Saturday, August 31, 2019

Craig Ford: Democracy isn’t the cause of our problems. It’s the solution.

  There is nothing more American than democracy. But to our leaders in the Alabama Senate, democracy just gets in the way of pushing their radical, anti-public education agenda.

  That’s why Sen. Del Marsh, the pro-tem of the Alabama Senate, has made it his personal mission to eliminate the state’s elected school board and replace it with one appointed by the governor.

  At the end of this year’s legislative session, Senator Marsh pushed a constitutional amendment through the legislature that would replace the state’s elected Board of Education with an education commission appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Alabama Senate. Because this plan means having to change the state’s constitution, the people of Alabama will get the chance to vote on the amendment this coming March.

Friday, August 30, 2019

ICE’s deliberate cruelty

  Five days after taking office, President Trump signed “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” – an executive order calling for the hiring of thousands of new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and the use of state and local police to enforce immigration law.

  It effectively broadened the scope of who was at risk of being deported: “We cannot faithfully execute the immigration laws of the United States if we exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”

  And so, Trump’s war on immigrants began as he set in motion an enforcement machine long dreamed of by the nativist movement Trump had championed during his campaign.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Racism and sexism combine to shortchange working Black women

  Black Women’s Equal Pay Day arrives around this time each year, marking the estimated number of extra months—roughly eight months—that a Black woman working full-time year-round in the United States must work into the current year to have earned what her white male counterpart earned during the prior year. This year, Black women will have to work well into the month of August to catch up to the wages that white men earned in 2018 alone. In concrete terms, this means that Black women experience a pay gap every day—and this gap adds up. In 2017, for example, Black women earned 61 cents for every dollar earned by white men, amounting to $23,653 less in earnings over an entire year. In the span of a 40-year career, this translates into an average lifetime earnings gap of $946,120 between Black women and white men.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - The Summer of 1969

  As we say goodbye to the summer of 2019, allow me to reminisce with you and commemorate a summer exactly 50 years ago that was undoubtedly the most momentous summer in American history – the summer of 1969.

  It is amazing what all occurred in America during the last six weeks of the summer of 1969. Richard Nixon was in his first year as president. He had escalated the never-ending Vietnam War, and he had heightened the Tet offensive. The war was finally heading in our direction. A July assault on North Vietnam caused heavy casualties to the Viet Cong. Ho Chi Minh would die in Hanoi on September 2.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Can government contractors refuse workers based on religious beliefs?

  While religious freedom can mean many different things to you personally, within the U.S. Constitution it means only two things: the government can’t promote one religion over another (or promote religion over the lack of religion, or vice versa) and you have the right to worship, or not, as you choose —the government can’t penalize you for your religious beliefs.

  This month, the Department of Labor proposed a rule that could potentially pit these two types of religious freedoms against one another. The rule would allow federal government contractors to make hiring and firing decisions based on religious beliefs. Currently, federal government contractors are prohibited from discriminating against people on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin or disability — and under the Obama Administration, sexual orientation and gender identity were added to that list. The proposed rule wouldn’t overturn that policy; instead, it would make it easier for contractors to get a religious exemption so they don’t have to follow it.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Montgomery filmmakers seek the truth behind one of history's most prominent medical pioneers and those who suffered at his hands

"It moved me, and I was inspired to tell it." -"Remembering Anarcha" director Josh Carples

  When one Montgomery man learned the questionable tale of "the father of modern gynecology" - Dr. James Marion Sims - he felt compelled to pave over it with facts and set the record straight. But perhaps more importantly, he wanted to present the unsung story of the brave women who suffered at Sims' hands.

  Directed by Josh Carples (Terrible Master Films) and co-produced by C. DeWayne Cunningham (Carolyn Jean’s Son Visions) and Royce Williams (803 Films), "Remembering Anarcha" boldly chases the truth behind the career of Dr. Sims. The film examines which medical achievements can truly be attributed to him and how he contributed to the field of gynecology. And for the first time, it introduces the women who were not mere patients but enslaved women who truly suffered, typically without anesthesia, and who were experimented on in an inhumane manner by the physician.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Waiting for a check to clear sucks. The Fed wants to fix that.

