after the data were adjusted to account for numerous childhood characteristics such as gender, birth weight, birth order within the family, and temperament as a baby, and maternal traits such as age at the child’s birth, marital status, racial/ethnic background, education level, household income-to-needs ratio, life stress, history of depression or anxiety, impulsivity, and cognitive capacity.

In addition, paternal spanking at age 5 years correlated with reduced receptive verbal capacity in the child at age 9 years, an indication of cognitive ability measured via the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test.

“Future work should focus on providing families a clearer picture of the outcomes associated with spanking and more information about what discipline practices may have the desired effect on improving functioning, so that they can move beyond punishment practices to the incorporation of positive parenting behaviors with the potential to encourage healthy child trajectories,” the investigators noted.

FDA moves to reduce or remove unhealthy trans fats from foods

By: ELIZABETH MECHCATIE,

The Food and Drug Administration has made a move toward further reducing – or eventually removing – the trans fat content in processed foods, with the “preliminary determination” that partially hydrogenated oils, the major source of trans fats, are “not generally recognized as safe” for use in food.

This determination is based on scientific evidence and expert scientific panel conclusions regarding the public health risks of trans fats, “and is an important step for removing harmful trans fat from processed foods,” Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the FDA commissioner, said during a telephone briefing on Nov. 7 to announce the FDA’s action. This “will also allow adequate time for food manufacturers to reformulate products using alternative ingredients,” she added.

She referred to the 2005 Institute of Medicine report concluding that trans fat, also called trans fatty acids, has no known health benefits, with no known safe level of consumption.

If this determination is finalized, partially hydrogenated oils will be considered food additives, and food manufacturers will not be able to add the ingredient to food unless authorized by regulation, according tothe FDA statement.

To continue using trans fats as an ingredient, manufacturers would have to meet the safety standard for food additives, scientifically demonstrating that “there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from the use of the ingredients,” said Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, during the briefing.

The FDA has opened a 60-day comment period for stakeholders to respond, and is particularly interested in comments from manufacturers on how long it will take to remove this ingredient from their products.

Although many manufacturers have voluntarily reduced the amount of trans fat content in their products, trans fats are still present in many processed foods, including coffee creamers, frosting, frozen pizzas, margarine, and microwave popcorn products. The FDA’s last major effort to address the trans fat content of foods was in 2006, when manufacturers were required to list trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils in the Nutrition Facts label on food packaging. As a result, the average daily intake of trans fat dropped to about 1 g/day in 2012, from 4.6 g/day in 2003, according to the FDA.

Lap band surgery may prevent heart failure

Dr. Kristjan Karason

Dr. Kristjan Karason

By: BRUCE JANCIN,

AMSTERDAM – New findings from the landmark Swedish Obese Subjects study “strongly suggest” that bariatric surgery reduces by roughly half the long-term risk of developing heart failure, Dr. Kristjan Karason reported at the annual congress of the European Society of Cardiology.

“This is the first study to look at the effect of bariatric surgery on heart failure risk,” observed Dr. Karason of the University of Gothenburg (Sweden). “Our findings support a modulating role of excess body fat in the pathogenesis of heart failure.”

The SOS (Swedish Obese Subjects) study has been a major driver of the growing enthusiasm for bariatric surgery, not only as a means of achieving sustained weight loss far beyond what can typically be accomplished medically, but also as a means of reducing obese patients’ elevated risks for a variety of serious chronic comorbid diseases.

For example, the SOS investigators have previously reported that bariatric surgery reduced the long-term risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 87% compared to matched obese controls who didn’t undergo weight-loss surgery (N. Engl. J. Med. 2012;367:695-704), that it reduced the risk of fatal or nonfatal acute MI or stroke by one-third during a median 14.7 years of follow-up (JAMA 2012;307:56-65), and it resulted in a 42% decrease in cancer incidence in women (Lancet Oncol. 2009;10:653-62).

The SOS is a nonrandomized, prospective, observational study involving 2,010 obese subjects who underwent bariatric surgery in 1987-2001, when they were 37-60 years old. A total of 68% of the bariatric surgery recipients had vertical band gastroplasty, 19% underwent gastric banding, and 13% had a Roux en-Y gastric bypass. They were extensively matched by 18 variables to 2,037 obese controls. The SOS study is being conducted at 25 surgical departments and 480 primary care clinics across Sweden. Follow-up is ongoing.

It has been known for more than a decade that increased body mass index is associated with greater risk of developing heart failure. The mechanism involved is not well defined but is probably multifactorial. Obesity imposes a greater hemodynamic load on the heart, both preload and afterload, with resultant left ventricular hypertrophy and diastolic dysfunction. Obesity is also associated with higher levels of cardiovascular risk factors and an increased risk of atrial fibrillation, Dr. Karason noted.

Mean weight loss after a median of 14.7 years of prospective follow-up in the SOS study was 18% in the bariatric surgery group and 1% in controls. During follow-up, 91 bariatric surgery patients and 152 controls were diagnosed with heart failure, for an incidence rate of 3.1 as compared with 5.2 cases per 1,000 person-years in the control subjects.

This translated to a 48% relative risk reduction in new-onset heart failure in a multivariate regression analysis adjusted for age, sex, baseline body mass index, waist circumference, blood glucose, lipids, prior cardiovascular disease, and smoking status.

One audience member asked how to interpret the new SOS findings in light of the heart failure obesity paradox, which is the observation in multiple studies that overweight and obese heart failure patients tends to fare better than leaner ones.

“There have been no studies of weight loss in obese patients with heart failure. There really should be,” Dr. Karason replied. “But my feeling is that they would reduce their risk because they will improve several risk factors, and their hemodynamic situation is also improved. So my recommendation would be for those heart failure patients to lose weight. I don’t have any studies to support that.”

The SOS study is funded by the Swedish Research Council. Dr. Karason reported having no germane financial interests.

Time to Pay the Price for Slavery

The brutality of 12 Years a Slave is a reminder that America’s debt remains unpaid and largely overlooked.

 

STILL OF 12 YEARS A SLAVE (FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES)

STILL OF 12 YEARS A SLAVE (FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES)

BY: ,

(The Root) — The film 12 Years a Slave is a virtuosic and unrelenting depiction of pre-Civil War American slavery as seen through the eyes of a free black man lured into human trafficking at best, and damnation at the very least. To some, it’s one superlative art form — Solomon Northup’s literary masterpiece of the same name — masterfully molded into director Steve McQueen’s most superior cinematic feat to date. Hopefully for others it’s all of the above, as well as a glaring reminder that America hasn’t levied proper reparations for the brutality it legalized and sustained for generations.

Knowing that scenes from the film were purged of their viciousness in order to meet motion picture guidelines, one can only imagine what slaves around the globe endured. The recent New York Times article “Caribbean Nations to Seek Reparations, Putting Price on Damage of Slavery” poses the oft-cited dilemma in seeking reparations: Is it possible for a nation to put a value on centuries of human desecration, mass murder, kidnapping, rape and forced servitude? And if these island nations believe historical wrongs have resulted in modern-day inequities for which reparations are due, why hasn’t America — a purported beacon of democracy and equality — offered ancestors of African-American slaves any redress?

How can a country compensate for denying an entire race its human liberties and decencies? And what should be given to the descendants of those souls who were ferried across their very own River Acheron to a life — if it can be called such — in the underworld that would make Dante’s Inferno seem like a holiday sojourn?

For centuries, black men and women could be bought and sold. Today the question remains: What’s a crushed spirit worth? And shall it be multiplied if that one lost soul then begat a generation and more of the same? Could 40 acres and a mule ever serve as proper penance for the untold millions of Africans who died during the transatlantic slave trade, their bodies left to litter the ocean floor? What does one pay another for lives shaped by an antebellum South that led 19th-century social observer Edward King to conclude in 1875(pdf) that “as a social factor he [the negro] is intended to be as purely zero as the brute at the other end of his plowline”?

As 14 Caribbean nations seek an apology and reparations for “lasting damage” from slavery at the hands of former colonial powers Britain, France and the Netherlands, one can only wonder if theirs is a flight of fancy. Historically, seeking material benefits has been a futile effort. But if Britain already paid reparations to slaveholders in the early 19th century and not the slaves, what’s one more payout? And if Israel and West Germany agreed on a financial settlement in 1952 over cruelties committed during the Holocaust, why can’t blacks worldwide seek the same?

While slavery is largely outlawed the world over, the lasting insults, implications and limitations persist. And while the actual tallying of losses remains a difficult task, it’s a necessary step in mending wounds that have been left wide open for too long. America, take heed: If man cannot mature without repenting for his misdeeds and having faith in the evidence of things not seen, a nation cannot fully prosper by ignoring its past sins simply because the width and depth seem too daunting to scale. Choose another means of measurement. But to deny the previously damned amends is to cut off your nose to spite your face.

