Obama

Big Government Takeovers, Schemes Of America’s Attempt To Double Down

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Since 9/11, we have created the very government the framers feared: a government with sweeping and largely unchecked powers resting on the hope that they will be used wisely.

The indefinite-detention provision in the defense authorization bill seemed to many civil libertarians like a betrayal by Obama. While the president had promised to veto the law over that provision, Levin, a sponsor of the bill, disclosed on the Senate floor that it was in fact the White House that approved the removal of any exception for citizens from indefinite detention.

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Dishonesty from politicians is nothing new for Americans. The real question is whether we are lying to ourselves when we call this country the land of the free.

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The media is manipulated in all manners, for example through professional public relations (PR), and covert and overt government propaganda which disseminates propaganda as news. What are often deemed as credible news sources can often knowingly or unknowingly be pushing political agendas and propaganda.

When some government officials were confronted about this problem by the Times a common response was that they didn’t believe it was propaganda or there was nothing wrong. When it was the case that the news stations didn’t source the segment correctly, this can be understood. But, when the segment itself has been used to pursue ideological or political agendas, then this response is more questionable. Furthermore, the Times also noted, that

the [US] Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress that studies the federal government and its expenditures, has held that government-made news segments may constitute improper “covert propaganda” even if their origin is made clear to the television stations.

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If we are going to adopt Chinese legal principles, we should at least have the integrity to adopt one Chinese proverb: “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.” We seem as a country to be in denial as to the implications of these laws and policies. Whether we are viewed as a free country with authoritarian inclinations or an authoritarian nation with free aspirations (or some other hybrid definition), we are clearly not what we once were.

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Every year, the State Department issues reports on individual rights in other countries, monitoring the passage of restrictive laws and regulations around the world. Iran, for example, has been criticized for denying fair public trials and limiting privacy, while Russia has been taken to task for undermining due process. Other countries have been condemned for the use of secret evidence and torture.

Even as we pass judgment on countries we consider unfree, Americans remain confident that any definition of a free nation must include their own — the land of free. Yet, the laws and practices of the land should shake that confidence. In the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, this country has comprehensively reduced civil liberties in the name of an expanded security state. The most recent example of this was the National Defense Authorization Act, signed Dec. 31, which allows for the indefinite detention of citizens. At what point does the reduction of individual rights in our country change how we define ourselves?

While each new national security power Washington has embraced was controversial when enacted, they are often discussed in isolation. But they don’t operate in isolation. They form a mosaic of powers under which our country could be considered, at least in part, authoritarian. Americans often proclaim our nation as a symbol of freedom to the world while dismissing nations such as Cuba and China as categorically unfree. Yet, objectively, we may be only half right. Those countries do lack basic individual rights such as due process, placing them outside any reasonable definition of “free,” but the United States now has much more in common with such regimes than anyone may like to admit.

These countries also have constitutions that purport to guarantee freedoms and rights. But their governments have broad discretion in denying those rights and few real avenues for challenges by citizens — precisely the problem with the new laws in this country.

The list of powers acquired by the U.S. government since 9/11 puts us in rather troubling company.

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Assassination of U.S. citizens

President Obama has claimed, as President George W. Bush did before him, the right to order the killing of any citizen considered a terrorist or an abettor of terrorism. Last year, he approved the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaqi and another citizen under this claimed inherent authority. Last month, administration officials affirmed that power, stating that the president can order the assassination of any citizen whom he considers allied with terrorists. (Nations such as Nigeria, Iran and Syria have been routinely criticized for extrajudicial killings of enemies of the state.)

Indefinite detention

Under the law signed last month, terrorism suspects are to be held by the military; the president also has the authority to indefinitely detain citizens accused of terrorism. While Sen. Carl Levin insisted the bill followed existing law “whatever the law is,” the Senate specifically rejected an amendment that would exempt citizens and the Administration has opposed efforts to challenge such authority in federal court. The Administration continues to claim the right to strip citizens of legal protections based on its sole discretion. (China recently codified a more limited detention law for its citizens, while countries such as Cambodia have been singled out by the United States for “prolonged detention.”)