  Many people have shared the experience of depositing a check and then waiting while it takes days to clear; the money is there, but not there.

  For low-income people, that experience isn’t just annoying. It can also be a real financial hardship. Mismatches between available funds and expenses can create a spiral of bank overdraft fees and denied transactions, and the deeper in someone gets, the more insurmountable it can feel.

  “It’s very embarrassing,” a commenter told TalkPoverty, describing a day of being hit with three separate overdraft fees while waiting on processing for a paycheck.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

How much damage will come from this trade war?

  First, the good news: the U.S. and world economies have not imploded, so far, as fallout from the rising trade tensions between the Trump administration and Xi Jinping’s government in China. Now, the bad news: there is no certainty that this will not play itself out as a serious and damaging trade war between the two countries that might spill over into grievous harm to many other parts of the world as well.

  From the day that Donald Trump became president, he has been telling the American people and everyone else that he believes that national economic prosperity requires seeing international trade as a zero-sum game. In his mind, the buying and selling of goods and the investing of capital across political lines on a map of the world is economic combat creating winners and losers.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Craig Ford: A good solution to the Tier 2 retirement system and Alabama’s teacher shortage

  Earlier this year I wrote about the teacher shortage in Alabama and a proposed bill from Rep. Alan Baker (R-Brewton) that would help address the issue by fixing the problems state leaders created in our teacher retirement system back in 2012.

  The economic recession that began in 2008 had severely hurt the Retirement Systems of Alabama’s investments. The slowness of the recovery made things worse, and the state was looking at a situation where, in the long run, the government wouldn’t have the money to pay education and state employee retirees the benefits they had earned.

  Lawmakers rushed through a plan to create a new tier of retirement for any employees hired after 2013 (those hired before 2013 are still considered Tier 1 and will be paid the benefits they were promised at the time they were hired). This new retirement tier, called Tier 2, pays fewer benefits, raises the age of retirement, and takes a “use it or lose it” approach to sick leave days.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Israeli and U.S. destruction of freedom of travel

  Proponents of trade and immigration controls oftentimes forget that there is another factor that comes with their socialist immigration system, that is, in addition to the death, suffering, police state, and destruction of the rights of economic liberty, liberty of contract, freedom of association, and private ownership of property. That factor is the destruction of freedom of travel, another fundamental, natural God-given right that adheres in all people everywhere and that preexists all governments.

  We are reminded of this fact in a current dust-up involving two members of Congress and the Israeli government, which, like the U.S. government, has a policy of governmentally-controlled borders. The two members of Congress are Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, both of whom are Democrats who have come out publicly in favor of the boycott Israel movement owing to the Israeli government’s longtime mistreatment of Palestinians.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Hot political summer in Montgomery

  It has been a long hot summer in Montgomery, and I do not mean at the Capitol or Statehouse, but in the City of Montgomery itself.

  There is a heated and pivotal mayor’s race. It has been considered a foregone conclusion that Montgomery will elect their first African American mayor this year. It is probably about eight years later than expected. Montgomery has been a majority-minority city for a decade. It is well over 60 percent today. 

  A good many Montgomery citizens have moved to suburban enclaves like Prattville, Wetumpka, Millbrook, and now Pike Road. Most of the young families with school-age children have fled for a school system. However, there are still a significant number of older people living in the Capital City. It is a tried and true fact that older folks vote. These older Montgomerians probably will not vote for a black person for anything, much less for the mayor of their beloved city.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Are social media companies going “too far” to regulate content on their platforms?

  In the past few years, social media companies have faced intense criticism for not taking a more active role in stopping the spread of hate speech and misinformation on their platforms. Meanwhile, the White House thinks those same companies are going too far in their efforts to regulate content and is currently drafting an executive order called, “Protecting Americans from Online Censorship,” which would give the Federal Communications Commission oversight over these decisions. The order seems to be an outgrowth of the social media summit that President Trump held last month, where his 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale said, “At a time when social media platforms are banning conservative voices and supporters of the president, it’s important for President Trump to emphasize that he appreciates their support and wants to protect their First Amendment rights.”

