U.S. judge finds Texas voter ID law was intended to discriminate

By Ian Simpson. Reuters

Vote Here sign

A Texas law that requires voters to show identification before casting ballots was enacted with the intent to discriminate against black and Hispanic voters, a U.S. federal judge ruled on Monday.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos came after an appeals court last year said the 2011 law had an outsized impact on minority voters. The court sent the case back to Ramos to determine if lawmakers intentionally wrote the legislation to be discriminatory.
Ramos said in a 10-page decision that evidence “establishes that a discriminatory purpose was at least one of the substantial or motivating factors behind passage” of the measure.
“The terms of the bill were unduly strict,” she added.
Spokesmen for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton Jr. and Governor Greg Abbott, both Republicans, could not be reached for comment.
In January, after the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, Paxton said it was a common sense law to prevent voter fraud.
The ruling on voter ID comes about a month after two federal judges ruled that Texas lawmakers drew up three U.S. congressional districts to undermine the influence of Hispanic voters.
The measure requires voters to present photo identification such as a driver’s license, passport or military ID card.
Plaintiffs have argued the law hits elderly and poorer voters, including minorities, hardest because they are less likely to have identification. They contend the measure is used by Republicans to suppress voters who typically align with Democrats.
The legislation has been in effect since 2011 despite the legal challenges.
Ramos said the law had met criteria set by the U.S. Supreme Court to show intent that included its discriminatory impact, a pattern not explainable on other than racial grounds, Texas’ history of discriminatory practices and the law’s unusually swift passage.
Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the plaintiffs, said the ruling showed other states that discriminatory laws would not stand up to legal scrutiny.
“This is a good ruling that confirms what we have long known, that Texas’ voter ID law stands as one of the most discriminatory voting restrictions of its kind,” she said.
In a shift from its stance under former President Barack Obama, the U.S. Justice Department dropped a discrimination claim against the law in February. The department said that the state legislature was considering changing the law in ways that might correct shortcomings.

No clues yet as to Trump’s Policy for Africa, but theories abound

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Young African Leaders in (YALI) DC, an Obama program on the chopping block.

(TriceEdneyWire.com/Global Information Network) – If U.S. President Donald Trump has an Africa policy in the works, he’s keeping the details close to his chest. So far, there is neither an assistant secretary of state for Africa nor an ambassador. The incumbent secretary, Linda Thomas Greenfield, retires on March 10.
Peter Pham, vice-president and Africa director of the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC. Is reportedly seeking a position. In a strategy paper prepared for the Trump administration, Pham proposed an initiative he calls “earned engagement.”
The US, he says, should grant diplomatic recognition only to governments with legitimate sovereign control over their countries. Somalia, for example, would not be among those countries having had 15 transitional governments following the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991. None of these were recognized by Republican or Democratic administrations.
Recognition might also be withdrawn from the Democratic Republic of Congo if President Joseph Kabila fails to honor his commitment to retire this year after elections.
More resources would be channeled into Africom, according to Pham, not only to address insecurity directly, but also to continue to beef up African militaries.
Other clues as to the President’s Africa plans appeared last month in a New York Times article which revealed a retreat from development and humanitarian goals while pushing business opportunities across the continent.
New executive orders are reportedly being prepared with drastic funding cuts to U.N. peacekeeping operations – now almost a third of which are funded by the US – the International Criminal Court and the United Nations Population Fund, which oversees maternal and reproductive health programs.
Anton du Plessis, head of the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies fears that Trump will “securitize” US policy, funding and engagement in Africa, focusing heavily on security problems such as Boko Haram, while ignoring efforts to create stability in the long term through democracy, good governance and sustainable development.
Among such efforts would be one of former President Barack Obama’s most successful programs – the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) which brings several hundred young African professionals and entrepreneurs to the US for six weeks each summer.
“It is possible that Trump’s term in office will surprise us on Africa,” observed former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson. “Republican administrations have outperformed on this front before. President Bush certainly did, and his two landmark initiatives – PEPFAR and the Millennium Challenge Corporation – remain extremely popular.”
But given the absence of any serious White House interest in Africa, Secretary Rex Tillerson, with limited knowledge of Africa having dealt mainly with corrupt and authoritarian leaders as head of ExxonMobil, may become the key American player on Africa.