Arbitrary justice

The president now decides whether a person will receive a trial in the federal courts or in a military tribunal, a system that has been ridiculed around the world for lacking basic due process protections. Bush claimed this authority in 2001, and Obama has continued the practice. (Egypt and China have been denounced for maintaining separate military justice systems for selected defendants, including civilians.)

Warrantless searches

The president may now order warrantless surveillance, including a new capability to force companies and organizations to turn over information on citizens’ finances, communications and associations. Bush acquired this sweeping power under the Patriot Act in 2001, and in 2011, Obama extended the power, including searches of everything from business documents to library records. The government can use “national security letters” to demand, without probable cause, that organizations turn over information on citizens — and order them not to reveal the disclosure to the affected party. (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan operate under laws that allow the government to engage in widespread discretionary surveillance.)

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Secret evidence

The government now routinely uses secret evidence to detain individuals and employs secret evidence in federal and military courts. It also forces the dismissal of cases against the United States by simply filing declarations that the cases would make the government reveal classified information that would harm national security — a claim made in a variety of privacy lawsuits and largely accepted by federal judges without question. Even legal opinions, cited as the basis for the government’s actions under the Bush and Obama administrations, have been classified. This allows the government to claim secret legal arguments to support secret proceedings using secret evidence. In addition, some cases never make it to court at all. The federal courts routinely deny constitutional challenges to policies and programs under a narrow definition of standing to bring a case.

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War crimes

The world clamored for prosecutions of those responsible for waterboarding terrorism suspects during the Bush administration, but the Obama administration said in 2009 that it would not allow CIA employees to be investigated or prosecuted for such actions. This gutted not just treaty obligations but the Nuremberg principles of international law. When courts in countries such as Spain moved to investigate Bush officials for war crimes, the Obama administration reportedly urged foreign officials not to allow such cases to proceed, despite the fact that the United States has long claimed the same authority with regard to alleged war criminals in other countries. (Various nations have resisted investigations of officials accused of war crimes and torture. Some, such as Serbia and Chile, eventually relented to comply with international law; countries that have denied independent investigations include Iran, Syria and China.)

Secret court

The government has increased its use of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has expanded its secret warrants to include individuals deemed to be aiding or abetting hostile foreign governments or organizations. In 2011, Obama renewed these powers, including allowing secret searches of individuals who are not part of an identifiable terrorist group. The administration has asserted the right to ignore congressional limits on such surveillance. (Pakistan places national security surveillance under the unchecked powers of the military or intelligence services.)

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Extraordinary renditions

The government now has the ability to transfer both citizens and noncitizens to another country under a system known as extraordinary rendition, which has been denounced as using other countries, such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan, to torture suspects. The Obama administration says it is not continuing the abuses of this practice under Bush, but it insists on the unfettered right to order such transfers — including the possible transfer of U.S. citizens.

These new laws have come with an infusion of money into an expanded security system on the state and federal levels, including more public surveillance cameras, tens of thousands of security personnel and a massive expansion of a terrorist-chasing bureaucracy.

Some politicians shrug and say these increased powers are merely a response to the times we live in. Thus, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) could declare in an interview last spring without objection that “free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war.” Of course, terrorism will never “surrender” and end this particular “war.”

Other politicians rationalize that, while such powers may exist, it really comes down to how they are used. This is a common response by liberals who cannot bring themselves to denounce Obama as they did Bush. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), for instance, has insisted that Congress is not making any decision on indefinite detention: “That is a decision which we leave where it belongs — in the executive branch.”

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And in a signing statement with the defense authorization bill, Obama said he does not intend to use the latest power to indefinitely imprison citizens. Yet, he still accepted the power as a sort of regretful autocrat.

An authoritarian nation is defined not just by the use of authoritarian powers, but by the ability to use them. If a president can take away your freedom or your life on his own authority, all rights become little more than a discretionary grant subject to executive will.

