In honor of MLK Day, we post a short educational video here with excerpts from Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Baldwin that draw the connection between racial injustice and economic inequality in the United States. Their insights are as true today as they were fifty years ago, showing just how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. If we want peace, we must work for justice in all its forms.
From National Public Radio:
Poor residents in Kentucky will have to work or do volunteer work if they want to keep their Medicaid benefits after the Trump administration on Friday approved the state’s request to add the requirements to its Medicaid program.
The new requirements apply only to “able-bodied” adults who get their health insurance through Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor. People with disabilities, children, pregnant women and the elderly are exempt from the requirement.
“Kentucky is leading the nation in this reform in ways that are now being replicated all over the nation,” said Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, in announcing the plan’s approval.
Kentucky’s program was approved a day after the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced it would look favorably on proposals from state to require poor Medicaid beneficiaries to work, go to school, get job training or do volunteer work to earn health coverage.
Nine other states — Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin — have asked CMS to allow them to add “community engagement” requirements to their Medicaid programs.
CMS Administrator Seema Verma says the work requirement option is designed improve people’s financial status and health outcomes.
In addition to the work requirement, some of Kentucky’s Medicaid beneficiaries will have to begin paying premiums for their coverage and will have to meet certain milestones to earn dental and vision care.
Before Verma joined CMS she was a private consultant and an architect of the Kentucky plan that was approved Friday.
It’s not clear how many people would be affected by the new rules in Kentucky and elsewhere.
A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that about 60 percent of “able-bodied” Medicaid beneficiaries already work. And a third of those who don’t have jobs say it’s because they are ill or disabled.
From today’s New York Times:
“Revolution will come in a form we cannot yet imagine,” the critical theorists Fred Moten and Stefano Harney wrote in their 2013 essay “The Undercommons,” about the need to radically upend hierarchical institutions. I thought of their prophecy in October, when a private document listing allegations of sexual harassment and abuse by dozens of men in publishing and media surfaced online.
The list — a Google spreadsheet initially shared exclusively among women, who could anonymously add to it — was created in the immediate aftermath of reports about sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein. The atmosphere among female journalists was thick with the tension of watching the press expose the moral wrongs of Hollywood while neglecting to interrogate our own. The existence of the list suggested that things were worse than we even imagined, given all that it revealed. It was horrifying to see the names of colleagues and friends — people you had mingled with at parties and accepted drinks from — accused of heinous acts.
A few days after the list appeared, I was in a van with a half dozen other women of color, riding through the desert on our way to a writing retreat. All of us worked in media; most of us had not realized the extent to which harassment polluted our industry. Whisper networks, in which women share secret warnings via word of mouth, require women to tell others whom to avoid and whom to ignore. They are based on trust, and any social hierarchy is rife with the privilege of deciding who gets access to information. Perhaps we were perceived as outsiders, or maybe we weren’t seen as vulnerable. We hadn’t been invited to the happy hours or chats or email threads where such information is presumably shared. The list was F.T.B.T. — for them, by them — meaning, by white women about their experiences with the white men who made up a majority of the names on it. Despite my working in New York media for 10 years, it was my first “whisper” of any kind, a realization that felt almost as hurtful as reading the acts described on the list itself.
As a young business reporter, no one told me about the New York investor known for luring women out to meals under the guise of work. I found out the hard way. I realized he was a habitual boundary-crosser only after The New York Observer reported on him in 2010. Most recently, after I complained in a media chat room about a man who harassed a friend at a birthday party, everyone chimed in to say that he was a known creep. I was infuriated. That information never made its way to me, and worse, it was taken as a given. Was keeping that secret hidden worth the trauma it caused my friend?
The list’s flaws were immediately apparent. It felt too public, volatile and vulnerable to manipulation. But its recklessness was born out of desperation. It detonated the power and labor dynamics that whisper networks reinforce. Information, once privileged to a select few, became decentralized and accessible to all. And the problem of sexual harassment no longer belonged solely to women to filter and share.
Read the complete article here.
