From the News Wires
Four months after staging a boycott against their own school district's testing regime, Seattle high school teachers and their student and parent supporters have won a huge victory. On Monday Seattle Superintendent Jose Banda announced that come the next school year, the controversial Measures of Academic Progress test will no longer be a required high school assessment, the Seattle Times reported.
Banda's decision was informed by the recommendations of a specially assembled task force formed to deal with the fallout of the testing boycott, which began with teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle, and ultimately spread to five area high schools altogether. Some 600 students refused to take the assessment, which teachers, parents and students said was a waste of precious instructional time which tied up library and computer labs for weeks on end. Educators demanded that the district scrap the twice yearly administered test, but all other schools in the district must continue to give the test. And high schools must come up with their own assessments for students.
The Seattle teacher testing boycott is but one pocket of the resistance to high-stakes tests. Part of the resistance is a reaction to new state educational standards which have given rise to yet more new testing regimes, but much of it is a reflection of educators, parents, students and now lawmakers who are sick of overtesting. Check out Erin Zipper's infographic mapping the backlash to high-stakes tests.
As many as 200 fast food workers are expected to walk off the job today in Milwaukee, making it the fifth city in six weeks where strikes have hobbled chain restaurants. The strikers, organized by local groups with support from national unions, are demanding raises to $15 an hour and the right to unionize. Like Detroit, where fast food workers went on strike last week, Milwaukee in recent decades has seen dramatic decline in unionized manufacturing jobs and a corresponding growth in low-wage service jobs. The shift away from living-wage work has hit black workers particularly hard.
"Milwaukee has a really special history particularly for African Americans," said Jennifer Epps of the group Wisconsin Citizen Action, which helped organize the strikes. "We had the highest per capita income for black workers in the country, now we have one of the lowest."
A report from the University of Milwaukee found that in 1970, over 54 percent of black men in the city were employed in factories, more than twice the percentage of whites. But, as Milwaukee's Sentinel Journal reports, 100,000 jobs in Delco Electronics, Pabst Brewing Company and other factories left the city since 1980. By 2009, under 15 percent of black men held manufacturing these jobs, about equivalent to the percentage as white workers.
As these jobs disappeared, Milwaukee's rate of black unemployment spiked. Before the recession, the city rivaled Buffalo, NY with the highest rates of black unemployment, according to a report from the University. And those who have found work are now far more likely to be relegated to non-union, minimum wage jobs. The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development projects that food preparation and serving jobs, including those in fast food, will grow by 12 percent in the next decade, three times the rate of jobs overall.
Amere Graham is an 18-year-old high school senior who works at a Milwaukee McDonald's to help his mother pay for rent and save money for college. He'd like to become an EMT, but he says he can't save any money at all on his $7.25 earnings.
"I am trying to save, trying to get somewhere, pay for college," Graham told Colorlines.com. "I didn't grow up in a wealthy family and there aren't a lot of other options. If I was around 30 years back, Milwaukee's actually used to be a hub of factory jobs. That's not true anymore."
The fast food workers from McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Taco Bell are joined today by retail workers from Foot Action and Simply Fashion. The strikes follow similar actions in New York, Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit. In each of those cities, local groups organized fast food workers with support from SEIU, a national union. The strategy is one of spectacle: one to two day strikes that call attention to the conditions of low wage work. As such, organizers acknowledge that they're a long way from winning major wage hikes or union rights at the chain restaurants. But they say, the actions build momentum toward that point.
"Because our grandparents and parents fought for good jobs in the factories, they were well paid," Epps told me. "But those jobs are not coming back so from retail to fast food, workers are demanding better wages."
In wake of the IRS confessions that they targeted tea party groups for heavy scrutinization, the voter ID and restrictive elections group True the Vote are claiming they have been victimized by the federal tax authorities. The IRS apologized Friday for singling out organizations seeking tax-exemption status that had the words "tea party," "patriot" or "9/12" in their names for deep examination into whether those groups were engaging in political campaigning. For some tax-exempt classifications, an organization can not engage in any activity that primarily supports political candidates as they run for office.
True the Vote, which Colorlines reported extensively on last year, was engaged in plenty of work around elections and campaigns, and virtually all of the groups included in their network happen to be "tea party," "patriot" and "9/12" groups -- all conservative organizations that work both within the Republican Party and in support of its causes. And probably because those groups compose the bulk -- if not all -- of True the Vote's membership, they are complaining that the IRS unfairly made them jump through hoops when registering as a tax-exempt group.