Monday, August 19, 2019

Slavery shaped America’s pathology on race and whiteness

  Four hundred years ago this month, the White Lion, a warship commanded by English privateers, docked at Point Comfort in the colony of Virginia.

  On board were “20 and odd” Africans who had been captured by Portuguese slavers in present-day Angola and then stolen during an act of piracy on the high seas. Once on land, the African men and women were bought by the “Governor and Cape Marchant … at the best and easyest rate they could,” wrote John Rolfe, the colony’s first successful tobacco planter.

  The arrival of the White Lion is frequently thought of as the beginning of chattel slavery in what is now the United States and, as such, the genesis of African-American history and culture.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Punishing Congress members for free speech violates First Amendment

  President Trump’s encouragement of a decision Thursday by Israel to bar two U.S. Congress members because of their alleged anti-Israel views ought to outrage all Americans — irrespective of domestic or international politics.

  The essence of our First Amendment freedoms is the government may not inhibit or punish us for our speech, regardless of the content of that speech, with few exceptions, generally tied to wartime considerations, child pornography, or causing immediate harm to others.

  On Thursday, Trump hailed the action by the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu — whom Trump publicly endorsed for re-election some weeks ago — to bar Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from a planned visit. Israel later said it would allow Tlaib to visit her 90-year-old Palestinian grandmother, who lives in the occupied West Bank. Tlaib, in turn, chose not to make the trip, citing “oppressive conditions.”

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Political polarization is about feelings, not facts

  Politicians and pundits from all quarters often lament democracy’s polarized condition.

  Similarly, citizens frustrated with polarized politics also demand greater flexibility from the other side.

  Decrying polarization has become a way of impugning adversaries. Meanwhile, the political deadlock and resentment that polarization produces goe unaddressed. Ironic, right?

  Commentators rarely say what they mean by polarization. But if Americans are to figure out how to combat it, they need to begin from a clear understanding of what polarization is.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Assault weapons and high-capacity magazines must be banned

  Assault weapons and high-capacity magazines have repeatedly been used to commit some of the worst mass shootings in modern U.S. history, and they contribute to the daily toll of gun violence in communities around the country. They are weapons of war that have no place in civilian society. Congress must enact a federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines to keep these dangerous weapons out of U.S. communities.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Why do so many working class Americans feel politics is pointless?

  In sociologist Jennifer Silva’s first book, “Coming Up Short,” she interviewed working-class young adults in Lowell, Mass., and Richmond, Virginia.

  Most had a tough time earning decent wages. Many felt like they were in a perpetual state of limbo, unable to reach the traditional markers of adulthood: job, marriage, house, and kids. But Silva was surprised to learn that many blamed themselves for their situations and believed that relying on others could only result in disappointment.

  After the book was published, it bothered Silva that she never pressed her subjects further on their politics to see how they might be connected to their worldview.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - The story of Floyd Mann

  One of the legendary figures in Alabama political lore is Floyd Mann.

  Colonel Mann was Alabama Public Safety Director for two governors. His lifetime friend, John Patterson, made him his director while he was governor (1958-1962), and Gov. Albert Brewer chose Colonel Mann to be his director while he was governor (1968-1970). 

  The public safety director in those days was referred to as the Head of the State Troopers. It was during the Patterson administration that Mann made his mark in Alabama history.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Back-to-school tax holidays are a scam

  The arrival of the hot, heavy days of August means that, in many places, it’s time to think about back-to-school shopping. And thanks to the confluence of shrinking school budgets and the integration of more gadgets and gizmos into classrooms, the total that parents shell out to equip their kids is big and growing. The average household is expected to spend more than $500 this year on back-to-school supplies, an increase of several hundred dollars over the amount spent just a few years ago.

  In an attempt to give parents, particularly those with little disposable income, a break from those big numbers, many states turn to an old tax policy standby: sales tax holidays.