From today’s Harvard Business Review by Leila Janah:
Fourteen years ago, I left suburban Los Angeles to teach English in rural Ghana. I’d expected, like so many young people with bleeding hearts and big dreams, to make a difference by donating my time as a schoolteacher for six months. Upon arrival in the village, I was shocked to discover that my students, avid listeners of Voice of America and BBC radio, already spoke English quite well, and some could speak to me about President Clinton’s state visit to Africa. These were blind or partially sighted kids from families earning less than $3 a day.
How was this possible? I’d learned from countless TV specials on war and poverty in the continent that Africans needed aid. They needed us to send food and clothes and to build wells and schools. But on the ground, almost every poor person I spoke to told me the same thing: “We don’t want aid, we want work.” I spent the next four years studying development economics at Harvard, designing a special major to focus on African development, and later working at the World Bank to further understand the problem of poverty and how to fix it.
My conclusion after all this time isn’t so novel. But it bears repeating because we’ve lost our way: Work is the most powerful weapon we have to fight poverty and all its downstream effects, from child malnutrition to maternal mortality, both domestically and abroad. We need to modernize workforce training, incentivize companies to hire low-income people, and encourage consumers to support those organizations that #GiveWork, not aid.
Last year, the 2,000 largest companies spent an estimated $12 trillion on goods and services, a lot of it directed to suppliers that mine or harvest raw materials or make and grow things in poor countries. The fair trade movement was a strong first step in working to access these reserves of capital to fund poverty reduction directly. Started in the 1950s, it pushed purveyors of commodity goods like coffee, chocolate, sugar, and cotton to adhere to a rigorous set of core principles, including deliberately working in marginalized communities and paying living wages. And the results have been good. For example, Starbucks sources all its European espresso beans from fair trade certified producers, and Dutch company Fairphone sells the world’s first entirely fair trade Android phone, with batteries made from ethically mined minerals.
But I believe we now need something broader and simpler to mobilize companies and consumers to think differently about aid: a model called “impact sourcing,” which pushes for workforces (whether directly employed or employed through suppliers) to be economically diverse enough to include some of the world’s most disadvantaged people. This shift could, by our estimation, lift millions out of poverty in a single year.
Read the entire article here.
From today’s New York Times by David Leonhardt:
Paul Ryan offered some warm words about Dreamers. Marco Rubio went further, distancing himself from President Trump’s new immigration policy by tweeting a passage from the Bible. John McCain was blunter still, calling the decision “wrong.”
But words aren’t enough. They’re not nearly enough.
Ryan, Rubio, McCain and the other members of Congress have the power to do something in response to Trump’s decision to subject the 800,000 Dreamers — law-abiding people who entered the United States illegally as children — to potential deportation. Congress can pass a law that removes the threat hanging over them and lets them continue with their lives.
If Congress doesn’t act, yesterday’s expressions of concern are mere hypocrisy.
“I have zero patience for empty virtue signalling on this,” Susan Hennesseyof Lawfare tweeted, in response to Rubio. “You’re a member of Congress. Don’t tell us how sad and pious you are; pass a law.”
Greg Sargent of The Washington Post noted that Congress should pass a law quickly, given the uncertainty plaguing Dreamers.
Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said Trump’s move had shifted Microsoft’s lobbying priorities. “The entire business community cares about a tax reform,” Smith told NPR. “And yet it is very clear today a tax reform bill needs to be set aside until the Dreamers are taken care of.” Smith also suggested Microsoft would try to block the federal government from deporting its Dreamer employees.
From the political right, Reihan Salam has argued that Trump’s move creates an opportunity for a bipartisan bill that both helps the Dreamers and rewrites immigration law to admit more skilled workers and fewer relatives of recent immigrants.
It would be easy enough for Congress to pass a simpler bill, focused on Dreamers. The House passed one in 2010. It also won 55 Senate votes — a majority but not enough to overcome a filibuster. Among those who didn’t vote yes: McCain, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins and two Democrats still in the Senate, Joe Manchin and Jon Tester.
Andrea Gillette lined up the bottles of fruit-flavored cocktails behind the bar. The guy who leans a ladder against the big chalkboard to write out the day’s fresh fish selection had just about wrapped up.
Floors were swept, sliced lemons were crammed into a plastic bin, the trendy garage-door-style windows facing the shaded patio thrown open. Corey Ahrens brewed coffee.