The stains from slavery — the notion that one group is beholden to another based solely in the prejudicial mindset of the majority — remain in both modern-day America and the Caribbean. History is not linear. It’s very much cyclical, and so to ensure that the haunts of yesteryear do not repeat themselves, a society must confront its history even if it’s painful and ongoing. And while some say slavery was born solely out of economic necessity, perhaps financial atonement would serve as a reminder that if you profit from others’ subjugation, your descendants may very well have to pay for the evils of their fathers.

Granted, you cannot pay the dead, nor levy fines on the progeny of slaveholders, even if they continue to benefit from their families’ past deeds. But America, and other nations, could curtail wasteful government spending and redistribute those funds for those who have been put at unfair advantage simply because their hair is kinky and their noses wide.

African Americans have contributed greatly to their respective communities, from serving in a segregated military to helping to shape our nation’s political ideals. America is great for what she isn’t: divisive, bigoted and unremarkable. Further, our nation is only as strong as the weakest among us. To embolden a wronged group that has suffered on the perimeter of our nation for centuries, unwelcome and loathed by many, is a priceless gesture that strengthens the whole.  

In 1970, venerated author Ralph Ellison wrote, in the now classic essay “What America Would Be Like Without Blacks,” that “materially, psychologically and culturally, part of the nation’s [America’s] heritage is Negro American, and whatever it becomes will be shaped in part by the Negro’s presence. Which is fortunate, for today it is the black American who puts pressure upon the nation to live up to its ideals.”

Whether those Caribbean nations prevail in their civil lawsuit is of only some consequence. What is paramount is that other nations affected by slavery continue to push for reparations owed.

Kim Lute is a Peabody and duPont Award-winning journalist formerly at CNN. She is a patient-rights advocate and writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She blogs for the Huffington Post and is currently at work on her first nonfiction book. 

Anthem Blue Cross is sued over policy cancellations

Two California residents are suing insurance giant Anthem Blue Cross, alleging they were misled into giving up previous coverage that had been grandfathered in with respect to Obamacare.

Patricia Mann and son Paul Simon, who is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against… (Mel Melcon, Los Angeles…)

Patricia Mann and son Paul Simon, who is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against… (Mel Melcon, Los Angeles…)

By Chad Terhune,

In a new line of attack on canceled health policies, two California residents are suing insurance giant Anthem Blue Cross, alleging they were misled into giving up their previous coverage.

About 900,000 Californians and many more nationwide have received cancellation notices on their individual health insurance policies, triggering a public uproar against the rollout of President Obama’s healthcare law.

Some consumers have complained about hefty rate hikes from the forced upgrades because their current plans don’t meet all the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

Much of the consumer anger has been directed at Obama’s repeated pledge that Americans could keep their existing health insurance if they liked it despite the massive overhaul.

In separate lawsuits filed Monday, Paul Simon, 39, of Sherman Oaks and Catherine Coker, 63, of Glendale sought to pin some of the blame on Anthem Blue Cross, a unit of WellPoint Inc.

The two plaintiffs are asking the courts to block any policy cancellations unless Anthem customers are allowed to switch back to their previous grandfathered health plans.

In their Los Angeles County Superior Court suits, Simon and Coker allege that Anthem pressured them in 2011 to give up their grandfathered status, a position that would have shielded them from changes under the healthcare law.

People who bought their individual policy before March 2010, when the healthcare law was enacted, and kept it in place aren’t affected by the current changes in the market. In California, nearly half of the 2 million individual policyholders are expected to lose their current coverage and must find a new plan by Jan. 1.

“This is about an insurance company manipulating the situation and concealing the facts,” said William Shernoff, a Claremont attorney for both plaintiffs. “We are asking the court to give our clients and everybody else in the same situation the option of going back to their grandfathered policies.”

Anthem Blue Cross said it hadn’t seen the complaints yet so it couldn’t comment.

In a related development Monday, Blue Shield of California said it has granted a temporary reprieve to some customers whose policies face termination Dec. 31.

The San Francisco insurer said it reached an agreement with state regulators to allow 80,000 policyholders to extend their existing coverage until March 31. Customers who are affected will be notified starting Tuesday.

Blue Shield said the change resolved a dispute with regulators over whether the company alerted consumers early enough.

The insurance department declined to comment until a formal announcement Tuesday.

Patrick Johnston, president of the California Assn. of Health Plans, said insurers have complied with applicable rules and made every effort to let people know how the Affordable Care Act will affect them.

He said its job has been challenging because the healthcare law has been a “moving target” because the Obama administration and state officials wrote new rules and established government-run insurance exchanges from scratch.

Johnston said insurers would have been accused of trying to undermine the healthcare expansion had they issued stern warnings to consumers shortly after the law passed.

“There would have been criticism it was a scare tactic and not helpful to consumers,” Johnston said. “Individuals are understandably concerned about the need to change from policies they liked to other policies that have typically better benefits, but sometimes at a higher price.”

In California, the cancellations in the individual market were prompted by a requirement from Covered California, the state’s new insurance exchange. The state didn’t want to give insurance companies the opportunity to hold on to the healthiest patients for up to a year, keeping them out of the larger risk pool that would influence future rates.

Covered California said a Jan. 1 changeover was best for consumers in the long run despite the initial disruption.

About 310,000 of the 900,000 policyholders who will lose their coverage Dec. 31 should qualify for federal premium subsidies based on their income, said Anne Gonzales, an exchange spokeswoman. She said that means those consumers should get better coverage at the same or lower rates.

But premiums may go up next year for the remaining 590,000 customers who are affected by the switch, according to the exchange. Gonzales said they should benefit from more comprehensive coverage and enhanced consumer protections.

“The whole idea behind the Affordable Care Act was to discontinue an alarming trend of policies with gaps in coverage, sometimes to the surprise of policyholders,” Gonzales said. “The real story here is that more than 4 million Californians who previously couldn’t get insurance will be able to under the new requirements.”

But many consumers still resent being forced to make a change that may cost them more or mean the loss of their long-standing medical providers. Many insurers have sharply limited the choice of doctors and hospitals in new plans next year.

Patricia Mann, mother of plaintiff Paul Simon, said her son has battled melanoma and ulcerative colitis so he’s concerned about losing access to his doctors. None is included as a healthcare provider in the new plans from Anthem or other insurers, she said.

By her calculations, the $400 monthly premiums wouldn’t change much. “It’s extremely upsetting to think you won’t be able to see your doctor,” Mann said. “We were totally deceived.”

Coker said she was alarmed at the recent letter Anthem sent her saying her monthly premium of $289 could jump to $526 for a replacement plan.

She later learned she may qualify for a substantial subsidy based on her disability income. A mid-level Silver plan from Anthem Blue Cross may cost her $183 a month or a less-generous Bronze plan was available for as low as $1 a month.

“That financial help is great,” Coker said. “But how does the coverage compare to what I have now? I have no idea.”

Boxed In: How a Criminal Record Keeps You Unemployed For Life

People like Luis Rivera are being locked out of the formal workforce forever thanks to one youthful mistake.

(Reuters/John Gress)

(Reuters/John Gress)

By KaiWright,

This article was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute.

Luis Rivera had some peace of mind for about five months, from late fall of 2010 through early spring of the following year. That’s the closest thing he’s seen to financial stability in more than twenty years.

“I got hired for a wonderful job. It was a clerk/porter/doorman position at a high-rise classical building in the East Village,” he recalls wistfully. Rivera, 44, has a wife of twenty-five years and three teenage daughters. They live up in East Harlem, where the Puerto Rican–born New Yorker grew up and has spent much of his life. He’s ferociously proud of his marriage and children; his back straightens and his tone turns serious when he talks about his family, like a man who’s managed to achieve something he’s been told he can’t accomplish. Yet looking back on those five months as a jack-of-all-services for wealthy downtown hipsters, Rivera still gets excited about an opportunity that tore him away from home at all hours.

“When they needed somebody, they would call me in the middle of the night and I would say, ‘Yes!’ Because I needed a job. And the pay was excellent,” he brags, pointing to his $17 hourly wage for part-time work. “I was next to be hired in a position there permanently.”

The new position held promise that Rivera could finally work just one legit job—on the books, with steady hours and a steady paycheck—rather than hustling to piece together part-time informal work, as he’s done his entire adult life. But that promise hadn’t yet been realized. He was still at the mercy of his employer’s whims. If they called, he worked; if not, he didn’t. So when the superintendent of a building across the street mentioned that his crew was looking for part-time help as well, Rivera put in his name. While applying, he was honest to a fault.