Monday, August 12, 2019

I worked at Capital One. Hacks like this are most dangerous for low-income people.

  The Capital One breach announced recently compromised the data of 100 million Americans, which is nearly 40 percent of all U.S. adults. After the Equifax, Target, Home Depot, and Marriott hacks, it can be easy to shrug off the news of another leak, but one group of consumers is at particular risk in the Capital One breach: 80,000 Americans who applied for secured credit cards with the company.

  The hacker, Paige Thompson, gained access to personal information such as income, address, and credit scores for seemingly all recent applicants to Capital One credit cards. For secured card applicants, who tend to be low-income, bank account information was compromised as well.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Calling 911 or not mowing the lawn can cost disabled people their homes

  Richard McGary lost his home because he wasn’t able to clean his yard.

  When McGary lived in Portland, Oregon, a city inspector decided he had too much debris in his yard and cited his home as a “nuisance” property under the city’s local nuisance ordinance. McGary, who was living with AIDS, asked volunteers from a local AIDS project to help. But before they could clear the yard to the city’s satisfaction, McGary was hospitalized with AIDS-related complications. His patient advocate informed the city that McGary was an individual with a disability and requested more time, but Portland refused. The city issued a warrant for violating the city’s chronic nuisance ordinance and charged him $1,818.83 for the cost of clean-up. When McGary couldn’t pay, Portland claimed rights to his home — and forced McGary to sell it to satisfy his debt to the city.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Harassment, accountability, and the erosion of judicial legitimacy

  Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court further weakened the public’s eroding sense of faith in the court’s legitimacy, a facet essential to its functioning as an institution. Kavanaugh’s vigorous denials of sexual assault allegations stemming from his youth, combined with aggressive efforts—by him and his powerful supporters—to discredit his accuser, mirrored how the judiciary has swept its own sexual harassment challenges under the rug.

  However, Kavanaugh’s confirmation went beyond simply exposing issues of sexual harassment; it opened the floodgates by drawing attention to a wider array of discriminatory practices and ethical quandaries. Today, for instance, the judiciary is under scrutiny for its alarming lack of diversity, its inability to hold judges accountable for misconduct, and the elitism reflected in its hiring practices. Because the Supreme Court’s legitimacy hinges on the public’s faith, it is critical that the judiciary address these issues to restore the sense that it is an impartial institution.

The impact of sexual harassment in the judiciary

  In October 1991, Anita Hill testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee that she was sexually harassed by now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, her superior during her time at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After three grueling days of nationally televised hearings during which the all-male Judiciary Committee tore apart Hill’s character, Justice Thomas was narrowly confirmed to the Supreme Court. Twenty-seven years later, history seemed to be repeating itself when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee that she was sexually assaulted by now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Despite the enormous controversy associated with its decision, the Senate confirmed Kavanaugh by a razor-thin majority.

  Not only did Kavanaugh’s confirmation cast doubt on just how far the women’s equality movement has advanced since Justice Thomas’s confirmation, it also reinforced the toxic power dynamics that govern the nation’s political system and damaged the legitimacy of the Supreme Court by threatening its image of nonpartisanship. Kavanaugh’s confirmation led to an increase in crisis calls from survivors and cast doubt on how sensitive the judiciary would be to issues of sexual harassment, while also raising serious questions about potential bias on the Supreme Court and the influence of politics and ideology on the rule of law. Ultimately, the confirmation process was a reminder of the broader failure of the judiciary to police itself, undermining its integrity as an independent institution.

  Survivors of sexual assault have been deeply affected by the aftermath of Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, and the effects are ongoing. For instance, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network experienced a 338 percent increase in its hotline traffic during the weekend following Dr. Ford’s testimony. For many, the hearings evoked memories of past pain and trauma. Dr. Ford’s testimony particularly affected survivors, many of whom were forced to relive their own experiences of sexual assault. Experts such as psychology professor Dr. Jennifer Freyd note that the entire confirmation process could have lasting impacts on the psychology of sexual assault survivors, as it invalidated their experiences and further tainted their image of the court, thus contributing to the broader deterioration of public faith in the judiciary.