Chip Kasper, the general manager, called out to the weekday crew at Fish City Grill, a bright, modern seafood restaurant at CityLine, a massive, $1.5bndevelopment 20 miles north of downtown Dallas. Anchored by an almost 10,000-worker State Farm campus, CityLine also features a crop of buzzy fast-casual spots, a Whole Foods Market and a salon offering eyelash extension packages for upwards of $300.
It’s one of a handful of projects that have shifted the economic center of gravity of the nation’s fourth largest metro area; as a result, the northern suburbs of Dallas are some of the fastest-growing cities in the country.
“Got nine minutes to pre-shift!”
A little over a year ago, Fish City’s owner was worried this wasn’t going to happen.
In the roughly two decades since Bill Bayne and a partner opened Half Shells – the seed of what would become a chain of 20 restaurants – Bayne said he and his wife, who now own the Fish City company, have made a point to remember the names of workers at every level.
He takes pride in his ability to retain workers in an industry that sees high turnover. Still, as he prepared to open the chain’s outpost at CityLine he encountered an unanticipated hurdle.
He couldn’t find workers.
Bayne recalled sending his longtime kitchen manager, Frankie Argote, to “ride the rails” in search of people who looked like they might be cooks and to restaurants, where he asked managers whether they had employees who might be able to pick up more shifts. Argote recalled coming back and asking his boss, “Do we want to be cooking or serving?” Because he was struggling to find enough people to do both.
“This [location] has been probably the most challenging,” Bayne said.
As major corporate employers have swarmed places such as CityLine and the areas that surround them, a corresponding explosion of restaurants and bars has left business owners such as Bayne tapping into an almost-dry well of talent. Over the last five years, the number of jobs in food services and drinking places in the Dallas-Plano-Irving metropolitan division increased by 30.4%, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That’s almost twice as fast as growth in those jobs nationally, which was 17.9% for the same time period.
But thanks to a range of factors, the fertile job-hunting fields north of Dallas are essentially off limits to many prospective workers.
Read the entire article here.
The ill-fated attempt by President Donald Trump to keep immigrants and refugees out of the U.S., in some cases indefinitely, met stiff resistance not only from concerned citizens, the Democratic Party, and even members of his own party, it was also greeted with skepticism by the federal courts.
Judges from New York and Boston, to Seattle and Los Angeles, effectively put the ban on hold by issuing injunctions against its enforcement while legal challenges to its constitutionality are heard by the courts.
As a result, individuals who were barred last week from entering the country are now able to travel to the U.S., as officials at Borders and Customs, as well as Homeland Security and TSA, announced they would not be enforcing Trump’s executive order given the intervention by the courts.
Trump was ill-tempered in his reaction. On Twitter he posted the following message: “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”
Poor Trump. He doesn’t understand how the U.S. Constitution works, with all those division of powers between the three branches of government, and the doctrine of checks-and-balances to make sure no single branch, whether Executive, Legislative or Judicial, can run riot over the others. Trump doesn’t understand this, and for that reason assumes that whatever executive orders he sings automatically become law. He just doesn’t get it. So sad!
What a long, strange trip it’s been.
In 2003 I was a graduate student in the philosophy program at UCSD, taking a seminar on jurisprudence from the eminent moral philosopher David Brink. In his seminar we read and discussed a variety of arguments by scholars ranging from Justice Antonin Scalia on “originalism” to Joel Feinberg on free expression vs. “offensive nuisances,” and we also read and discussed seminal Supreme Court cases relating to these issues. I had been interested in law and legal issues for many years by that time, having taken up policy debate as a way of life in high school, not to mention mock trial and Model U.N. in college. Moreover, I was a gay man and conscientious citizen who had already concluded that legal discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation had no place in a constitutional democracy that depends, in its very meaning, on the motto “equal protection under the law.” In other words, I was a “second-class” citizen with an axe to grind and had the analytical skills and arguments to hone its edge to near perfection. Sharpen Sie!