“I made the mistake of trusting,” Rivera says now, shrugging. “I explained to this guy that I have a record from 1990-something. But I explained that I paid the price. I’m clean—gimme a chance. He gave me his word of honor that he would not tell.” But word travels fast when you’re an ex-con. Suddenly, the upscale building at which Rivera hoped to build a future stopped giving him shifts at all.

“So I made a phone call and asked to speak to them,” he explains. He says his boss told him, “We found out you have a record. And you can’t work here, due to the fact that this is a fancy place—anything could happen.”

At age 22, Rivera says, he committed a burglary in the Bronx. He was a lousy criminal and soon got caught. The judge didn’t make him serve any time, just released him to his parents’ custody and gave him five years of probation. Within two years, he’d earned release from probation as well. But the conviction has nonetheless stalked him ever since. “Twenty years later, it’s still there.”

Rivera is part of an uncounted population of formerly convicted or incarcerated people trying to find work in a hostile economy. They are failing, by and large, thanks to the illegal but still widespread practice of employers rejecting applicants or firing workers solely because they have criminal records. A growing movement is pushing states to “ban the box,” or more closely regulate when and how employers can ask about criminal records on job applications. The movement has logged some victories: in October, Target, the nation’s second-largest retailer, announced that it would stop asking the question of prospective employees. The move comes after Target’s home state of Minnesota passed “ban the box” legislation—one of ten states to do so, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP). But the way that many companies screen for criminal records is already barred by federal law.

Back in 1987, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission declared that blanket bans on hiring people with criminal records were a Civil Rights Act violation. The EEOC noted that the law bars not only overt bias based on protected categories like race, but also seemingly neutral policies that have the effect of reinforcing racial disparities So it told employers that they can consider criminal records only as one factor in hiring, and then only when the conviction is directly related to the work. But Congress is most responsible for undermining this guidance. Following 9/11, lawmakers issued blanket bans on former felons working in a broad range of transportation jobs. States followed suit, and the list of banned occupations grew exponentially: private security guards, nursing home aides, just about any job involving kids. Former felons are now categorically barred from working in more than 800 occupations because of laws and licensing rules, one study estimates.

Partly in reaction to this growing list, and partly in response to the simultaneous explosion of the background check industry, the EEOC issued an updated guidance in 2012. The new guidance didn’t change the core idea—that blanket hiring bans based on criminal records have a disproportionate impact on black and Latino workers and thus violate the Civil Rights Act; instead, it offered employers updated details on how to stay on the right side of the law. In sum: if you conduct background checks, your hiring systems must include a granular method of confirming their accuracy and considering the specifics of a person’s case. The experience Rivera describes is just the sort that would not pass muster.

This summer, the EEOC showed its willingness to enforce those rules. In June, the watchdog filed separate suits against BMW and Dollar General. BMW’s subcontracted hiring firm had imposed a blanket ban that not only affected new hires but led to the firing of many longtime employees. In Dollar General’s case, one of the plaintiffs had been denied work because of a six-year-old conviction, which drew the EEOC’s scrutiny not only because the practice is illegal, but also because the woman had previously worked for a different retailer in the same type of job without incident. “That’s huge,” says Maurice Emsellem of the National Employment Law Project. “The guidance is one thing, but all this activity surrounding the guidance—that shows they’re enforcing it.”

If so, the EEOC has got its work cut out for it. There’s no firm number on the population of workers with criminal records, but the NELP estimates that there were 65 million in 2010—a stunning 28 percent of the adult population. In 2006, the Justice Department spitballed the number at 30 percent of working-age adults. A great many of these people have faced background checks. In explaining its updated guidance last year, the EEOC cited a 2010 study showing that 92 percent of large employers run background checks.

Another Republican Switches To The Democratic Party

 

Jason Thigpen

Jason Thigpen

by Egberto Willies,

A few weeks ago Texas Republican Judge Carlo R. Key decided to leave the Republicans Party. He pulled no punches when he left. He left with a stinging indictment of the party. He said,

Rational Republican beliefs have given way to ideological character assassination. Pragmatism and principle have been overtaken by pettiness and bigotry. Make no mistake; I have not left the Republican Party. It left me. I cannot tolerate a Republican Party that demeans Texans based on their sexual orientation, the color of their skin, or their economic status. I will not be a member of a party in which hate speech elevates candidates for higher office rather than disqualifying them. I cannot place my name on the ballot for a political party that is proud to destroy the lives of hundreds of thousands of federal workers over the vain attempt to repeal a law that would provide healthcare to millions of people throughout our country. .. I would hope that more people of principle will follow me.

Not surprising, this week another Republican from a state that is suppressing its voters andfilling the air with hate has decided to switch. A couple days ago North Carolina Republican congressional candidate Jason Thigpen could take it no longer. Jason Thigpen is a veteran. He served the country in the army for 6 years. He was deployed to Iraq as a gun-truck commander for a Convoy Security Team between 2008 and 2010. He served his country.

Jason Thigpen told the NewsObserver that the Tea Party push for a government shutdown precipitated his switch. He said,

I simply cannot stand with a party where its most extreme element promote hate and division amongst people,” Thigpen said in a statement posted to his campaign website Thursday. “Nothing about my platform has, nor will it change. The government shutdown was simply the straw that broke the camels back. I guess being an American just isn’t good enough anymore and I refuse to be part of an extremist movement in the GOP that only appears to thrive on fear and hate mongering of anyone and everyone who doesn’t walk their line.

Thigpen also said that he “didn’t go to war to defend the liberties and freedoms of one party, race, or one income class of Americans.” He was taken aback when North Carolina legislators used their super-majority status to suppress voting rights of Democrats, specifically minorities and college students. He acknowledged the super majority was attained through gerrymandering. Read his full statement here.

This is likely a difficult decision for Mr. Jason Thigpen. He must be applauded for the courage it took. He will be accepted into the Democratic Party with open arms. One can only hope that moderate Republicans take back their Party. America needs a multi-party system to force all politicians of every stripe to earn the votes of every American. The trickle of Republicans switching is bound to become a stream as the extremist continue to hold their party and the country hostage.

Did John Boehner just say equal rights are ‘frivolous’?

U.S. House Speaker Boehner calls on a reporter during a news conference in Washingtonby Laura Clawson,

With Senate passage basically assured, some Democrats have been hoping to run the same playbook on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that got the Violence Against Women Act through the Republican-controlled House. AsNancy Pelosi describes how the VAWA fight went, “We made it too hot to handle in the public … It had to come to the floor.” ENDA will have to be white hot, though, given this:

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) affirmed on Monday morning that he would oppose a law that would prohibit discrimination against gay and lesbian employees in the workplace, citing the possibility that it would put a financial burden on businesses.”The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement.

The facts show that the Speaker’s beliefs on this front are wrong—Sen. Rob Portman cited the lack of lawsuits in states that have laws against anti-gay workplace discrimination as one of his reasons for supporting ENDA and, as President Obama noted in his pro-ENDA op-ed, a majority of Fortune 500 companies have nondiscrimination policies—but we know how Republicans are with their beliefs. This gets to a fundamental distinction between VAWA and ENDA: Republicans had to at least pretend to be opposed to violence against women and quibble around the edges of which women should be protected and how strongly. They’re a lot more comfortable just saying no when it comes to LGBT people—in fact, LGBT people were one of the groups House Republicans were trying to get excluded from VAWA protections.

Still, Pelosi is right: The only hope for passing ENDA through this Congress is making it too hot to handle and forcing Boehner to let it come to the floor for a vote with a majority of Republicans opposing it. The other hope, of course, is taking back the House.

Major New Development Could Swing VA AG Race to (D) UPDATE X3

by CanadavsBush,

Ballot revisions for the Virginia AG race between Republican Mark Obenshain and Democrat Mark Herring have been coming fast and furious over the last couple of days, but they’ve done little to dent Obenshain’s initial margin.  Currently, the vote count remains in Obenshain’s favor by 777 votes.

Provisional ballots still need to be counted, but most observers believe that there aren’t nearly enough provisionals to give Herring a chance of overcoming a nearly 800 vote lead.  Essentially, Herring needed a miracle to pull off the win.

Well, that miracle appears to have arrived in the form of a vote-losing clusterfuck.  Due to some great digging by Dave Wasserman (Cook Political Report), it appears that election officials have acknowledged some huge irregularities with respect to counting of absentee ballots in Fairfax county that, if borne out, likely swings the race to the Democrats.  Follow me below for the details…

Here are the numbers for absentee ballot requests and absentee ballots counted for the three congressional districts in Fairfax county.

Virginia-11: 13,354 absentee ballot requests/11,503 returned votes: 86.1% return rate
Virginia-10: 7,665 absentee ballot requests/6,782 returned votes: 88.4% return rate.
Virginia-08: 8,387 absentee ballot requests/4,168 returned votes: 49.7% return rate.