  Perhaps one of the most significant direct impacts of Kavanaugh’s confirmation was the rightward shift it had on the ideological balance of the Supreme Court and the concerns it raised about ideology trumping the rule of law. Since his confirmation, hopeful anti-abortion legislators in numerous states have passed laws that effectively ban abortion outright or limit the procedure at specific points in pregnancy; placed unreasonable restrictions on health professionals and institutions; and generally restricted women’s decision-making powers. Kavanaugh’s confirmation incentivized conservative legislators across the country to pass laws restricting abortion. In fact, many legislators are passing these laws in hopes that they will be challenged and end up before the newly constituted—and more conservative—Supreme Court, giving it the chance to undermine abortion rights at the federal level.

  The number of abortion laws passed in state legislative sessions has skyrocketed in 2019, and these laws are significantly different from those passed before Kavanaugh’s nomination, signaling a considerable shift in tactics at the state level. They are going further than ever before to challenge Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s ruling establishing federal protections for abortion. For instance, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Mississippi have all instituted bills that ban abortion as early as six weeks, before most women even know that they are pregnant. Alabama has passed an even more restrictive ban on all abortions except those medically necessary to prevent serious health risks to women; the ban does not even make any exceptions for cases of incest or sexual assault. This restrictive abortion legislation is setting the stage for pivotal courtroom battles that could profoundly reshape abortion access in America. Given that the majority of Americans believe in upholding Roe v. Wade, this is further undermining the public’s faith in the judiciary’s legitimacy.

Part of a broader ethics issue

  In the wake of Judge Alex Kozinski’s retirement, Chief Justice John Roberts ordered an investigation of sexual harassment in the courts to see how the judicial branch has dealt with such allegations. Kavanaugh’s confirmation only further opened the floodgates to allegations of sexual misconduct hidden within the judiciary. However, uncovering issues of sexual harassment only begins to shed light on the pattern of unaccountability that exists within the judiciary.

  For instance, there currently is not an effective way to hold judges accountable for their actions. If federal judges are being investigated by their institution or their peers, they can easily put an end to the inquiry by retiring from their judgeship, as did former 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski. When the Judicial Council of the 2nd Circuit received a sexual harassment allegation against the judge, it dismissed the complaint just eight weeks after it had been filed because Kozinski stepped down from his position—despite a growing number of women who came forward with accusations. In another example, Maryanne Trump Barry, President Donald Trump’s older sister, was able to avoid further investigation into her participation in fraudulent tax schemes that violated judicial conduct rules by retiring from her federal appellate judgeship. Ultimately, because panels of judges nationwide have concluded that they lack the authority to continue investigating a judge who has stepped down from the bench, both Barry and Kozinski are able to collect an annual pension of approximately $220,000 for the rest of their lives.

  Additionally, while the rest of the federal judiciary is bound by the Code of Conduct for United States Judges—a code that provides guidance on issues of judicial integrity, diligence, and impartiality—the Supreme Court is not. However, all nine justices are capable of committing various ethical oversights. For instance, in the past, justices have left assets off of their annual financial disclosure reports, spoken at partisan events, and ruled on cases despite obvious conflicts of interest. In 2014, the Supreme Court heard ABC v. Aereo, and Time Warner filed an amicus brief arguing that the court should rule in favor of the broadcaster. Chief Justice Roberts would not recuse himself from the case, despite owning as much as $500,000 in Time Warner stock at the time. In 2017, Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump nominee, attended a luncheon and gave the keynote address at the Trump International Hotel, whose revenue goes in part to President Trump. Just last year, Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito, who may own up to $300,000 in United Technologies shares, refused to recuse themselves in a certiorari case involving Rockwell Collins, a company recently acquired by United Technologies Corporation. The list of ethical oversights goes on and includes justices across the ideological spectrum. In the absence of a written code for the Supreme Court, the public is left in the dark about how to address and resolve judicial ethics violations, further compromising the public’s faith in the court’s legitimacy and fundamental integrity.