Obama cuts sentences of hundreds of drug offenders

 

By Kevin Liptak, CNN White House Producer

   president-barack-obama   

President Barack Obama on Tuesday, January 17, 2017 reduced or eliminated the sentences for hundreds more non-violent drug offenders.

The move brings Obama well beyond his most recent predecessors, who used their commutation powers more sparingly. He’s now reduced sentences for 1,385 individuals, the vast majority of whom are serving time for crimes related to distribution or production of narcotics.

 

Many of those whose punishments he’s reduced were incarcerated for crimes involving crack cocaine, which came with mandatory sentences that were longer than those for the powdered version of the drug. The discrepancy — a facet of a decades-long war on drugs — overwhelmingly affected African-Americans.

 

Obama had hoped for legislation to permanently end the disparities in sentencing laws. While an unlikely group of activists have pushed in Congress for a bill that would alter mandatory minimums and reform the prison system, a rancorous political climate during last year’s presidential campaign prevented progress.

 

Instead, Obama encouraged Americans serving lengthy terms to apply for clemency, prompting a flood of applications to his Justice Department. A group of legal aid groups established the Clemency Project to help screen applicants and complete the required paperwork.

 

An onslaught of requests required Obama’s aides to establish a process for vetting applications, which began backing up in the Pardon Attorney’s office.

At the beginning of 2017, 13,568 petitions for clemency were still pending. The Obama administration has received more than 30,000 petitions over eight years.

 

The power to grant pardons and commutations is written into the US constitution as one of the president’s clearest unilateral prerogatives. With large batches often coming in the final weeks of an administration, an act of clemency cannot be challenged in court or overturned by Congress.

 

President George W. Bush granted 189 pardons and 11 commutations, including reducing the prison term for I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators in the probe of the leak of the name of a CIA operative.

 

President Bill Clinton issued a flurry of pardons on his final day in office, including for financier Marc Rich and the president’s half-brother Roger Clinton. In sum, Clinton ordered 396 pardons and 61 commutations.

 

No recent commander-in-chief, however, has used the powers as liberally as Obama to enact a criminal justice reform agenda. Writing in the Harvard Law Review earlier this month, Obama said his push toward eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and offering clemency to non-violent drug offenders was informed by his own history.

 

“This is an effort that has touched me personally, and not just because I could have been caught up in the system myself had I not gotten some breaks as a kid,” Obama wrote, recalling meetings at the White House with recipients of his clemency grants who had turned their life around.

 

“By shifting the narrative to the way clemency can be used to correct injustices in the system — and reminding people of the value of second chances — I worked to reinvigorate the clemency power and to set a precedent that will make it easier for future presidents, governors and other public officials to use it for good,” Obama wrote.

 

While President-elect Donald Trump has yet to detail his planned use of clemency powers, there’s little optimism about criminal justice reform advocates that he’ll continue Obama’s efforts. Trump ran on a “law and order” platform, though rarely addressed issues of clemency or sentencing on the campaign trail.

 

“I’m looking at various predictors to try and decide where he might go. He wants to make America safe again. We know based on data that locking up low-level offenders won’t make America safe,” said Jessica Jackson Sloan, the national director and co-founder of #cut50, a group committed to reducing the US prison population by half. “I’m hopeful that we’ll be surprised,” Sloan said.

 

Obama offers optimism — and warnings – in farewell address

 

By Kevin Liptak, CNN White House Producer

 president-barack-obama

 President Barack Obama

 

Chicago (CNN) Popular but politically humbled, President Barack Obama said goodbye to the nation Tuesday night, declaring during his farewell address that he hasn’t abandoned his vision of progressive change but warning that it now comes with a new set of caveats.

His voice at moments catching with emotion, Obama recounted a presidency that saw setbacks as well as successes. Admitting candidly that political discourse has soured under his watch, Obama demanded that Americans renew efforts at reconciliation.