The framers lived under autocratic rule and understood this danger better than we do. James Madison famously warned that we needed a system that did not depend on the good intentions or motivations of our rulers: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

Benjamin Franklin was more direct. In 1787, a Mrs. Powel confronted Franklin after the signing of the Constitution and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?” His response was a bit chilling: “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

God’s Way or Man’s Way: Comments That Will Shock Today’s Young Women

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President Obama presents Presidential Medals of Freedom

President Barack Obama and feminist Gloria Steinem before Steinem received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

Liberal feminist icon Gloria Steinem turns 80 today. She once said that “A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.”

Yet for all her talk about equality and rights, one right she worked diligently to deny millions of both sexes was the right to be born and celebrate birthdays of their own. Once again, in her view, a “woman’s right” trumped the rights of another—in this case, an unborn child.

The fact the Supreme Court is hearing a case today about employers being forced to include abortion-inducing drugs in their health plans—even if it violates an employer’s conscience—is in many respects a testament to the work of Steinem and others. It’s a good example of how the “equal rights” she championed result in stepping on the rights of others.

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The liberal sisterhood railed against a society they said encouraged women to stay at home and raise children. They demanded the marketplace open up more opportunities for women and pay them the same as men. Fine. But what about women who choose differently?

Today’s young women are empowered to choose career, family, and all sorts of combinations of both. But the words of Steinem and other liberal feminists revealed what they believed about American women…

Steinem: “[Housewives] are dependent creatures who are still children…parasites.”

Simone DE Beauvoir: “No woman should be authorized to stay at home and raise her children. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.”

Betty Friedan: “[Housewives] are mindless and thing-hungry…not people. [Housework] is peculiarly suited to the capacities of feeble-minded girls. [It] arrests their development at an infantile level, short of personal identity with an inevitably weak core of self…. [Housewives] are in as much danger as the millions who walked to their own death in the concentration camps. [The] conditions which destroyed the human identity of so many prisoners were not the torture and brutality, but conditions similar to those which destroy the identity of the American housewife.”

Steinem has never been a fan of women who didn’t think like her or buy in to her radical feminist political agenda. “Having someone who looks like us but thinks like them (meaning men) is worse than having no one at all.”
So much for tolerance—and the belief that women are individuals who should be free to think and make choices for themselves.

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The administration says a victory for the companies would prevent women who work for them from making decisions about birth control based on what’s best for their health, not whether they can afford it. The government’s supporters point to research showing that nearly one-third of women would change their contraceptive if cost were not an issue; a very effective means of birth control, the intrauterine device, can cost up to $1,000.

“Women already have an income gap. If these companies prevail, they’ll have a health insurance gap, too,” said Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center.

Is America Desensitized to Human Life?

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These turkeys received a pardon from being Thanksgiving dinner but a felon who by the way is human life never really gets a pardon. A glass bottle, plastic container and aluminum can has more value than human life. It appears to me that America and its capitalistic views find it as a sport to show how desensitized they are about issues associated with these practices.

We all have to live with the decisions we make in life. However, some people are reminded of their decisions daily in the worst possible way. According to a report released this month by the American Civil Liberties Union, 3,200 people are serving life sentences without parole in state and federal prisons for committing non-violent crimes.

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The crimes that land such prisoners in jail for life include acting as a go-between in the sale of $10 of marijuana to an undercover officer, taking a television, circular saw, and a power converter from a vacant house, and making a drunken threat to a police officer while being handcuffed in the back of a patrol car.

The report highlights the stories of 110 men and women who are currently serving their life sentences. The stories are ones that people can relate to and sympathize with. However, due to harsh sentencing laws put in place in the 1980s and 1990s, these people face devastating impacts from their actions.

There is also a staggering amount of racial disparity within the report. Of those serving, 65% are black, 18% are white, and 16% are Latino.

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Dear Aaron–

This year, like most years, I’ll be spending my Thanksgiving back home in Chicago with my parents and my grandmother. We’ll cook and talk and eat together. But while I am enjoying the comforts of home, I’ll spend some time thinking about Clarence Aaron and his family.

I thought Clarence would be out of prison by now. I thought he would be home with his mother, Mrs. Linda Aaron, his sister Katrina, and his other devoted family members who sorely miss him.

I was wrong.