It was in that seminar that a close reading of constitutional principles and significant SCOTUS decisions on due process and equal protection convinced me there was one, and only one, simple line of argument leading from the 14th Amendment to the legal validity of same-sex marriage. I wrote my seminar paper on this topic, revised it later that summer, and sent it out for publication. The paper was titled “Equal Protection and Same-Sex Marriage” and it was published in the Journal of Social Philosophy in 2004. In it, I argued that the proper constitutional argument for supporting a decision on behalf of same-sex marriage and invalidating both federal and state laws defining “marriage” as a union of a man and woman is easily discerned in equal protection doctrine.
Admittedly, there is a lot of semantic confusion about the word “marriage” and its proper referent in this case, as well as a lot of empirically inaccurate, vaguely historical arguments about its definition as such a union (truthfully, before the emergence of the modern democratic state in Western societies only recently, and in much of the world still, “marriage” really refers to men owning and treating women like property). However, there is a precise legal meaning to the word “marriage” in this constitutional debate, and here we are talking exclusively about “civil” marriage, or the state’s legal recognition of a union between two persons that includes all the benefits and burdens that such recognition entails. Insofar as the state recognizes such unions from a legal standpoint they cannot exclude some persons from participating in it but not others. To do so is to violate the letter and the spirit of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, which can be found at the very end Section 1 of that amendment. The sections reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Unfortunately, the inane and insanely inaccurate debate sponsored by American-style conservatism about re-defining the word “marriage” has simply muddied the water to what is otherwise a crystal-clear expression of the obvious: The decision that the Supreme Court reached in Obergefell v. Hodges on June 27, 2015 doesn’t redefine “marriage” at all, doesn’t substitute the judgment of “five lawyers” on the bench for the “will of the people,” and doesn’t even invent a new “gay” right on anything. Rather, the landmark ruling does nothing more and nothing less than enforce the equal protection of the clause of the 14th Amendment concerning the “civil” recognition of marriage laws by states. In short, there are already are “marriage” laws on the books, and since the 14th Amendment states to the letter, “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” it follows without remainder that the majority decision of this civil rights case is exactly right.
Now for those who unfamiliar with its history, the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of several Reconstruction Amendments drafted in response to issues related to former slaves following the American Civil War including the intransigence of southern states to accept the rule of law. In short, the amendment was created as a means of strengthening our constitutional system against detractors and scofflaws. We fought them in the Civil War, we fought them against Jim Crow, we fought them to desegregate. Therefore, it is important to recall that the basis of this landmark decision overturning anti-gay marriage laws, that civil rights are for all not just for some, is rooted in this country’s long and painful history to overcome, confront, overcome again and confront yet again.
By Kory P. Schaff, Editor
From NYT “Opinion” August 26, 2014 by Thomas Edsall:
In Orange County, Calif., the probation department’s “supervised electronic confinement program,” which monitors the movements of low-risk offenders, has been outsourced to a private company, Sentinel Offender Services. The company, by its own account, oversees case management, including breath alcohol and drug-testing services, “all at no cost to county taxpayers.”
Sentinel makes its money by getting the offenders on probation to pay for the company’s services. Charges can range from $35 to $100 a month.
The company boasts of having contracts with more than 200 government agencies, and it takes pride in the “development of offender funded programs where any of our services can be provided at no cost to the agency.”
Sentinel is a part of the expanding universe of poverty capitalism. In this unique sector of the economy, costs of essential government services are shifted to the poor.
In terms of food, housing and other essentials, the cost of being poor has always been exorbitant. Landlords, grocery stores and other commercial enterprises have all found ways to profit from those at the bottom of the ladder.
The recent drive toward privatization of government functions has turned traditional public services into profit-making enterprises as well.
In addition to probation, municipal court systems are also turning collections over to a national network of companies like Sentinel that profit from service charges imposed on the men and women who are under court order to pay fees and fines, including traffic tickets (with the fees being sums tacked on by the court to fund administrative services).
When they cannot pay these assessed fees and fines – plus collection charges imposed by the private companies — offenders can be sent to jail. There are many documented cases in which courts have imprisoned those who failed to keep up with their combined fines, fees and service charges.
“These companies are bill collectors, but they are given the authority to say to someone that if he doesn’t pay, he is going to jail,” John B. Long, a lawyer in Augusta, Ga. active in defending the poor, told Ethan Bronner of The Times.