“Democracy does not require uniformity,” Obama said. “Our founders quarreled and compromised, and expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity — the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.”

In a concession that, for now, his brand of progressive politics is stalled in Washington, Obama admitted “for every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back.”

He implored his backers to be vigilant in protecting basic American values he warned could come under siege. “Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear,” he said. “So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.”

And he warned against turning inward, telling Democrats that only by involving themselves in a real political discourse could they hope to renew the hopeful vision he brought to the White House eight years ago. “After eight years as your President, I still believe that,” he went on. “And it’s not just my belief. It’s the beating heart of our American idea — our bold experiment in self-government.”

 

Obama’s speech is the capstone of a months-long farewell tour, manifested in extended magazine interviews, lengthy television sit-downs, and the White House’s own efforts to document the President’s waning administration. Through it all, Obama has sought to highlight the achievements of his presidency using statistics showing the country better off now than eight years ago.

 

As he spoke before a rowdy crowd of supporters, Obama was interrupted often with screams of “I Love you Obama.” When a protester holding a “Pardon All of Us” sign, chants of “four more years” drowned out the shouts.

Obama sought to corral his crowd, listing the accomplishments of the last eight years ranging from health care to marriage equality, all while insisting that his work isn’t finished.

He recognized his successor Donald Trump, saying he was committed to a peaceful transition of power. But he warned that going forward Democrats shouldn’t fall in line with their commander-in-chief.

Obama, who has addressed race with varying degrees of force during his time in office, used his farewell to insist Americans work harder to understand each other’s struggles. After presiding over eight years that saw race relations enter a fraught new era, Obama demanded that differences be identified and reconciled.

“Brown kids will represent a larger share of America’s workforce” in the years ahead, Obama proclaimed, calling for better rules that will help the children of immigrants succeed.

He warned that “laws alone won’t be enough” in resolving persistent differences between Americans. “Hearts must change,” he said. He called on African-Americans and minorities to view with empathy “the middle-aged white man who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but who’s seen his world upended by economic, cultural, and technological change.”

And he urged whites to regard the protests of minorities as a fight “not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment our Founders promised.”

“Regardless of the station we occupy, we have to try harder,” Obama said. “To start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.”

In coming to Chicago, Obama hoped to capitalize on a well of goodwill that’s expanded in the final year of his tenure. He discarded the staid Oval Office or East Room for his last formal set of remarks, choosing instead the city where his political rise began and where he declared victory in 2008 and 2012.

Inside a vast convention hall packed with more than 20,000 of his most ardent supporters and former staffers, the mood was wistful. Ahead of his address, aides described the normally unsentimental commander in chief as nostalgic.

Over the past several weeks, Obama has offered a rational view of Trump’s election and rarely let on to any apprehension about his future as an ex-president.

First lady Michelle Obama has articulated a more candid view in a scaled-back version of her own farewell. She sat for an hour-long interview with Oprah Winfrey, frankly admitting that Democrats were now “feeling what not having hope feels like.”

And she became emotional during her final set of formal remarks at the White House Friday, her voice quaking and eyes welling with tears as she told a crowd of educators: “I hope I made you proud.”

During his speech Tuesday, Obama voice quaked when describing his wife’s service. “You took on a role you didn’t ask for and made it your own with grace and grit and style and good humor,” he said. “You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody.”

The President had been planning his speech for months, aides said, formulating the broad themes while on vacation over the holidays in Hawaii and developing drafts starting last week.

He told aides months ago that he preferred to deliver his farewell address in his hometown, a first for a departing President. George W. Bush, unpopular and facing a financial crisis, delivered his final prime-time address in the White House East Room to a crowd of 200 supporters and aides.

Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter all used the Oval Office — a setting Obama has long spurned for formal remarks. George H.W. Bush traveled outside of Washington to West Point for a departing address after failing to secure a second term, though he didn’t actually bill it as a farewell.

The tradition extends back to George Washington, who issued warnings against unchecked power and partisan entrenchment in a written address to the nation in 1796.