Clarence has already served 20 years of a life sentence for a first-time, nonviolent drug crime. He was 24-years old when he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison; his life had hardly begun. Clarence is now 44-years old and a model prisoner. I cannot think of one good reason for him to sit in prison until he dies. That’s why I’m still hopeful that President Obama will do the right thing and commute Clarence’s sentence to right this wrong – one of many caus ed by our unjust sentencing laws. I hope others serving long sentences will be shown mercy, too. And I really hope that Congress will act and pass meaningful sentencing reform so that future generations don’t face the irrational and destructive mandatory sentencing laws that we have now.

Thinking about Clarence and so many others like him makes me thankful that I can spend Thanksgiving with my family. But it also makes me mad that so many others can’t, and that Mrs. Aaron has spent 20 holiday seasons away from her son. And it makes me even more motivated to get to work each morning to fight for reform.

I hope you’ll join me in this fight by making a contribution to FAMM. In fact, if you make a tax-deductible donation by the end of the year, your gift will be matched by another generous FAMM supporter who is just as outraged as I am that Clarence Aaron is still sitting behind bars.

With gratitude,

Kate
Kate Taylor

Case Research Director, FAMM

4 ways Christians can respond during times of uncertainty.

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Today marks a strange and rare occurrence in America. The government is in a partial shutdown for the first time in nearly 18 years.

But you know this by now. At this point, there are few who don’t know that this is happening. However, many don’t fully understand what it means. Life has continued on for most as it always has. But life has come to a stand still for many of the 800,000 “non-essential” government workers who were told to go home or not come in today.
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The bickering on Capitol Hill is disturbing despite which side your find yourself on for the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” as it has become known. This is an embarrassment on a global scale. Even Syria, in the midst of a civil war, has continued to pay its bills. This is not a time of great pride in our great country.

We can respond in a way that shows this country, this world, the love of God.
Despite all of this, a unique opportunity has arisen for Christians everywhere. We can respond in a way that shows this country, this world, the love of God.
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This time can activitate the giving heart of the Church. Many local Bodies are ahead of the curve in this, but others have no idea where to start. Many people are confused and unsure of what’s next, but the Church has an unfailing hope. We should always show it, but it’s in times like these where something beautiful can awaken in those who know Jesus and in those who do not know Jesus.

Here are 4 ways for us as Christians, as the Church, to respond to the shutdown:

Pray for the leaders of this country and the people who are hurt by this

This should be the no. 1 action on every Christian’s “list” right now. This should be continuous for us. We need to ask God to intervene in the lives of the men and women who will not agree. We need to ask God to intervene in the lives of the people who are hurt by that lack of agreement.

We all have opinions, and that is great. That is a wonderful part of humanity. What cannot happen, though, especially in the Church, is for the opinions to cause disunity among us and cause us to ignore what it seems is currently being ignored in Washington: People.

God loves people. We need to love people right now and ask God to intervene at this time.
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Ask your local church if there is anything you can do for those in need

Giving is, at times, sacrificial. We cannot be so materialistic that we look at what we have and not want to give to the one who has none. Sometimes, God even asks us to give all we have to the one who has none. And at a time when people will be going to work without any guarantee of pay, there is an opportunity for some of us to offer help.

It is so important to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, because He tells us what makes sense to God, not us.

The leaders in your local church should have a solid grasp of the general needs of your community. If they don’t, find a local church that does have a good grasp of those needs and ask what you can give/do.

Being a pastor, I see that our local body often has more needs come to our attention than the provisions to meet those needs. This isn’t completely out of sheer number, it’s also because of the poverty mentality that so many of us possess. The concept of giving or helping is so foreign to so many. We have to open our eyes to the needs around us. The pleasure of helping others is something that we can ALL do.

You can give resources, pastors can put you to work, or you can be given tips and advice on how to help those around you. If the shutdown continues, those government employees on furlough may need financial assistance, and even if it doesn’t, they could probably use your encouragement and support.

Don’t wait for your local church or community organization to organize something

I know this kind of contradicts what is written above, but hear me out. Sometimes, we really embrace being sheep. Whether it is witnessing, social justice or even fun, we generally wait for someone else to organize something.

This isn’t completely terrible. Some people have no idea where to start. In that case, yes, contact these places to see what is happening. However, do not ignore the fact that the very best weapon against the injustices around you is you.