A February 2014 report by Human Rights Watch on private offender services found that “more than 1,000 courts in several US states delegate tremendous coercive power to companies that are often subject to little meaningful oversight or regulation. In many cases, the only reason people are put on probation is because they need time to pay off fines and court costs linked to minor crimes. In some of these cases, probation companies act more like abusive debt collectors than probation officers, charging the debtors for their services.”
Human Rights Watch also found that in Georgia in 2012, in “a state of less than 10 million people, 648 courts assigned more than 250,000 cases to private probation companies.” The report notes that “there is virtually no transparency about the revenues of private probation companies” since “practically all of the industry’s firms are privately held and not subject to the disclosure requirements that bind publicly traded companies. No state requires probation companies to report their revenues, or by logical extension the amount of money they collect for themselves from probationers.”
Human Rights Watch goes on to provide an account given by a private probation officer in Georgia: “I always try and negotiate with the families. Once they know you are serious they come up with some money. That’s how you have to be. They have to see that this person is not getting out unless they pay something. I’m just looking for some good faith money, really. I got one guy I let out of jail today and I got three or four more sitting there right now.”
Collection companies and the services they offer appeal to politicians and public officials for a number of reasons: they cut government costs, reducing the need to raise taxes; they shift the burden onto offenders, who have little political influence, in part because many of them have lost the right to vote; and it pleases taxpayers who believe that the enforcement of punishment — however obtained — is a crucial dimension to the administration of justice.
As N.P.R. reported in May, services that “were once free, including those that are constitutionally required,” are now frequently billed to offenders: the cost of a public defender, room and board when jailed, probation and parole supervision, electronic monitoring devices, arrest warrants, drug and alcohol testing, and D.N.A. sampling. This can go to extraordinary lengths: in Washington state, N.P.R. found, offenders even “get charged a fee for a jury trial — with a 12-person jury costing $250, twice the fee for a six-person jury.”
This new system of offender-funded law enforcement creates a vicious circle: The poorer the defendants are, the longer it will take them to pay off the fines, fees and charges; the more debt they accumulate, the longer they will remain on probation or in jail; and the more likely they are to be unemployable and to become recidivists.
From today’s NYT ‘Taking Note” Blog by Carol Giacomo:
There has been so much regression on democracy and human rights in Myanmar recently that many people, this editorial page included, have suggested the United States must consider reinstating broad sanctions.
On Thursday, however, there was a positive step forward – an agreement between the two countries to work together to strengthen labor rights and improve labor conditions in Myanmar.
The new initiative, which is backed by the International Labor Organization, was announced in Yangon during a visit by Mike Froman, the United States Trade Representative.
It will involve American and Myanmar officials, other interested governments, businesses, workers and labor groups such as the ILO in developing a multi-year strategy on reforming Myanmar’s labor laws. The intent is also to help the country and its people develop the skills and the systems needed to ensure reforms are consistent with international standards and that they are put into effect.
For instance, Myanmar has recently allowed the formation of labor unions and there are now more than 1,000 of them. But given that the country was ruled by a military junta until 2011, there is little understanding of how workers, government officials and employers should interact or even how to set a minimum wage. The new initiative is expected to address that.
The agreement suggests that Myanmar officials, eager to draw foreign investment into their country, and foreign businesses, eager for a new market, see an economic value in treating workers humanely and respectfully.
It seems no coincidence that the initiative was unveiled at the same time as a $480 million solar power project, financed in part by American investors, that is expected to provide Myanmar with up to 12 percent of its power.
In a statement, Gap Inc., one of the American companies taking part in the initiative, said that “as the first American retailer to begin sourcing from Myanmar, we understand that we have a responsibility to ensure that our vendors provide a safe, healthy and fair workplace for workers.”
If Myanmar’s government, still heavily influenced by the military, is serious about this new commitment, it could be an important turning point. But in recent months there has been more backsliding than forward movement in Myanmar’s transition to a democratic society. So skepticism is warranted.
And even if this initiative bears fruit, the country still faces many serious challenges given the human rights abuses against the Rohinga, a Muslim minority group; the efforts to close off elections to opposition candidates; and attacks on press freedoms. Re-imposing sanctions must remain an option.