 

 

How a repeal of the Affordable Care Act will affect Blacks

By Glenn Ellis, Health columnist

acasigning President Barack Obama, Vice President Biden, members of Congress and guests before the signing of the ACA on March 23, 2010. PHOTO: The White House

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Racism has historically had a significant, negative impact on the health care of Blacks and other people of color in the United States. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is truly the first time that African-Americans have, collectively, had significant access to health care. It is noteworthy that America’s first African-American president is chiefly responsible for this access.

Improved access to care; Medicaid expansion; prevention medicine; and lifting of barriers for pre-existing conditions, are all aspects of the ACA that have been of great benefit to Blacks. But there is a thick air of uncertainty on the horizon.

In a few weeks, Donald John Trump will become the 45th president of the United States. It is unclear how quickly, or when, Trump’s vow to repeal and replace Obamacare will play out. But make no mistake, just like the adage, “when white folks catch a cold, black folks get pneumonia!”, a repeal of the ACA would disproportionately hurt blacks.

Republicans in Congress have put out their plans: to repeal most of the ACA without replacing it; doubling the number of uninsured people – from roughly 29 million to 59 million – and leave the nation with an even higher uninsured rate than before the ACA.

Let me point out a few ways that Blacks have, specifically, benefitted from the ACA, what many now call “Obamacare”. Given the low incomes of uninsured Blacks, nearly all (94 percent) are in the income range to qualify for the Medicaid expansion or premium tax credits. Nearly two thirds (62 percent) of uninsured Blacks have incomes at or below the Medicaid expansion limit, while an additional 31 percent are income-eligible for tax subsidies to help cover the cost of buying health insurance through the exchange marketplaces. Under the new law, insurance companies are banned from denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition, such as cancer and having been pregnant.

Importantly, for people living with HIV there also new protections in the law that make access to health coverage more equitable including the expansion of Medicaid and in the private market, prohibition on rate setting tied to health status, elimination of preexisting condition exclusions, and an end to lifetime and annual caps. The passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in March 2010 provided new opportunities for expanding health care access, prevention, and treatment services for millions of people in the U.S., including many people with, or at risk for, HIV.

Safety net hospitals play a critical role in the nation’s health care system by serving low-income, uninsured and medically and socially vulnerable patients regardless of their ability to pay. Also, in agreeing to lower payments, hospitals in the 31 states that expanded Medicaid under the law, have made up that revenue in part through the Medicaid expansion.

These places are critical to the health of Black communities, and in the poorest neighborhoods. They have been among the loudest voices against repeal of the health law, as they could lose billions if the 20 million people lose the insurance they gained under the law. This could bring about widespread layoffs, cuts in outpatient care and services for the mentally ill, and even hospital closings.

Under the ACA, these hospitals have received subsidies (or credits) to provide care based on a patients’ income levels. Should this change, community hospitals may have more difficulty weathering the storm of an increase in the number of uninsured.

Admittedly, there are some real problems with the ACA as we have come to know it; not the least being steady increases in premiums (midrange plans increased 22 percent nationally in 2016, with the average premium set to rise 25 percent in 2017); nearly 70 percent of all ACA plan provider networks are narrower than promised; and the high-deductibles and co-pays. Perhaps the most universal complaint is the “individual mandate”, that requires everyone in the United States to have insurance, or face a financial penalty.

Republicans are dead set on repealing the Affordable Care Act. Congress will likely pass significant modifications to the Affordable Care Act this month, which will be signed by incoming President Trump. The plans they have proposed so far would leave millions of people without insurance and make it harder for sicker, older Americans to access coverage. No version of a Republican plan would keep the Medicaid expansion as Obamacare envisions it.

Donald Trump’s presidency absolutely puts the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in jeopardy. A full repeal is unlikely, but major changes through the budget reconciliation process (which cannot be filibustered) are nearly certain.

But let me be clear; changes are needed in the ACA, but the idea of dismantling it remains a troubling prospect for Blacks.