True the Vote, of course, advocates for voters to jump through hoops by showing proof of citizenship in order to register to vote, and show government-issued photo ID to vote by ballot. And while there were reports of True the Vote intimidating and harassing voters over the last couple of years, their director Catherine Engelbrecht is now accusing the IRS of doing the same thing to her organization. Engelbrecht is telling media that she applied for tax-exempt status over a year ago, and in return, she was probed for documents by not only the IRS but other federal agencies.
"This is what the beginning of tyranny looks like," Engelbrecht told Breitbart.com. "If such politically-motivated governmental abuses of power can happen to us, they can happen to anyone."
The IRS officials involved in the tea party-targeting have said that their work was not politically motivated, arguing rather that a high spike in tax-exemption applications while understaffed led to poor decisions. According to The Washington Post, new applications for 501(c)4 tax exempt status went from 1,741 in 2010 to 2,774 in 2012 while the staff of the Exempt Organizations Division fell in the same time period.
Either way, an inspector general report says that the IRS officials used "inappropriate criteria" to decide which applications deserved a closer eye than others. Treasury Sec. Jack Lew said, "While the Inspector General found no evidence that any individual or organization outside the IRS influenced the decision to use these criteria, these actions were inappropriate and did not reflect the high standards which I expect and the public deserves."
President Obama called the actions "intolerable and inexcusable," and Attorney General Eric Holder is launching an investigation, as are House and Senate committees in Congress.
Meanwhile, Sen. John Cornyn pointed specifically to True the Vote and their alter-ego King Street Patriots as groups targeted by the IRS, as well as the Waco Tea Party. Conservative blogger David Jennings said the Texas-based Clear Lake Tea Party was also targeted. The Wetumpka Tea Party in Alabama also complained that it's tax-exemption application was delayed by the IRS. Attorney Cleta Mitchell of the Foley & Lardner law firm in Wisconsin is representing True the Vote (True the Vote isn't known for being generous with legal help for the tea party groups it recruits).
But the Houston-based King Street Patriots, which shares leadership and membership with True the Vote, was found liable by a Texas judge for working too close with the Republican Party last year. Also last year, Rep. Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, launched his own inquiry into True the Vote's activities around elections. Groups like Clear Lake Tea Party, Wetumpka Tea Party and dozens of other tea party groups have worked with True the Vote on election matters, as we showed in this map last year.
With all of that in mind, perhaps the tea party groups deserved extra scrutiny, or at least those involved in True the Vote's political work. The NAACP was under the IRS's magnifying lens under the Bush Administration; while both Planned Parenthood and NPR were interrogated by Congress for political reasons.
No organization deserves a discriminating eye from the IRS or federal government because of the direction it bends politically. Yet it's hard to believe that a group like True the Vote shouldn't get a thorough examination when they are still doing work on behalf of political campaigns and candidates, as seen today with the Rep. Allen West recount in Florida. That's not what tyranny looks like, that might just be the federal government doing its job.
Actress Lucy Liu has found trouble finding work as a leading actress in films and television shows. She was born and raised in Queens to a mother from Beijing and a father from Shanghai and that in itself may be what's keeping her from leading roles.
Liu, 44, started her career in the early 1990s and has mostly found roles as a supporting actress. When she finds herself cast as part of a major plot line she's usually a some sort of supernatural action hero or villain character whos mastered the martial arts. Think "Charlie's Angels," and "Kill Bill." Interestingly enough she's typecasted even when she's hired only for her voice: in her role as Viper in the animated film "Kung Fu Panda" she was a master at the "Snake style of Hung Ga Kung Fu" who tied up her enemies with ribbon. (Yes, she was a ribbon dancer too.)
Lui recently talked about race and being typecasted with the luxury online retailer Net-a-porter.com.
"I wish people wouldn't just see me as the Asian girl who beats everyone up, or the Asian girl with no emotion. People see Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock in a romantic comedy, but not me. You add race to it, and it became, 'Well, she's too Asian', or, 'She's too American'. I kind of got pushed out of both categories. It's a very strange place to be. You're not Asian enough and then you're not American enough, so it gets really frustrating."
Liu's wary of playing the racism card, but admits that she had to "push a lot just to get in the room". "I can't say that there is no racism - there's definitely something there that's not easy, which makes [an acting career] much more difficult."
All "Best Actress in a leading role" Academy Award winners since 2002 have been white. In 2002, Halle Berry became the first African-American actress to win a Best Actress actress Oscars but since then all winners in the category have been white.
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed to amend the immigration reform bill yesterday to limit a set of deportation policies known to put immigrants at risk of violence. The amendment, introduced by Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., would curtail the practice of deporting migrants to dangerous locations along the U.S.-Mexico border, sometimes in the middle of the night. It would also limit removal practices that separate travelling companions and family members.
The amendment targets the Alien Transfer Exit Program. As described by a recent Congressional Research Service report, under the program, "certain Mexicans apprehended near the border are repatriated to border ports hundreds of miles away--typically moving people from Arizona to Texas or California--a process commonly described as "lateral repatriation."