  In order to counter the diminishing perception of its legitimacy, the judiciary must address issues of sexual harassment in the workplace and repair its reputation of impartiality. Effectively tackling sexual harassment requires expanding and mandating training for all judicial actors—including judges, clerks, and judicial staff—as well as establishing a confidential system that allows individuals to report sexual harassment anonymously. Prioritizing increased diversity of judges, establishing mandatory reporting mechanisms for judicial staff and judges who learn about issues of sexual harassment, and strengthening judicial ethics requirements and enforcement mechanisms in order to hold judges accountable for their misconduct are all also critical to improving the situation. Ultimately, enhancing public confidence in the judicial branch and redeeming judicial legitimacy is an ongoing process, but taking the necessary steps to combat the lack of accountability is imperative to the successful function of America’s courts.

  About the author: Nina Reddy is an intern for Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress.

  This article was published by the Center for American Progress.

Friday, August 9, 2019

There’s a dark political history to language that strips people of their dignity

  Dehumanizing language often precedes genocide.

  One tragic example: Extreme dehumanizing language was a strong contributor to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. As I have written, the Hutu majority used a popular radio station to continually refer to Tutsi tribal members, a minority in Rwanda, as “cockroaches.”

  As support for this characterization grew among Hutus, it essentially stripped away any moral obligation to see Tutsis as fellow humans. They were just vermin that needed to be eradicated.

  Students of 20th-century history will also recognize this pattern of dehumanizing language in the lead-up to the genocide committed by the Turks against Armenians, where Armenians were “dangerous microbes.” During the Holocaust, Germans described Jews as “Untermenschen,” or subhumans.

  On July 27, President Trump tweeted that Baltimore was a “"disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and “No human being would want to live there.”

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - The Phenix City story

  There are very few Alabamians left who remember the 1950s story of Phenix City, Alabama. After World War II, a good many of the military soldiers, enlisted men, stayed on for a while.  A host of them was stationed at Ft. Benning in Columbus, Georgia. As many of you know, Columbus, Georgia and Phenix City, Alabama are essentially the same city. They are only separated by a bridge and the Chattahoochee River.

  Phenix City figured that these soldiers needed some entertainment, so our border city became the poor man’s Las Vegas and Guadalajara, Mexico rolled into one. Phenix City became known as the most sinful place in America. It was openly run by a tough redneck mafia that made the New York mafia look like choir boys.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Donald Trump - Trade dictator

  President Trump announced that he is upping his trade war against China by imposing another $300 billion of tariffs on Chinese goods. According to the Washington Post, Trump said that his tariffs would begin at 10 percent on such products as cellphones, television sets, toilet seats, and pillows but could increase to 25 percent. As Trump adviser Peter Navarro declared, “We love tariffs. Tariffs are a wonderful thing.”

  Okay, so our nation’s Republican president loves taxes, which is precisely what tariffs are. No surprise there. Despite their customary “reduce taxes” rhetoric, Republicans have long been supporters of big spending, along with the taxes to fund them — income taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes, tariffs, excise taxes, property taxes, poll taxes, sales taxes, inflation taxes, and, well, every other forcible extraction of money from people to fund the ever-voracious needs of the federal government.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Fighting an internal threat to our democracy

  In his recent testimony before Congress, Special Counsel Robert Mueller pointedly warned the nation about Russia’s ongoing attempts to meddle in our nation’s elections.

  All Americans, regardless of their political beliefs, should be gravely concerned about this threat from abroad. But we should be equally – perhaps even more – concerned about efforts to rig our elections from within.

  Since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, partisan politicians at the state level have enacted a wave of voting restrictions that have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of people.

Monday, August 5, 2019

How states are combating Trump’s ACA sabotage

  Following his failure to legislatively repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Donald Trump and his administration have waged a campaign to undermine and sabotage the landmark health care law. The administration has employed numerous strategies, including expanding access to short-term junk plans; eliminating cost-saving reinsurance programs; and cutting enrollment outreach funding. The Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) has been tracking these efforts to undermine enrollment, force coverage loses, and increase the cost of care for millions of Americans.