It’s quite obvious that something especially fishy is going on here, as there is no plausible explanation for a return rate that low in VA-08, and that there are likely around 3,000 votes missing in action.  The Republican Secretary of the Fairfax Election Board agrees and has said that he will look into the discrepancy.

Brian W. Schoeneman ‏@BrianSchoeneman
@Redistrict @notlarrysabato I’ve talked to the GR and we are working on this as we speak – I am convinced now too that there is an issue

The upshot?  VA-08 happens to be a heavily Democratic district and, given a ballot return rate similar to the other districts, Herring would likely gain about 1,500 votes, enough to almost certainly put him in the lead prior to the inevitable recount.  If all goes well, this would be HUGE–it would hand Virginia Democrats a clean sweep of the top 3 spots on the Virginia ballot, and give Governor-Elect McAuliffe’s a lot more leeway in dealing with many important issues such as women health and voting rights.

4:28 AM PT: It appears that Fairfax voting officials have confirmed that there is a big problem with the count and votes are clearly missing.  Fairfax Co. voter registrar Cameron Quinn concedes in email Dave Wasserman obtained that VA-08 absentee totals are wrong.

Quinn quote: “I suspect there are machine totals that either didn’t print tapes, or didn’t show full tallies on the tapes.  I expect that the Electoral Board will make figuring out what happened the first order of business in the morning.”

Wasserman has updated his spreadsheet and projects a 1535 vote swing with new votes counted, good for a 758 vote Herring lead!  Again, this is just a projection, but Wasserman really  knows his stuff…

7:37 AM PT: Fairfax election officials are apparently meeting as we speak to look into the source of the error.

Also, a helpful point from kossack totallynext: The likelihood of the ballots being lost in the mail or stolen and stuffed in a laundry truck or forgotten under a pile of coats somewhere is low in this case, as most absentee ballots are cast in person in Fairfax County (about 75%).  This makes canvasses of absentee votes easier to track.

So good news in that it should be easier to sleuth out and fix the discrepancy.

10:48 AM PT: The process is chugging along.  Fairfax County has tweeted that they continue to canvass votes.

But there is some negative news.  According to Ben Tribbett (notlarrysabato), apparently a Republican leaning district, Bedford, has made corrections which will pad Obenshain’s lead.

Ben Tribbett ‏@notlarrysabato

Bedford County +432 for Obenshain.  #bedfordblast This puts Obenshain up just over 1,000 before the #7CornersSurprise is counted.

This makes it more difficult for Herring to overcome the lead, but if Wasserman’s calculations are correct, Herring will still come away with the lead.  Barring any other changes, of course….

President Jimmy Carter excited and proud grandson Jason is running for governor of Georgia

Carter’s decision resets the 2014 race as Republican Gov. Nathan Deal seeks re-election. Deal is already facing two primary opponents and will now have to deal with a Carter campaign that will likely be well-financed and critical of the governor’s ethics and leadership.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS,

Former President Jimmy Carter says he’s excited and proud that his grandson, Jason, has decided to run for governor of Georgia next year.

The elder Carter said in a statement Thursday that he believes his grandson has already done “great things for Georgians through his service in the state Senate and volunteer work throughout the state.”

The former president adds that Georgia faces serious challenges and would “greatly benefit from a smart and fresh leader focused on improving our schools, creating opportunities for a more prosperous middle class and restoring a sense of trust and transparency back to state government.”

Carter’s decision shakes up the 2014 race. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal already faces two primary opponents and now will deal with the prospect of a Carter campaign that will likely be well-financed.

Jason Carter said concerns about education and the economy were at the center of his decision.

“I’ve traveled around the state and people believe our education system is on the brink. People believe the economy is not working for the middle class and people want to see an honest government that works for everyone,” Carter said. “As a state we can’t wait four years to start getting those right.”

Carter’s entrance into the race will no doubt energize Georgia Democrats, who have been dealing with poor state party finances and a lack of political firepower since Republicans claimed every statewide office in 2010. There’s been much internal optimism about the 2016 presidential race and the 2018 governor’s race as being opportunities for Democrats, but Carter is clearly betting changing demographics in the state could be enough to carry him to the governor’s mansion next year.

Carter, 38, was first elected to the Georgia Senate in May 2010 and has been at the forefront among Democrats on issues like education and redistricting. Carter said he plans to stay in the state Senate during his gubernatorial bid.

A big question will be how his grandfather will factor into the campaign.

When the younger Carter first ran for office, the former president didn’t start campaigning until a few days before the election. At the time, Carter told The Associated Press he wanted to prove that he could do the hard work on his own and didn’t want to be “trading on my family name.”

The younger Carter’s path would seek to follow that of his grandfather. Jimmy Carter served two terms in the Georgia Senate before running for governor. Although Jimmy Carter lost his first bid in 1966, won four years later.

While Democrats once dominated state politics, the Republicans have been the party in power since 2002 when Sonny Perdue became the first Republican governor of Georgia since Reconstruction. The state has voted for every Republican presidential nominee since 2000, although President Barack Obama garnered 47 percent of voters in 2008. Last year, Obama received 45.5 percent of the vote.

Also on the ballot in 2014 will be Democrat Michelle Nunn, who is running for U.S. Senate. Nunn also hails from a prominent political family; her father is former U.S. Sam Nunn, who represented Georgia for years. Democrats are clearly hoping a strong slate with both Nunn and Carter on the ballot and an emphasis on economic and education issues will be able to connect with not only big-city voters but those who hail from rural parts of the state.

On education issues, in particular, Carter has already challenged the governor on an effort to address a financial shortfall facing the state’s popular HOPE scholarship program, which is funded by lottery revenues.

Carter’s decision to run for governor was first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Challenging Deal in the Republican primary are state schools Superintendent John Barge and Dalton Mayor David Pennington. On the Democratic side, former state Sen. Connie Stokes has also announced her intent to run for governor.

Carter, who lives in Atlanta and represents Decatur and Atlanta’s eastside neighborhoods, is married with two sons.

 

It’s time for Gov. Nathan Deal to go

email-deal-pink-slipBy Bryan Long,

If you had Gov. Deal’s job performance, would you still have your job?

Over the weekend we learned the “final price tag” of Gov. Deal’s signature legislation that broke the HOPE Scholarship. It turns out, the law was worse for Georgia than we even imagined.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that hidden deep inside Gov. Deal’s bill to break the HOPE Scholarship for a generation of students was “one of the state Capitol’s biggest economic blunders of 2011.”

Gov. Deal’s short-sighted changes to the lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship nearly destroyed the state’s best pipeline for highly skilled jobs.

Because of Gov. Deal’s signature legislation – his crowning achievement – Georgia’s technical schools lost nearly 25 percent of full-time enrollment in two years.

“Worse still,” the newspaper reports, “Georgia’s technical college system ended up losing 60 percent of its HOPE funding.”

Gov. Deal choked Georgia’s primary jobs funnel during the middle of one of the worst recessions in history.

When Gov. Deal changed the HOPE funding, he made it impossible for thousands of Georgians to be trained for highly skilled jobs – jobs that are going unfilled today – and he tore down the bridge that leads out of poverty and to the middle class. The impact will be felt for decades.

But that’s not all.

Last week, the Georgia Hospital Association broke its silence and said Gov. Deal’s position on Medicaid expansion has put hospitals and the state’s economy at risk.

Gov. Deal’s stubborn, partisan refusal to expand Medicaid leaves thousands of the poorest Georgians uninsured. And, on top of that, his decision threatens the bottom lines of hospitals that were counting on new income from the changes.

Already, three rural hospitals have closed their doors and many more are on the brink.

And, finally, there’s education. Gov. Deal’s budget has underfunded schools every single year he’s been in office.

He is continuing a trend that started in 2003. Since 2010, Georgia spent $1 billion less on public education each year than the state’s own formula says schools need.

We believe Gov. Deal is the worst governor for Georgia’s middle class this state has ever seen. Gov. Deal’s failed leadership has stranded families when they needed help the most. And his failed leadership hurts businesses during a time when the rest of the nation is recovering from the recession and finally moving forward again.

And that’s just his job performance.

Then there’s the matter of the constant state of suspicion that Nathan Deal is a crooked governor:

Gov. Deal was under a cloud of suspicion while in Congress; again while he ran his campaign for governor; and again now that he’s in the governor’s office. So, I’ll ask again. If you had Gov. Deal’s job performance, would you still have your job?

It’s time to fire Gov. Deal.

 

Teachers are Georgia’s real job creators

These men are wealthy corporate CEOs. And they are Gov. Deal’s buddies.

These men are wealthy corporate CEOs. And they are Gov. Deal’s buddies.

By Bryan Long,

Let’s talk about Georgia’s real job creators: teachers.