The federal government has long said that the practice reduces second crossing attempts by disorienting deportees. But recent government and non-governmental research suggests that lateral repatriation has little impact on whether people cross again and places migrants at risk of violence and trafficking by organized crime groups.
In the process of moving migrants far away from cities they know, deportees are often separated from family members. According to a recent University of Arizona report, "[w]hile, officially, only men go through ATEP, this leaves women travelling with male relatives or signi?cant others deported alone to unfamiliar border towns" and vulnerable to violence.
On a recent trip to the border, I met a couple, Juan and Susana Peña, who'd been separated as a result of lateral repatriation. They were detained by border patrol as they attempted to return after deportation to reunite with their seven-year-old daughter in Georgia. When Susana and Juan heard their names hollered by a guard in the Arizona detention center, they assumed they'd be bused to the border and deported together. But instead, Susana was routed directly to Nogales, Arizona, while Juan was moved to a different detention center and then deported the next day in Mexicali, a border city in Baja California a day's ride from Nogales.
"We asked the Migra to deport us together, but the guard said 'no, they're going to send him somewhere else'," Susana told me. "When I got here to Nogales, I thought they kept him in jail or maybe he didn't know I was here."
It took days before the couple reunited. While she waited, Susana says she was scared to move around the city, even to find a meal to eat.
The Coons amendment would limit the Department of Homeland Security's use of lateral repatriation as well as deportations after 9pm and to "location[s] where a dangerous lack of public order would threaten the life and safety of the migrant."
In addition, the amendment would require DHS to return property to immigrants before they are deported. Many immigrants detained by Customs and Border Protection or Immigration and Customs Enforcement are deported without the belongings they arrived with. As I've reported previously, this includes their identification documents, without which many migrants find themselves effectively undocumented in Mexico.
The Committee passed a number of other amendments yesterday, in the second long day of work on the Gang of Eight immigration reform bill. And in a display of broad commitment to the bill's basic outlines, 17 of the 18 members rejected an amendment from Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions that would have dramatically reduced the number of immigration visas available to non-citizens. The committee also rejected an amendment from Sen. Sessions to implement a broad-based biometric ID system. The concept has come under attack from civil liberties groups.
The amendment process will last several more weeks, at which point the committee is expected to send the bill to the Senate floor. While the legislation is expected to gain enough support to pass the Senate, it faces a less certain path in the House.
Journalist and documentarian Deborah "Big Red" Cotton was one of the 19 people wounded in the tragic shooting during a "second line" Mother's Day parade yesterday. In total, ten men, seven women and two 10-year-old children were injured. Cotton had just launched her own website NewOrleansGoodGood.com, which highlights off-the-beaten path restaurants and attractions normally ignored by mainstream media.
But Cotton also wrote about often-ignored problems in New Orleans concerning violence and poverty. The tragic irony of her being wounded in a second line parade is that she wrote about this very issue often in her blog. When a woman was murdered three years ago after a second line parade, and some journalists attempted to draw causations and correlations between murder and second line tradition, Cotton wrote:
The unfortunate murder that occurred on Sunday is not symptomatic of second line culture. On the contrary, it's directly attributable to deep social ills that New Orleans has yet to get a firm grasp on: a broken criminal justice system that allows murderers to get off easily and maintains bad cops which in turn undermines residents' faith in cooperating with authorities; a broken education system that leaves citizens unable to function as adults in the professional world; and an economy based on two sectors that thwart ambition and opportunities -- tourism and government. To end the murder culture, one must acknowledge and address the legitimate root problems and depart from racial biases that serve to further marginalize a distressed community.
We can end the story right there and call "church." Except that yesterday Cotton herself got caught in the crossfire of all of those broken systems that produced her shooter, as did the 18 others who were shot and wounded. In this video, posted eerily almost one year ago exactly by Park Triangle Productions, Cotton expressed her concern about New Orleans violence and also her compassion and love for black men in the city who are too often the perpetrators and victims of that violence:
FBI officials remarked that yesterday's shooting was "street violence" not an act of terror, but Ariella Cohen, a friend of Cotton's and editor of Next American City, questioned why that distinction is even necessary. Wrote Cohen:
This distinction is troubling because it distinguishes between crime that is seen as against 'all Americans' from crime that is seen as a byproduct of an urban American sub-culture, a subculture that happens to have racial and class associations.
Local attorney Samantha Kennedy, who's also a capital mitigation specialist who worked in Tucson after the mass shootings there, questioned if trauma services would be available to the New Orleans communities as they were offered in Arizona and Colorado. "We have a multigenerational multi-layered PTSD in this community," wrote Kennedy on Facebook. "Violence begets violence because trauma begets trauma. We live in a highly traumatized community. When are we going to take the biopsyhochemical and emotional needs of our people seriously?"