Some local churches will definitely have a good handle on the general needs of the community. But you also have a great handle on the needs around you. You have family, friends and neighbors that a local body doesn’t always know about.

Don’t wait to see what organizations are doing. Don’t say to yourself, “Someone should do something to help.” The Church is people, not a place. You are the Church. Go help the people around you.

What we can do is not simply rise to a national occasion of need, but always be available to meet needs.
Don’t let this be isolated

Needs will always be around. Jesus said that we’ll always have the poor with us. It’s the nature of being on this planet.

What we can do is not simply rise to a national occasion of need, but always be available to meet needs. In any time of uncertainty, the Church should be at the forefront of helping and offering hope. Not simply for publicity, but because it’s what we should have been doing all along.

We should always be helping meet needs. Let this time of uncertainty be a wakeup call to understand that we are not to rise to the occasion like it’s some special thing. There is always an occasion. There are always needs. If you do something during this time, don’t let the next public crisis be the next time you do something.

We are the Church, and we should bring hope to the world. Whether that is salvation or meeting a need, don’t see it as simply “rising to the occasion” right now. Do what we should have been doing all along: Loving people.

Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr.’s forward motion for a world that works for all

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The Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president of the Hip Hop Caucus, was tackled by six Capitol police officers after he tried to enter the Petraeus hearing on Monday. Rev. Yearwood was injured in the incident taken to hospital. He was later charged him with felony assault of a police officer.
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In what was billed as “the largest climate rally in history,” thousands of people rallied to gather on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, Feb. 17 to call for a definitive shift in the nation’s energy policy. The “Forward on Climate Rally” will urge President Obama to once and for all reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and take steps to reduce carbon pollution. The historic gathering will call on the president to translate the strong comments he made about tackling the climate crisis in his recent inaugural address-“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations” — into a far-ranging set of policies and executive orders for global sustainability in his second term.

The demonstration’s three major sponsors — 350.org, the Sierra Club and Hip Hop Caucus — are betting that integrating grassroots momentum, historic longevity and a commitment to move beyond traditional, predominantly white environmentalism is key to making the breakthrough that will be crucial to dealing full-on with this accelerating crisis.

The demonstration’s three major sponsors — 350.org, the Sierra Club and Hip Hop Caucus — are betting that integrating grassroots momentum, historic longevity and a commitment to move beyond traditional, predominantly white environmentalism is key to making the breakthrough that will be crucial to dealing full-on with this accelerating crisis.

350.org has played a dramatic role in building the movement for climate safety through grassroots organizing, online networking, social media and a series of coordinated national and international action campaigns. It launched the Keystone XL pipeline campaign, which took off after more than 1,200 people were arrested engaging in nonviolent civil resistance at the White House in 2011, and recently organized a 22-city “Do the Math” bus tour where it spread the message of rising carbon emissions — and what we can do about them — to sold-out halls across the U.S.

The Sierra Club, founded by pioneering environmentalist John Muir 120 years ago, is the oldest and largest environmental organization in the U.S., with 1.3 million members. Its board recently broke with its long-standing prohibition against nonviolent civil disobedience by authorizing the organization’s participation in a “Forward on Climate” civil disobedience action to be held separately from the rally.

Hip Hop Caucus is a national civil and human rights organization that mobilizes, educates and engages young people on “the social issues that directly impact their lives and communities.” It has tenaciously set out to bridge racial, class and political divides by tackling police brutality, the disastrous federal response to Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. war in Iraq, youth violence and widespread, systematic attempts to prevent people of color from voting. It has been working on eco-justice and the climate crisis for years, including helping to organize the Green the Block campaign and the Green the City Summit.

Hip Hop Caucus’ president, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., has been a tireless advocate for connecting the dots between poverty, racism, violence and environmental destruction — and for taking nonviolent action to create a more just, peaceful and sustainable world. For him, there are no silos separating social issues.