Teachers spend their days creating the next generation of doctors, nurses, engineers, lawyers and skilled professionals of all kinds.

But in Georgia, we haven’t treated our job creators very well at all.

About 80 percent of Georgia’s school districts will furlough teachers this school year.

In Stewart County, teachers will be furloughed 30 days.

In fact, half of Georgia’s school districts will lay off teachers for five days or more this year.

Every single furlough day cuts our teacher’s salaries, adds stress and reduces planning time.

But Gov. Nathan Deal doesn’t see it this way.

Today he will run the first television ad of his re-election campaign to brag that he “lowered taxes on the job creators.”

But he didn’t lower taxes for teachers. And he didn’t lower taxes for middle class families.

No, Gov. Deal lowered taxes for these men:

He has spent the past two-and-half years taking care of these men, his top donors and members of his family.

But our schools?

Here’s the result of his leadership for our schools:

  • 71% of school districts no longer teach students the full 180 days
  • 95% of school districts have had to increase class sizes
  • 42% are eliminating arts and music programs
  • 62% are eliminating electives
  • 38% are cutting back on remedial programs that help low performing students

Read the full reportCutting Class to Make Ends Meet (PDF)

Our schools have been underfunded, according the state’s own formula, every single year Gov. Deal has been in office.

And to make up for the shortfalls, 38 school districts were forced to raise local property taxes to make up for state funding cuts.

Those are just a few of the problems facing our children in K-12. Gov. Deal has also made it tougher for our children to reach technical college or universities.

Gov. Deal’s signature legislation, which he claims saved the HOPE Scholarship, has been called “one of the state Capitol’s biggest economic blunders of 2011.”

Gov. Deal’s short-sighted changes to the lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship program nearly destroyed the state’s best pipeline for highly skilled jobs.

Georgia’s technical schools lost nearly 25 percent of full-time enrollment in two years.

When we watch Gov. Deal’s expensive television ad, we’ll know exactly who he’s standing with.

It’s not our teachers. It’s not our students. And it’s not Georgia families.

 

Advancing Sumter to begin taking applications for 2014 leadership development program

Earlier this year, twenty-three individuals from major employers in the Americus and Sumter County area participated in an Advancing Sumter leadership development training conducted through the University of Georgia J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development utilizing their Train-the Trainer curriculum.

Now that these individuals, known collectively as “Advancing Sumter,” have completed the program, they want to pass on their leadership knowledge to other members of the community.

The Advancing Sumter Community Leadership Development Program was initiated through the local Sumter Archway Partnership with the University of Georgia. It is a new organization that was targeted to a wide array of individuals in the community. The overall goal of the organization is to educate citizens who plan to remain in this community and provide leadership training that can be used in their jobs, civic clubs, churches, and volunteer or elected capacities. Recruitment and selection will be geared toward ensuring a diverse group of citizens participate without restrictions placed on age, gender, or educational attainment.

The 23 individuals who participated in the training included: Barbara Grogan, Angela Westra, and Ivy Oliver from the Americus Sumter Payroll Development/Chamber of Commerce office; Angie Singletary and Erica Johnson from the City of Americus; Chelsea Collins from the Sumter County Board of Commissioners office; Darcy Bragg, Tiffany Gregory, and Gabriele Stauf from Georgia Southwestern State University; Mitzi Parker from the local UGA Cooperative Extension Office; Andrea Oates representing the Plains City Council and South Georgia Technical College; Kedrick Cox from the Sumter County Schools; Eshonda Blue from Innovative Senior Solutions, Jerutha Scott from Magnolia Manor, and Su Ann Bird, Karen Werling, Victoria Herron, Raven Payne, John Wilder, Sandy Larson, Shelly Godwin, David Finley, and Valerie Winheim from South Georgia Technical College.

The 23 individuals that underwent the Train-the-Trainer three-day workshop with the J.W. Fanning Institute will now form the basis for the Advancing Sumter Board and provide oversight and support staff to begin training other individuals in the community. These individuals will serve as facilitators for the Advancing Sumter training sessions.

Advancing Sumter is currently enlisting individuals who would like to participate in the next training opportunity. The workshop consisted of training on: Understanding Community Leadership, Effective Communication, Valuing Community Diversity, Group Dynamics, Conducting Successful Meetings, Group Problem Solving and Decision Making, Managing Conflict, and Building Communities through Partnerships and Collaboration.

If you are a member of the Sumter County community who wants to develop his or her leadership skills, or if you are an employer in the community who wishes to provide training for your employees, please fill in the application on the Chamber of Commerce home page at www.americus-sumterchamber.com, or directly at http://americussumterchamber.com/attachments/article/61/Advancing%20Sumter%20Application.doc. There are three ways to submit the application: it can be mailed to Americus-Sumter Chamber of Commerce, PO Box 724, Americus, Georgia, 31709 (Attention: Advancing Sumter Leadership Institute); or fax the application to 229.924.8784 (Attention: Advancing Sumter
Leadership Institute); or by email at advancingsumter@americus-sumterchamber.com (Subject Line: Advancing Sumter Leadership). The fee for the program is $50 per individual, and the program will include twelve training sessions with meals provided. The first class will begin in January of 2014, with graduation on April 1, 2014. The deadline for submitting applications is November 25th.

For more information about Advancing Sumter, please contact Maggie Potter, Archway Professional, at 229.938.9385 or mmpotter@uga.edu, or contact Andrea Oates at 229.931.2705 or aoates@southgatech.edu.

The Gap Between the Very Rich and Everyone Else

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders

By Sen. Bernie Sanders,

As a member of the U.S. Senate Budget Committee, I am more than aware that a $17 trillion dollar national debt and a $700 billion deficit are serious problems that must be addressed.

But I am also aware that real unemployment is close to 14 percent, that tens of millions of Americans are working for horrendously low wages, that more Americans are now living in poverty than ever before and that wealth and income inequality in the United States is now greater than in any other major country — with the gap between the very rich and everyone else growing wider and wider.

Further, when we talk about the national budget, it is vitally important that we remember how we got into this fiscal crisis in the first place and who was responsible for it. Let us never forget that when Bill Clinton left office in January of 2001, the U.S. had a budget surplus of $236 billion with projected budget surpluses as far as the eye could see. During that time, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projected a 10-year budget surplus of $5.6 trillion, enough to erase the entire national debt by the end of 2011.

What happened? How did we, in a few short years, go from a large budget surplus into horrendous debt? The answer is not that complicated. Under President Bush we went to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and didn’t pay for them. We just put them on the credit card. The cost of those wars is estimated to be between $4 trillion to $6 trillion. Further, Bush and Congress passed an expensive prescription drug program that was unpaid for. They also reduced revenue by giving huge tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations. On top of all that, the Wall Street collapse and ensuing recession significantly reduced tax receipts and increased spending for unemployment compensation and food stamps, further exacerbating the deficit situation.

Interestingly, the so-called congressional “deficit hawks” — Congressman Paul Ryan, Senator Jeff Sessions and other conservative Republicans — all voted for those measures that increased the deficit. These are the same folks who now want to dismantle virtually every social program designed to protect working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor. In other words, it’s okay to spend trillions on a war we should never have waged and large defense budgets, and provide huge tax breaks for billionaires and multi-national corporations. It’s just not okay when, in very difficult economic times, we try to protect the most vulnerable people in our country.

Where do we go from here? How do we now draft a federal budget which creates jobs, makes our country more productive, protects working families and lowers the deficit?

For a start, we have to understand that, from both a moral and economic perspective, we cannot impose more austerity on the people of our country who are already suffering. The time is now for the wealthy and multi-national corporations who are doing phenomenally well to help us rebuild America and lower our deficit.

At a time when the richest 1 percent own 38 percent of the financial wealth of America, while the bottom 60 percent own a mere 2.3 percent — we cannot balance the budget on the backs of people who have virtually nothing. When 95 percent of all new income during 2009 through 2012 went to the top 1 percent, while tens of millions of working Americans saw a decline in their income, we cannot cut programs that these workers depend upon.

Instead of talking about cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, we must end the absurdity of one out of four corporations in America not paying a nickel in federal income taxes. At a time when multi-national corporations and the wealthy are avoiding more than $100 billion a year in taxes by stashing money in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, we need to make them pay taxes just like middle-class Americans. The truth of the matter is that according to the most recent information available profitable corporations are only paying 13 percent of their income in federal taxes which is near a 40-year low.

While in January 2013, we successfully ended Bush’s tax breaks for the richest 1 percent, the truth is that they continue to exist for the top 2 percent, those households earning between $250,000 and $450,000 a year. That must end.

At a time when we now spend almost as much as the rest of the world combined on defense, we can afford to make judicious cuts in our military without compromising our military capabilities.