  The Trump administration and congressional Republicans delivered a blow to the ACA in its repeal of the act’s individual coverage mandate, which was included in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. With that provision of the law repealed, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, along with 19 other Republican state attorneys general, sued the federal government, arguing that the remainder of the law would now be unconstitutional. In 2018, a federal district court judge sided with the plaintiffs, ruling the ACA unconstitutional in a decision that is now being appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The fate of the ACA remains uncertain the near future, as the case is likely to reach the U.S. Supreme Court regardless of the 5th Circuit’s decision.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Alabama must build more prisons, but taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill

  Vicious assault. Brutal rape. Cold-blooded murder.

  These are some of the crimes that will get you thrown into prison, but what if they’re also what could happen to you once you get there?

  Sadly, a federal investigation found this is happening in Alabama’s prison system, and part of the problem is we’ve simply run out of room.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Senate inaction on paycheck fairness harms women

  Under current federal law, it is illegal to pay women less than men for equal work. And yet, the gender wage gap still exists, and the persistent lack of equal pay is one piece of the puzzle. It is an issue that affects women at all levels, in all types of jobs, across race, ethnicity, and other factors. This includes women in high profile roles, such as the current World Cup champions, to roles behind the scenes, like clerical workers and teachers.

  The gender wage gap is caused by a number of differing elements, including some that can be measured. But a sizable portion of the wage gap—around 38 percent by some estimates—can not be explained by measurable differences between genders. Many researchers hypothesize that this unexplained portion, along with at least some of the other observable differences, are attributable to gender discrimination.

Tackling the gender wage gap

  Reducing the gender wage gap requires a lasting, comprehensive solution that addresses the different factors that drive the gap, including discrimination. The Equal Pay Act of 1963, enacted more than 50 years ago, established the core principle of “equal pay for equal work” to root out entrenched pay discrimination that consistently denied women fair wages. But, over time, the courts have narrowed the law’s reach, making it harder to hold employers accountable for discriminatory practices, even as the gender wage gap has persisted.

  On March 27, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives took a significant, much-needed step forward to promote equal pay, combat pay discrimination, and—in the process—tackle a portion of the gender wage gap by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 7) with bipartisan support. However, as of the end of July 2019, the Senate has no clear plans to pass or even act on the equal pay legislation.

  If enacted, the Paycheck Fairness Act would close legal loopholes that have been used to foreclose plaintiffs’ opportunities to vindicate their rights; remove obstacles to plaintiffs collectively challenging illegal practices through class action litigation; and improve remedies for plaintiffs so that they are consistent with the remedies available for pay discrimination and other forms of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It also will combat discriminatory pay practices by better protecting workers from retaliation; limiting the use of salary history in the hiring process, which can perpetuate entrenched pay disparities and pay discrimination throughout a woman’s career; and requiring regular, disaggregated pay data collection to enhance employer transparency, identify significant pay gaps, and to bolster investigations of discrimination claims. While the Paycheck Fairness Act alone will not close the gender wage gap, it will be an important step in the right direction.

The cost of the pay gap for women

  Long-standing pay disparities have depressed women’s earnings and weakened their economic stability for years. For millions of women and their families, the lack of equal pay is a pressing problem that impacts their daily lives and their ability to make ends meet. The Senate’s inaction on the Paycheck Fairness Act reveals a stubborn indifference to this real-world plight and, instead, sends the troubling message that women’s economic stresses are of little concern. In the 100 days after H.R. 7 passed the House, more than 55 million women working full time in the United States collectively earned $159 billion less than men due to the gender wage gap, according to new Center for American Progress analysis of monthly labor force numbers and median weekly earnings of full-time workers in the first and second fiscal quarters of 2019.* This number serves as a reminder that, while the wage gap is often referred to as a 20-cent gap between men and women, the cumulative impact is much larger than a couple of dimes. And, for most women of color, these disparities are far worse.