Another African American Experience

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President Obama Joins the “I Am Trayvon Martin” Chorus

President Obama reminded the world that he is a black man in America. Who knew? At a surprise appearance on Friday at the White House, Obama spoke for the first time on the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder trial. Obama reminded the world that the African-American experience in America, particularly for men, creates a set of circumstances where black men are used to being feared and accustomed to the disparity with which they are treated by the law.

Obama personalized the experience of the black man in America by saying he too knows what it is like to have drivers lock their doors and women clutch their purses in his presence. Obama echoed the experiences of Eric Holder who recently said that he too had experienced what it was like to be a target simply because you are a black man.

Obama brought the bully pulpit to bear in describing the imbalance of justice afforded black men in America. In so many ways, he gave America a taste of the “conversation” that Holder spoke about having with his 15-year-old son and that Geraldo Rivera talked about having with his sons.

It is that conversation that fathers of minority children have when explaining how to deal with a biased criminal justice system in a day-to-day existence. It is a conversation with a goal of providing pragmatic advice to combat a system that targets and arrests black men at higher rates than any other ethnicity in America.

In Obama’s speech he basically recounted what we know already. The rules of the game, based on past and current history, are stacked against black men. We already know the statistics. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that one in 15 African-Americans are incarcerated and one in three can expect to be incarcerated in their lifetime. Black men are profiled at alarmingly higher rates than others in America. They receive longer sentences for similar crimes holding constant for age, criminal history, and location. Dennis Parker, director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Project, notes that a Department of Justice report on racial profiling found that “black people are three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop, twice as likely to be arrested, and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.” The Sentencing Project found that African-American youth have higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prisons. The Department of Education found that African-American students are arrested more than white classmates. Black men are arrested at four times the rate of white men for possession of marijuana, even though usage rates among blacks and whites are numerically equivalent.

Scott Rasmussen wrote, “There’s a reason most black Americans believe our justice system is out to get them.”

When, Trayvon Martin was murdered, Obama gave a speech where he said if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon. Today he reminded the world that he looks like Trayvon too.
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A recent article on PolicyMic in the wake of the Trayvon Martin verdict sparked my interest, not because of the contents of the article itself, but because of the comments that followed. The young white woman in the video that the article linked to claimed that middle-class whites who take up the “I am Trayvon Martin” rallying cry are, in fact, deluding themselves if they believe the cultural education that they have received doesn’t teach fear of black people. Most of the white commenters responded angrily, denouncing the video and claiming that they were never taught to be racist. I could not adequately respond in the comments so I decided to write a letter and publish it here.

Dear White People of America,

I know you weren’t taught to be racists. Your parents were/are good people who worked hard and never hated anyone. You went to decent schools and have lived in diverse places. You publicly espouse tolerance for everyone. I know you weren’t taught to be racists. But somehow many of you have absorbed, if not racist attitudes, then certainly prejudiced ones.

Though I know that it will be viewed as such in many quarters, I don’t intend this opening to be inflammatory. What I want is to spark a real conversation around race, privilege, and perception, a conversation that has been sorely lacking in America and which is not happening in any meaningful way even in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict. Whites, blacks, and other minorities keep talking past each other regarding race. If we are to prevent the tragic deaths of more children, then this has to stop.

America’s current issue with race is not the problem of old. The KKK doesn’t roam the streets looking for people to lynch anymore. Nooses no longer adorn trees, dangling “strange fruit” as a warning to black people to stay in their place. Governors don’t stand in school house doors proclaiming the never-ending reign of segregation. Our current problems are deeper and much harder to talk about. They are as deep as our thoughts, and few alive today were taught by any authority figure in our formative years to actively hate. But somehow, we have absorbed the lesson that we should actively fear.

That’s what George Zimmerman did. He actively feared a young black kid walking home from the store in the dark. Why? Zimmerman’s father was a judge, someone dedicated to upholding a colorblind law. I seriously doubt that he taught his soon that black people were a threat. So who did? Why did George Zimmerman, and why do so many of you, so actively distrust and fear black youth that laws that could justify the killing of such youth are allowed?