Frankly, it is time that Congress started listening to the ordinary people. Recently, the Republican Party learned a hard lesson when the American people stated loudly and clearly that it was wrong to shut down the government and not pay our bills because some extreme right-wing members of Congress do not like the Affordable Care Act. Well, there’s another lesson that my Republican colleagues are going to have to absorb. Poll after poll make it very clear that the American people overwhelmingly do not want to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. In fact, according to a recent National Journal poll, 81 percent of the American people do not want to cut Medicare at all; 76 percent of the American people do not want to cut Social Security at all; and 60 percent of the American people do not want to cut Medicaid at all. Meanwhile, other polls have made it very clear that at a time of growing income and wealth inequality, Americans believe that the wealthiest among us and large corporations must pay their fair share in taxes.

It is time to develop a federal budget which is moral and which makes good economic sense. It is time to develop a budget which invests in our future by creating jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure improvement and expanding educational opportunities. It is time for those who have so much to help us with deficit reduction. It is time that we listen to what the American people want, and not just respond to the billionaire class and major campaign contributors.

A Message to Progressives

Ebony Power 100 GalaBy Rev. Al Sharpton,

Last night, I was glued to my television set like many others around the country, watching and waiting for election results to pour in. It was a historic evening to say the least. A liberal Democrat won in Virginia, a non-tea party candidate who openly worked with President Obama was reelected in the state of New Jersey and a proud progressive who campaigned against current stop-and-frisk policies will be the next Mayor of New York City. In short, we witnessed a voter rebellion against the tea party that has strangled much of American politics since 2010. But before we put away our marching shoes and indulge in celebration, we must remember that big battles remain before us. Though we achieved tremendous victories yesterday, we now must prepare for the trenches — most immediately, for the 2014 midterms.

A phrase we often hear repeatedly is that elections have consequences. Indeed they do. And the major triumphs of last night will undoubtedly usher in progressive changes that are desperately needed in a political climate that has pushed the needs of the people often times to last place. In areas like New York City, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has vowed to reform the draconian practice of stop-and-frisk that has criminalized an entire segment of this great metropolis. Last night’s election displayed the very clear possibility of where we can go when we actively mobilize and engage in the political process. It’s vital however that we remember that we have a clear path towards success, but not a complete arrival yet. If we don’t change Congress, the winners of yesterday’s election won’t have the resources or the appropriate legislation to make progress a sustained reality. They won’t have the ability to live up to their promises, nor deliver to their constituencies. And that will be a failure for all that we simply cannot afford.

When the tea party began gaining momentum, they strategized and made sure that their candidates were elected, and eventually took enough control of government to begin a process of obstruction that literally brought us to a standstill (as witnessed by the recent government shutdown). Instead of working with their counterparts across the aisle, they often behaved in an unprecedented manner that gave new definition to the idea of uncompromising. Political analysts and historians everywhere continuously state that they have never seen such division in Washington. But one fatal flaw of the tea party that we can learn from at this very moment is the fact that they became intoxicated with their own victories. We, progressives, cannot allow ourselves to face the same fate. It’s okay to acknowledge achievements, but if we have too long of a celebratory party, we will end up back in the dungeons of defeat. And that is something that we must prevent for the sake of our children and the future of this country.

In 2008 and 2012, many records were broken and new normalcies established. The bottom line was that we voted, and we saw the power of that vote when possibility translated to reality. But unfortunately, many initiatives that would have directly benefited the nation were either stalled or struck down because of a small group of elected officials controlling one branch of government. With gerrymandered districts, the 2014 midterm election will be more significant than ever. If you care about immigration, organize and vote. If you believe everyone deserves access to affordable health care, organize and vote. If you want to preserve landmark legislation that began to balance inequality like the Voting Rights Act, organize and vote. If you believe in a woman’s right to choose and have control of her own life and body, organize and vote. If you want to eliminate harsh laws like new photo ID requirements that disenfranchise citizens, organize and vote. And if you believe that everyone despite his/her skin tone, religion, gender or sexual orientation deserves an equal shot, make sure you organize and vote.

Many of us were excited last night, and that’s a normal sentiment when such tremendous progress took place. But in order to continue on that path of advancement for all, we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent. Whether we are young or old, male or female, Black or White, gay or straight, we only succeed when all of us have equal opportunities and a level playing field for those opportunities. And the only way that will come to fruition is by participating in the process and advocating for change. I was glad to see so many do that in yesterday’s election and I’m hopeful that we will continue to do so in 2014 and beyond. Let’s build on last night’s momentum. To all progressives: the time is now.

Why Republicans are Cutting Safety Nets When Most Americans Are Still in the Great Recession

ROBERT REICH

ROBERT REICH

By ROBERT B. REICH, 

So how to explain this paradox?

As of November 1 more than 47 million Americans have lost some or all of their food stamp benefits. House Republicans are pushing for further cuts. If the sequester isn’t stopped everything else poor and working-class Americans depend on will be further squeezed.

We’re not talking about a small sliver of America here. Half of all children get food stamps at some point during their childhood. Half of all adults get them sometime between ages 18 and 65. Many employers – including the nation’s largest, Walmart – now pay so little that food stamps are necessary in order to keep food on the family table, and other forms of assistance are required to keep a roof overhead.

The larger reality is that most Americans are still living in the Great Recession. Median household income continues to drop. In last week’s Washington Post-ABC poll, 75 percent rated the state of the economy as “negative” or “poor.”

So why is Washington whacking safety nets and services that a large portion of Americans need, when we still very much need them?

It’s easy to blame Republicans and the rightwing billionaires that bankroll them, and their unceasing demonization of “big government” as well as deficits. But Democrats in Washington bear some of the responsibility. In last year’s fiscal cliff debate neither party pushed to extend the payroll tax holiday or find other ways to help the working middle class and poor.

Here’s a clue: A new survey of families in the top 10 percent of net worth (done by the American Affluence Research Center) shows they’re feeling better than they’ve felt since 2007, before the Great Recession.

It’s not just that the top 10 percent have jobs and their wages are rising. The top 10 percent also owns 80 percent of the stock market. And the stock market is up a whopping 24 percent this year.

The stock market is up even though most Americans are down for two big reasons.

First, businesses are busily handing their cash back to their shareholders – buying back their stock and thereby boosting share prices – rather than using the cash to expand and hire. It makes no sense to expand and hire when most Americans don’t have the money to buy.

The S&P 500 “Buyback Index,” which measures the 100 stocks with the highest buyback ratios, has surged 40 percent this year, compared with a 24% rally for the S&P 500.

IBM has just approved another $15 billion for share buybacks on top of about $5.6 billion it set aside previously, thereby boosting its share prices even though business is sluggish. In April, Apple announced a $50 billion increase in buybacks plus a 15% rise in dividends, but even this wasn’t enough for multi-billionaire Carl Icahn, who’s now demanding that Apple use more of its $170 billion cash stash to buy back its stock and make Ichan even richer.

Big corporations can also borrow at rock-bottom rates these days in order to buy back even more of their stock — courtesy of the Fed’s $85 billion a month bond-buying program. (Ichan also wants Apple to borrow $150 billion at 3 percent interest, in order to buy back more stock and further enrich himself.)

The second big reason why shares are up while most Americans are down is corporations continue to find new ways to boost profits and share prices by cutting their labor costs – substituting software for people, cutting wages and benefits, andpiling more responsibilities on each of the employees that remain.

Neither of these two strategies – buying back stock and paring payrolls – can be sustained over the long run (so you have every right to worry about another Wall Street bubble). They don’t improve a company’s products or customer service.

But in an era of sluggish sales – when the vast American middle class lacks the purchasing power to keep the economy going – these two strategies at least keep shareholders happy. And that means they keep the top 10 percent happy.

Congress, meanwhile, doesn’t know much about the bottom 90 percent. The top 10 percent provide almost all campaign contributions and funding of “independent” ads.

Moreover, just about all members of Congress are drawn from the same top 10 percent – as are almost all their friends and associates, and even the media who report on them.

Get it? The bottom 90 percent of Americans  — most of whom are still suffering from the Great Recession, most of whom have been on a downward escalator for decades — have disappeared from official Washington.

The Black Misleadership Class Needs Unmasking

by Danny Haiphong

“George Bush could never tell his advisors that he was ‘good at killing people’ without demonstrations, documentaries, and criticisms following soon after.”

Halloween came and past but the nightmare of American imperial decay is much more horrifying than any haunted house or horror film. The American ruling class is gearing up to slash Social Security and Medicare. A study this year reported that four of five people in the U.S. are struggling to meet their basic needs.  Black America is living in an endless apartheid prison.  Black people face the threat of death from law enforcement every 28 hours. The finance capitalist class is actively seeking to privatize public education, de-unionize the public sector, and turn over pensions, benefits, and non-military government services for profit. At the same time, the guardians of empire in DC are building up the national security surveillance state. Facebook and local police are partnering up to monitor demonstrations. The new un-Affordable Care Act website is contracted out to the CIA venture capital firm In-Q-Tel. American imperial decay has brought upon us the complete erosion of civil liberties and endless global plunder.