Gov. Jindal allowed a behavioral health program in Louisiana that served "at-risk," low-income children to close, but has proposed legislation that would streamline case management services for that population of children.
A federal judge last week denied a request to delay his ruling ordering the government to make "Plan B" emergency contraception available to everyone, without restrictions.
In 2011, the FDA approved emergency contraception, also known as the "morning-after" pill or "Plan B", for women of all ages. But the Obama administration stepped in and reversed the decision soon after. "The FDA was reversed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services on the same day in a decision that was politically motivated and that, even without regard to the Secretary's motives, was so unpersuasive as to call into question her good faith," District Court Judge Edward Korman said at the hearing last Tuesday.
The government asked for a stay of Korman's original April 5 ruling ordering them to make the pills available to everyone, saying it and the public would suffer "irreparable harm." Korman called this "silly" and said the appeal was "taken solely to vindicate the improper conduct of the Secretary."
The judge also took issue with the law requiring photo identification to access Plan B. Salon.com's Irin Carmon wrote about Friday's "charged and dramatic two-hour hearing" in detail:
This morning, Korman repeatedly slammed his hand down on the table for emphasis, interrupting the government counsel's every other sentence with assertions like, "You're just playing games here," "You're making an intellectually dishonest argument," "You're basically lying," "This whole thing is a charade," "I'm entitled to say this is a lot of nonsense, am I not?" and "Contrary to the baloney you were giving me ..." He also accused the administration of hypocrisy for opposing voter ID laws but being engaged in the "suppression of the rights of women" with the ID requirement for the drug.
He cited Brennan Center statistics -- which he said Eric Holder had also cited in a speech before the NAACP -- showing that 25 percent of African-Americans of voting age don't have a photo ID, and also dismissed the government's suggestion that 15-year-olds, who usually aren't eligible for a driver's license, could use a birth certificate, since that's not a photo ID. "You're disadvantaging young people, African-Americans, the poor -- that's the policy of the Obama administration?" (He didn't mention it, but immigrants would also face additional barriers.)
"It turns out that the same policies that President Bush followed were followed by President Obama," Judge Korman went on say.
Judge Korman was nominated by President Ronald Reagan in October 1985.
Two men have been arrested in Mexico City in the slaying of Malcolm Shabazz, the 28-year-old grandson of Malcolm X. More from the New York Times:
The men taken into custody, David Hernández Cruz and Manuel Alejandro Pérez de Jesús, worked as waiters at the Palace Club, a downtown bar where Mr. Shabazz, 28, was beaten, in what the city prosecutor called a dispute over an excessive bill.
Two other bar employees who the authorities said participated in the beating, which left Mr. Shabazz with fatal skull, jaw and rib fractures, were being sought.
The body of Mr. Shabazz, who for years had wrestled with living in the shadow of his grandfather's fame, was still at a city morgue on Monday while American consular officials worked to have it returned to the United States. A family spokeswoman said they would have no comment, and no funeral plans have been announced.
The younger Malcolm's death last week sent shockwaves across politically active circles in the United States and abroad. Over at the New Yorker, Jelani Cobb wrote about the complicated legacy that Shabazz shouldered, and the one that he left behind:
Read his blog and what emerges is a young man who died at a time when he was still trying to define his life and identity, both separate from and yet very much tied to his grandfather's. The first sentence on the blog reads "Malcolm is the first male heir of Malcolm X." At twenty-eight he was literally the image of his grandfather. His March 9th post features a split screen image of him and Malcolm X, the latter in his iconic finger-to-temple pose. In an earlier post is a picture of Malcolm, fil, donning a fedora and recast as the mugshot of his ancestor during his Detroit Red days. Elsewhere he posed with a rifle, peering out a window. On one level that kind of mimicry was the most honest commentary possible. The sole directly related man in a family consisting of five aunts and an internationally recognized grandmother, Malcolm X was an identifiable male role model for him to imitate, even if it was posthumously. He was not alone in this pursuit--in his 1965 eulogy Ozzie Davis pointed to Malcolm as the working definition of black manhood, an idea that millions of young Malcolm Shabazz's peers cosigned.
In his own writings, the younger Malcolm "given the storm of lies, and half-truths that come with being the descendant of El Hajj Malik el Shabazz...everything that I do; great or small, good or not so good, real or imagined is subject to controversy." You can read more of Malcolm Shabazz's writings on his blog.
At least one memorial service has been scheduled. It will take place at 10am PST this Friday at the Islamic Center of Northern California in downtown Oakland.