How did this irrational fear creep into our national culture and indoctrinate us? I have no real answers to that question. I suspect that it has something to do with media portrayals of black people coupled with the realities of minority poverty. Shows that portray white criminals tend to do so in a sort of fantasy of storytelling. Who is likely to meet an Italian mobster in their everyday life? Conversely, shows like The Wire and Oz purport to portray a “slice of life” in black neighborhoods. We are much more likely to meet people like those characters, black men with a violent streak. Hip-hop has, for years, been one-dimensionally viewed as violent and disruptive. And who makes hip-hop? Black males. The murder statistics out of Chicago are appalling and splashed all over the news. Black kids are shown as dropouts and dope dealers, gang-bangers and thugs. With so many violent and negative portrayals, it’s no wonder that many of you unconsciously think of black men as a threat.

Here is a painful admission. I, a black man, harbor much of this fear as well. I too have been indoctrinated to fear black males. My heart rate quickens and I begin to look for possible avenues of escape when I see an unknown black man approaching on the street, especially if he is wearing “thug clothes.” I roll up my windows when a black person pulls up next to me in a jacked-up Cadillac blasting rap.

If I can own up to the fear, white people, I think you should too. Let’s all stop hiding behind the “I’m not a racist” excuse and admit that we do fear the Other, especially if the Other is a black male. Let’s look at what we consume in the media and how our culture shapes us and admit that it just might be affecting how we think about minority males.

White people, I know you weren’t taught to be racist. But if the effects are the same — if innocent kids can be gunned down and the killers can get off and even be defended by whites as “being within their rights,” if you can still pass laws that disenfranchise and impoverish minorities without protest, if you can carry on as if everything is OK when black people are dying in the streets of our cities — then how am I to tell the difference? I’ll take you at your word that you’re not racist and weren’t taught to be so. But until you can admit that many of you harbor an irrational fear of black men, then we can’t really begin the process of making all of us safer.

Sincerely,

A Black Man

FELONY DISENFRANCHISEMENT

Nationally, an estimated 5.85 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of laws that prohibit voting by people with felony convictions. Felony disenfranchisement is an obstacle to participation in democratic life which is exacerbated by racial disparities in the criminal justice system, resulting in 1 of every 13 African Americans unable to vote.

Supreme Court Invalidates Key Part of Voting Rights Act

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by a 5-to-4 vote, freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval.

The court divided along ideological lines, and the two sides drew sharply different lessons from the history of the civil rights movement and the nation’s progress in rooting out racial discrimination in voting. At the core of the disagreement was whether racial minorities continued to face barriers to voting in states with a history of discrimination.

“Our country has changed,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”

The decision will have immediate practical consequences. Texas announced shortly after the decision that a voter identification law that had been blocked would go into effect immediately, and that redistricting maps there would no longer need federal approval. Changes in voting procedures in the places that had been covered by the law, including ones concerning restrictions on early voting, will now be subject only to after-the-fact litigation.

President Obama, whose election as the nation’s first black president was cited by critics of the law as evidence that it was no longer needed, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the ruling.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg summarized her dissent from the bench, an unusual move and a sign of deep disagreement. She cited the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and said his legacy and the nation’s commitment to justice had been “disserved by today’s decision.”

She said the focus of the Voting Rights Act had properly changed from “first-generation barriers to ballot access” to “second-generation barriers” like racial gerrymandering and laws requiring at-large voting in places with a sizable black minority. She said the law had been effective in thwarting such efforts.

The law had applied to nine states — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — and to scores of counties and municipalities in other states, including Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote that Congress remained free to try to impose federal oversight on states where voting rights were at risk, but must do so based on contemporary data. But the chances that the current Congress could reach agreement on where federal oversight is required are small, most analysts say.

http://nyti.ms/148VK31

In the trial of Trayvon, the US is guilty – Opinion

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When I was a child I watched policemen beat a man nearly to death, and I watched my country acquit them. I was shocked that police would attack a man instead of defending him. I was shocked that someone would record the attack on video and that this video would mean nothing. I was shocked that people could watch things and not really see them. I was shocked because I was a child. I was shocked because I am white.

Twenty-one years after the Rodney King verdict, Americans have proven again that in a court of law, perception matters more than proof. Perception is rooted in power, a power bestowed upon birth, rectified through experience, and verified through discrimination masked as fairness and fact.