What allows these nightmarish conditions to continue? The corporate media, police state repression, racism, and the sheer weight of American capitalist oppression definitely play a large role in maintaining the current order of things. However, many on the left leave out an important historical development.  Black Agenda Report is one of the few leftist organizations that weekly expose the growing influence of the Black misleadership class.  This class of Black collaborators and scoundrels that operate in all sectors of society and keep fascism alive and well.

“The city boasts of the benefits of having an influx of wealthy, young white college students occupying what used to be the residencies of the working class.”

Corporate consultants and academicians see the rise of the Black misleadership class as “diversity.” I grew up in Cambridge, MA where “diversity” and tax-revenue generation for the city’s public services are equated with living in a “people’s republic.” Yet, just this year, despite having numerous Black public officials in municipal government, a city ordinance agreement was ratified allowing the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to expand to the point where the college purchased sections of the Newtown Court public housing unit, a residence primarily occupied by the Black community.  For most of my youth, the city denied the existence of white encroachment (gentrification) by boasting of its safety net system for the poor. Now, the city boasts of the benefits of having an influx of wealthy, young white college students occupying what used to be the residencies of working class Cambridge. Poor people of color are being displaced and “diversity” has done nothing to stop it.

The Black misleadership class’s existence is justified by the paradigm of “diversity.” This paradigm places sharp emphasis on integrating Black and brown people into leadership roles within the institutions that oppress them. The Black misleadership class uses the spoils of empire to protect the ruling class responsible for the misery of US sponsored imperialism. Black FBI leaders, corporate managers, police authorities, Senators, Congressmen, Presidential advisors, and morally bankrupt celebrities like Jay-Z are given handsome salaries and positions to help manage the exploitation of the Black masses. Earlier in the year, the FBI used a Black person to call for the head of Black liberation heroine Assata Shakur. And of course, none other than Barack Obama has proven to be the most powerful of Black misleaders, wielding the resources of the financial capitalist class to pursue policies that would be impossible to achieve under a white commander-in chief without a mass response. George Bush could never tell his advisors that he was “good at killing people” without demonstrations, documentaries, and criticisms following soon after. When Obama says it, however, the coast is clear.

“The FBI used a Black person to call for the head of Black liberation heroine Assata Shakur.

In order to shift the paradigm of the US political landscape, the Black misleadership class and the concept of “diversity” it embodies needs to be placed within the proper political context of US imperialism. The Black misleadership class has risen to prestige and power at the expense of the vast majority of Black people in the US and abroad. Malcolm X called American imperialism a living nightmare. The only way to end a nightmare is to wake up and distinguish fiction from reality. The biggest fiction we are told is that the Black misleadership class represents progress made from the great struggles of the Black movement. The reality is that the liberation of Black people and all people from the exploitation of American capitalist empire cannot move forward until the Black misleadership class is properly dealt with.

“Danny is an activist and recently graduated student from Skidmore College. He is founder of the college’s social justice organization, the United Minds. He is currently a social worker in Malden, MA working with homeless individuals.  Danny can be reached at d-revolution@riseup.net

The Mutilated Economy

 

Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman

By ,

Five years and eleven months have now passed since the U.S. economy entered recession. Officially, that recession ended in the middle of 2009, but nobody would argue that we’ve had anything like a full recovery. Official unemployment remains high, and it would be much higher if so many people hadn’t dropped out of the labor force. Long-term unemployment — the number of people who have been out of work for six months or more — is four times what it was before the recession.

These dry numbers translate into millions of human tragedies — homes lost, careers destroyed, young people who can’t get their lives started. And many people have pleaded all along for policies that put job creation front and center. Their pleas have, however, been drowned out by the voices of conventional prudence. We can’t spend more money on jobs, say these voices, because that would mean more debt. We can’t even hire unemployed workers and put idle savings to work building roads, tunnels, schools. Never mind the short run, we have to think about the future!

The bitter irony, then, is that it turns out that by failing to address unemployment, we have, in fact, been sacrificing the future, too. What passes these days for sound policy is in fact a form of economic self-mutilation, which will cripple America for many years to come. Or so say researchers from the Federal Reserve, and I’m sorry to say that I believe them.

I’m actually writing this from the big research conference held each year by the International Monetary Fund. The theme of this year’s shindig is the causes and consequences of economic crises, and the presentations range in subject from the good (Latin America’s surprising stability in recent years) to the bad (the ongoing crisis in Europe). It’s pretty clear, however, that the blockbuster paper of the conference will be one that focuses on the truly ugly: the evidence that by tolerating high unemployment we have inflicted huge damage on our long-run prospects.

How so? According to the paper (with the unassuming title “Aggregate Supply in the United States: Recent Developments and Implications for the Conduct of Monetary Policy”), our seemingly endless slump has done long-term damage through multiple channels. The long-term unemployed eventually come to be seen as unemployable; business investment lags thanks to weak sales; new businesses don’t get started; and existing businesses skimp on research and development.

What’s more, the authors — one of whom is the Federal Reserve Board’s director of research and statistics, so we’re not talking about obscure academics — put a number to these effects, and it’s terrifying. They suggest that economic weakness has already reduced America’s economic potential by around 7 percent, which means that it makes us poorer to the tune of more than $1 trillion a year. And we’re not talking about just one year’s losses, we’re talking about long-term damage: $1 trillion a year for multiple years.

That estimate is the end product of some complex data-crunching, and you can quibble with the details. Hey, maybe we’re only losing $800 billion a year. But the evidence is overwhelming that by failing to respond effectively to mass unemployment — by not even making unemployment a major policy priority — we’ve done ourselves immense long-term damage.

And it is, as I said, a bitter irony, because one main reason we’ve done so little about unemployment is the preaching of deficit scolds, who have wrapped themselves in the mantle of long-run responsibility — which they have managed to get identified in the public mind almost entirely with holding down government debt.

This never made sense even in its own terms. As some of us have tried to explain, debt, while it can pose problems, doesn’t make the nation poorer, because it’s money we owe to ourselves. Anyone who talks about how we’re borrowing from our children just hasn’t done the math.

True, debt can indirectly make us poorer if deficits drive up interest rates and thereby discourage productive investment. But that hasn’t been happening. Instead, investment is low because of the economy’s weakness. And one of the main things keeping the economy weak is the depressing effect of cutbacks in public spending — especially, by the way, cuts in public investment — all justified in the name of protecting the future from the wildly exaggerated threat of excessive debt.

Is there any chance of reversing this damage? The Fed researchers are pessimistic, and, once again, I fear that they’re probably right. America will probably spend decades paying for the mistaken priorities of the past few years.

It’s really a terrible story: a tale of self-inflicted harm, made all the worse because it was done in the name of responsibility. And the damage continues as we speak.

Sumter County Board of Education to Keep 9 Seats

Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Filed

Recently, on October 28, 2013 Federal Court Judge Louis Sands dismissed the lawsuit filed by Bill Bird and declared the Sumter County school system can use the districts that the majority Black board members voted for in 2011. Bird is a former personnel manager at Sumter Regional Hospital and for Collins-Aikman Automotive, filed the lawsuit for redistricting the Sumter County districts. In 2010, the majority White school board members voted to have seven seats, but the vote was not completed because the details were never finalized. After they were elected to the school board, the six Blacks voted to keep the nine-school districts.

Attorney Jimmy Skipper, the former school board attorney, tried to deceive the Black school board members by pretending to U.S. Justice Dept. that the entire board wanted the seven-seat district to remain. School Board Chair Edith Ann Green, discovered that Skipper only informed board member Dr. Michael Busman and former Sumter school superintendent, Dr. Roy Brooks of a letter sent to the U.S. Justice Dept. When the Blacks on the school board learned of Skipper’s shady and unethical scheme, the Black majority stopped him. Skipper resigned the next day after his scheme was discovered.

When the U.S. Supreme Court gutted Sections 4 and 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, removed the “Pre-Clearance Rule,” which required the Justice Department to check any changes in voting districts. We were left with only Section 2 of the Act which protects minorities from having their voting strength diluted. Even though the White school board members, Bird, and Skipper are clinging to Senate Bills 154 and 4EX, of the GA Legislature; Those bills have a grandfather clause that allows a school district to keep the same number of seats as long as no changes are made. The Black majority board voted to keep nine districts in 2011.

Judge Sands ruled that the school system can use the 2011 plan. Section 2 of the Act protects the Black districts from going to seven seats instead of nine seats. Redrawing the school board districts’ map back to seven seats instead of the nine as they are presently, would “dilute minorities’ voting strength” which would be a violation of Section 2.

The ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] submitted a redistricting plan but the White board members, Bird, and Attorney William Nesmith of Americus, GA objected to the map. Judge Sands ordered the drawing of another map. But when the map is redrawn, it must still show nine districts.

When Bird filed his lawsuit, there were no school board elections in 2012. In the next school board election, citizens can vote for school board members in the nine school districts. Citizens of Sumter County must be made aware and
fully informed of this fact, as other news reporting outlets have been intentionally misleading.

Americus Sumter High North Campus Named “High-Progress School”

November-2013-1_20Staff Reports,

Americus Sumter High North Campus – A 9th Grade Academy has been named a Georgia Reward “High-Progress School” by Dr. John D. Barge, State School Superintendent and the Georgia Department of Education. A “High-Progress School” is a Title I school among the 10% of Title I schools in the State that is making the most progress in improving the performance of the “all students” group over three years on the statewide assessments. A school may not be classified as a High-Progress School if it has been identified as a Priority, Focus, or Alert School.

Our theme for the 2013-2014 school year “Moving From Good to Great.” It is the mission of Americus Sumter County High School – North Campus to assist all freshmen in making a smooth transition into high school and meet the rigorous high school standards in order to graduate all students. Our vision is to provide programs and supports that address the unique needs of freshman resulting in ethical workers, global thinkers and productive citizens.

Some other schools in the area that made the list are Lee County High School, Lee County 9th Grade Campus, Marion County Middle/High School.

 

U.S. Attorney in Macon: Feds will open investigation in Kendrick Johnson case

Chevene King Jr. Lead Attorney in Johnson case

Chevene King Jr. Lead Attorney in Johnson case

Kendrick Johnson

Kendrick Johnson

By Patrick Davis,

On a cloudy and mild autumn afternoon in Macon, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia–Michael Moore– announced at an October 31 press conference that his office will conduct a formal investigation into the death of Lowndes County High student Kendrick Johnson.

On January 11, 2013, the 17 year-old Johnson was found dead inside one of twenty-one gym mats at the school’s Old Gymnasium.

Ken and Jackie Johnson have dismissed claims that their son’s death was an accident by local authorities led by Chris Prine of the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office based in Valdosta.

According to a January 15 account from the Valdosta Daily Times, the following was reported:

(Lowndes County) …”Sheriff ’s and GBI investigators initially worked the scene as a suspected homicide. The sheriff ’s office and Lowndes County School System issued a statement of suspecting no foul play by Friday night….”

In essence, a determination was made on the same day Kendrick Johnson was found dead via a statement through the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department–led by Chris Prine– that no foul play was suspected.

If there was no foul play, then why wasn’t Johnson’s body released to the next of kin within 24 hours, according to state law?

Why was the county coroner not notified immediately?

These state laws were ignored, but there is more.

On a side note, there are no medical examiners in South Georgia, so how did Prine and other investigators from the Thomasville-GBI office along with the folks at the (non-GBI) Valdosta-Lowndes Regional Crime Lab come to the conclusion the mysterious death was an accident?

Prior to the January 14 autopsy, Johnson’s body stayed in Valdosta for three days at the Valdosta-Lowndes Regional Crime Lab.

Why? Who authorized this?

Moore, the U.S. Attorney based in Macon, had announced in late May that his office was gathering information.

Five months later, Moore says there is sufficient evidence to open a federal investigation.

At the press conference, Moore explains:

“I will follow the facts wherever they lead. My objective is to discover the truth,” Moore said.

The Americus 9 Protected By Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act

Judge W. Louis Sands United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia

Judge W. Louis Sands United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia

William “Bill” Bird Case against Black School Board Members was dismissed.

William “Bill” Bird Case against Black School Board Members was dismissed.

Staff Reports,

The Honorable W. Louis Sands, United States District Court Order, dated October 28, 2013 dismissed Plaintiff, William Bird’s lawsuit without prejudice. Bird had claimed that the current nine board of education districts of Sumter County violated his equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Bird also claimed that the districts were disproportion in population to such an extent as to violate the one person, one vote principle.

Defendants in this lawsuit were the nine School Board Members, the Sumter County Board of Elections, voter registration, the Director thereof, Michael D. Coley, Sybil Patterson, Eugene Edge, Jr., Cynthia Johnson, Valerie Grimes, Robin Plair Wiley, Sumter County Branch of the NAACP and Mathis K. Wright.

The Sumter Observer interviewed Wright about the decision and he said that, Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act were dismantled by the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) which is affecting state laws everywhere. However, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prohibits minority vote dilution. Section 2 provides that a voting practice is unlawful if it has a discriminatory effect. A voting practice has a discriminatory effect if, based on the totality of circumstances, minorities (Black/Hispanic) have less opportunity than Whites of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect persons of their choice. Section 2 also provided protection from the enactment of redistricting plans and other voting practices that were designed for discriminatory purposes. The proposed five – two districts and two at-large seats violates Section 2 completely whenever at-large schemes exist.

Wright continued by saying, “it is not a surprise that the SCOTUS has used President Obama as an excuse to disenfranchise Blacks. Chief Justice Roberts stated in his opinion that the Voting Rights Act was no longer needed because Selma, Alabama, Birmingham, Alabama had Black mayors and that President Obama had been re-elected. Nevertheless, the truth is the Voting Rights Act is needed now just as much as it was needed in 1965 if not more. The laws of the land have not been sufficient to prevent voter suppression by racists.

During the redistricting process the state and local officials may create districts that are designed to get them reelected with conservative voters.

Judge Sands left the door open in his order when he wrote all arguments before the Court have been based on the “one-person, one-vote principle, not grounds regarding racial discrimination in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. If the defendants – Sumter County School District, et al. seeks to challenge the 2011 plan, it should follow the appropriate procedural avenue to do so; and that is exactly what we will do.

The five – two plans will deny minority voters the choice to elect candidates of their choice. We are planning to challenge the current five district plan of the County Commissioners which also violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The ‘war’ is far from being over, Wright said. We just need the minorities (who really are the majority) in Sumter County, to unite and let’s make our educational and economical conditions better.

Reverend Elijah Smith Challenges Black Leaders

Presiding Elder Elijah Smith for the Southwest Georgia Conference for the AME Church

Presiding Elder Elijah Smith for the Southwest Georgia Conference for the AME Church

Staff Reports,

During the early 1960s, African American ministers all over the South were rising up to challenge the segregation laws and suppression of voting rights, and one notable minister was Elijah Smith.

The 71 year old Americus resident is on the heels of retiring as Presiding Elder for the Southwest Georgia Conference for the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He is asking black ministers as well as other black organizations to keep the fight going in light of voter suppression and apathy among black residents.

“At sometime for some reason, we stopped trying to encourage our community to participate in voting, something that we worked very hard for in the past,” said Smith in a telephone interview from his home.

The issue with Smith comes as the Sumter-Americus GAAAP, formerly the NAACP, voices its concerns about voter apathy in light of last week’s election after two black candidates lost to two whites for Americus City Council.

Andrea Pless Tatum lost to incumbent Carla Cook, 484 to 113 for the District 4 seat. Incumbent Lou Chase defeated Terrence Clemons in District 3, 158 to 61, according to unofficial results released Election Night. In an all black race, Shirley Green- Reese edged out incumbent Lorenzo Johnson 138-122 in the District 5 seat.

According to Sumter County Voter Registration and Elections, only 25.67% or 1,779 of 6,929 – of registered voters showed up at the polls. But Matt Wright, president of civil rights group, GAAAP, said only about 18 percent of blacks showed up to vote in a city that’s about 51 percent black. This is not acceptable.

Wright said his office regularly gives voter registration forms to people coming to file discrimination complaints – if they are not registered. He estimated they have helped register about 100 people for the past election.

“We can’t keep complaining about our circumstances and conditions if we don’t get out and vote,” Wright said.

The Rev. Smith has a history of championing black rights. He is a past president of the Sumter County Branch of the NAACP. In Columbus he helped to integrate the A & P store in his hometown of Fort Valley. He continued the struggle when he moved to Americus and has served as pastor in Allen Chapel AME Church and Mountain Creek A.M.E. Church. One way that Blacks did it was through economic pressure, asking our people to boycott businesses that wouldn’t hire us.

“There are ways of fighting back if you feel your rights are being violated and one big way is for us to vote” he said.

Smith said that black churches were instrumental in the early fight for black voting rights but added the drive of ministers as well as black organizations, such as college fraternities and sororities, Masonic Lodges and other groups has started to decrease.

“We can’t keep crying about losing rights if we don’t vote,” said Wright. “We have no one to blame but ourselves,” he said.