  According to CAP analysis*, a woman working full time earned, on average, $2,828.57 less than a man working full time, due to the gender wage gap in the 100 days after the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act. Broken down further during that same time period, on average, an African American woman earned $4,628.57 less than a white man working full time; a white woman earned $2,957.14 less; a Hispanic woman earned $5,742.86 less; and an Asian woman earned $228.57 less. However, this calculation for an Asian woman may vastly underestimate the actual gap for a woman belonging to an ethnic Asian subgroup because of the wide diversity across Asian subgroups. For example, while Asian women overall earn 85 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men, Cambodian women earn just 60 cents in the same comparison. Due to the limitations of the source data, the authors could not analyze the wage losses for ethnic Asian subgroups nor for Native women.

Why the Paycheck Fairness Act is needed

  The Paycheck Fairness Act could begin to level the playing field by chipping away at the portion of the persistent gender wage gap that is likely caused, or at least affected, by discrimination. If the male-female earnings gap had been reduced by even 38 percent—the estimated portion that is unexplained and potentially attributed to discrimination—in the 100 days following the passage of H.R. 7, women would have earned an additional $60 billion. That would mean $60 billion that could have helped cover mortgage payments, student loans, childcare costs, prescription costs, household bills, car repairs, groceries, emergency expenses, and more.

  When the Paycheck Fairness Act’s co-sponsor, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), brought H.R. 7 to the floor on April 2 for a vote of unanimous consent, the motion was swiftly rejected. Sen. Murray introduced a Senate version of the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 270) back in January of 2019, which was referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. However, there has been no further formal action. Instead, the Paycheck Fairness Act is at a standstill, being blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

  Inaction is unacceptable. Today’s wage gap has only decreased by two cents in the past 10 years.

  At the current rate, experts estimate that the gender wage gap in the U.S. will not close until 2059. That’s 40 years away. Over the course of a 40-year career, an individual woman loses more than $406,000 to the gender wage gap. And, predictably, the estimated losses are much higher for many women of color: An African American woman loses $946,120; a Native woman loses $977,720; a Latina loses $1,135,440; and an Asian woman loses $360,400.


  As the Senate fails to act, the losses to the gender wage gap will only continue to grow. Lawmakers must give more than the occasional feigned support for equal pay. They must demonstrate a true commitment to “equal pay for equal work,” and they must do so for all workers—not just the rich and famous who make headlines. Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act would be a great start. On this issue, inaction is injustice.

  About the authors: Robin Bleiweis is a research assistant of women’s economic security for the Women’s Initiative at the Center for American Progress. Jocelyn Frye is a senior fellow at the Center. Sarah Jane Glynn is a nonresident senior fellow at the Center.

  *Authors’ note: Unless otherwise noted, this analysis uses data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The individual earnings gaps reported compare median weekly earnings (Table 2) for full-time workers by race and gender from the first and second fiscal quarters of 2019. The cumulative earnings gap reported compares those same earnings to monthly labor force totals for employed, full-time working women for March, April, May, and June 2019. Authors did not have access to July labor force numbers at the time of publication and projected June labor force numbers for analysis of the first five days of July to calculate the earnings gap for March 27 to July 5. Women whose ethnicity is identified as Hispanic or Latino may be of any race.

  This article was published by the Center for American Progress.

Friday, August 2, 2019

School lunches

  Pennsylvania officials came under last week when they attempted to collect money owed for school lunches in one of the poorest districts in the state.

  After failing to reach families through other modes of communication, the director of federal programs for the Wyoming Valley West School District sent a letter to about 1,000 families, who owed an average of $28, stating that:

Thursday, August 1, 2019

You think airline food is bad? The conditions it’s made in are worse.

  On Tuesday evening, passengers at Washington D.C.’s Reagan National Airport (DCA) were greeted with shouts of “one job should be enough!” and “when we fight, we win!” by airline catering workers holding an informational picket and rally. The UNITE HERE union members were out in force to draw attention to the conditions they’re experiencing on the job and to warn that 15,000 fed-up airline catering workers across 32 U.S. airports just voted to authorize a strike.