Trayvon Martin is dead and the man who killed him walks free. Americans are afraid there will be riots, like there were after the King verdict in 1992. But we should not fear riots. We should fear a society that puts people on trial the day they are born. And after they die.

Recession-fueled racism

The Trayvon Martin trial was not supposed to happen. This is true in two respects. The Trayvon Martin trial only took place because public outrage prompted Florida police to arrest George Zimmerman, the man who killed him, over a month after Martin’s death. The Trayvon Martin trial took place because that same public went on to try Martin in his own murder, assessing his morality like it precluded his right to live. It was never a trial of George Zimmerman. It was always a trial of Trayvon Martin, always a character assassination of the dead.

Over the past few decades, the US has turned into a country where the circumstances into which you are born increasingly determine who you can become. Social mobility has stalled as wages stagnate and the cost of living soars. Exponential increases in university tuition have erased the possibility of education as a path out of poverty. These are not revelations – these are hard limitations faced by most Americans. But when confronted with systematic social and economic discrimination, even on a massive scale, the individual is often blamed. The poor, the unemployed, the lacking are vilified for the things they lack.

One might assume that rising privation would increase public empathy toward minorities long denied a semblance of a fair shot. But instead, overt racism and racial barriers in America have increased since the recession. Denied by the Supreme Court, invalidated in the eyes of many by the election of a black president, racism erases the individual until the individual is dead, where he is then recast as the enemy.

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Trayvon Martin was vilified for being “Trayvon Martin”. If he were considered a fully human being, a person of inherent worth, it would be the US on trial. For its denial of opportunity, for its ceaseless condemnation of the suffering, for its demonization of the people it abandons, for its shifting gaze from the burden of proof. The Trayvon Martin case only sanctioned what was once tacit and disavowed. A young black man can be murdered on perception. A young black man becomes the criminal so that the real criminal can go free.

Americans should not fear riots. They should fear a society that ranks the death of children. They should fear a society that shrugs, carries on, and lets them go.

A tragedy

A friend of mine on Facebook posts updates from a website called ” Black and Missing but Not Forgotten “. The site exists because the default assumption is that a black and missing child will be forgotten. It exists because the disappearance of a black child is considered less important than the disappearance of a white child. It exists because a large number of Americans has to be reminded that black children are human beings.

In June, the Supreme Court invalidated part of the Voting Rights Act , stating that “our country has changed”, implying that discrimination against African-Americans was a thing of the past. In May, the city of Chicago shut down majority black public schools. In April, a black high school student, Kiera Wilmont, was prosecuted as an adult after her science project exploded. In February, The Onion called nine-year-old black actress Quvenzhane Wallis an extremely vulgar name. The US that proclaims racism a thing of the past abandons and vilifies black children.

Many Americans, of many races, will be outraged that George Zimmerman has gone free. They will advocate for tolerance and peace. This is a noble sentiment, but what the US needs is a cold, hard look at social structure. We need to examine and eliminate barriers to opportunity, some of which are racially biased in an overt way, but many of which are downplayed because they are considered ambiguous social issues – social issues, like decaying public schools, low-wage labor and unemployment, that affect African-Americans at disproportionate rates.

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Trayvon Martin was murdered before we could see what kind of person he would become. But the truth is, he had a hard road ahead of him no matter what he did. He would have confronted an America of racial and class barriers that even the most ambitious young man cannot override without a good deal of luck.

In a US of diminished opportunities, luck is nothing to bank on. Neither is hope, or dreams, or the idea, espoused by President Obama, that for young black men, “there’s no longer any room for excuses”. Trayvon Martin shows that there is plenty of room for excuses. There is even more room for social and economic reform, for accountability, and for change.

Above all, there is room for responsibility. The death of Trayvon Martin is a US tragedy. He was part of a broken system we all experience, but that black Americans experience in ways white Americans cannot fathom. The children who grow up like Trayvon Martin, discriminated against and denied opportunity, are everyone’s responsibility. Providing them a fairer, safer future should be a public priority.

Americans should not fear riots. They should fear apathy. They should fear acquiescence. They should not fear each other. But it is understandable, now, that they do.

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