Emmett Till bill reauthorized

 

Will it spur more of an effort to solve civil rights murders than the original legislation

By Frederick Lowe

Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from NorthStarNewsToday.com

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 Emmett Till

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – President Barack Obama has signed legislation permanently reauthorizing a law that expands prosecution of civil rights-era murders after an earlier version of the law failed miserably to live up to expectations.

The President, Dec. 16, signed the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Bill of 2007, which expands the authority of the Department of Justice and FBI to investigate and prosecute race-based murders.

The legislation is named in honor of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Chicago boy who was kidnapped and murdered on Aug. 28, 1955,  in Money, Miss., by Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam for allegedly whistling at Carolyn Bryant, a White woman.

The teenager’s beaten and horribly mutilated body, tied to a heavy industrial fan, floated to the surface of the Tallahatchie River, where it was discovered by two boys swimming in the river.

An all-White male jury found Milam and Bryant not guilty, but the two admitted killing Till in a Jan. 24, 1956 interview with Look magazine for which they were paid. Bryant operated a store and it went out business after blacks launched a boycott.

The current Emmett Till legislation was scheduled to expire on Sept. 30, 2017, the end of the government’s fiscal year.  The legislation was passed in 2008, after being introduced by Congressman John Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights movement. Lewis’ bill limited investigations to violations that occurred before 1970.

The original legislation failed to live up to its promise, according to a U. S. Senate review of the law. There has been only one successful prosecution as result of the bill. The Senate also noted other challenges such as the Fifth Amendment protection against double jeopardy and a pre-1994 five-year statute of limitations on federal criminal civil rights charges.

“Ultimately, a DOJ report stated that it is unlikely that any of the remaining cases would be prosecuted,” the Senate reported. The Cold Case Justice Initiative of the DOJ last year closed 115 of the 126 cases on their list, often without pursuing potential witnesses or victims’ family members, the Senate said.

Last year, civil right activists testified before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, that the DOJ and the FBI have not done enough to solve the murders of civil rights workers in the 1940s, 50s and 60s despite the Emmett Till legislation.

The murders of black men, women and children have been extensive and almost no perpetrators have been brought to justice.

The Equal Justice Initiatve, which is based in Montgomery, Ala., reported that nearly 4,000 black men, black women and black children were lynched between 1877 and 1950. Many lynching were extrajudicial but others were either organized or encouraged by law enforcement officials.

Congress passed the expanded Emmett Till legislation on Dec. 13th. The legislation was introduced into the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Senate bill, S. 2854, and House bill, H. R. 5067, require the Department of Justice to reopen and review cases closed without an in-person investigation conducted by the DOJ or the FBI. The DOJ also must establish a task force to conduct a thorough investigation of Emmett Till Act Cases.

“Perhaps most significantly to us is that the FBI will be required to travel to the communities to do their investigative work, not simply read over old files from a desk in Washington and make a couple phone calls,” said Janis McDonald, co-director of the Cold Case Justice Initiative, which is based at Syracuse University.

The DOJ must indicate the number of cases referred by a civil rights organization, an institution of higher education or a state or local law enforcement agency.  The bill also requires the DOJ to report the number of cases that resulted in federal charges, the date charges were filed and whether DOJ declined to prosecute or participate in an investigation of a referred case and any activity on reopened cases.

In addition, the law enforcement agencies must coordinate information sharing, hold accountable perpetrators or accomplices in unsolved civil rights murders and comply with Freedom Information Act requests.

The legislation also allows DOJ to award grants to civil rights organizations, institutions of higher education and other eligible entities for expenses associated with investigating murders under the Emmett Till Act.

One major issue facing this legislation is the extent to which it will be implemented in a U. S. Justice Department headed by Trump Attorney General nominee, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, who did not vote for this and other civil rights legislation during his Senatorial career.

How Did African Americans Fare In The Obama Era?

Many say the first Black president didn’t do enough to improve the lives of African Americans.

Written By Nigel Roberts

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 President Barack Obama
Many African-Americans have expressed disappointment in President Barack Obama, even those who voted whole-heartedly for him twice.
In an October interview, Sean “Diddy” Combs, in an interview on Politics Nation with Al Sharpton, said the Black community “got a little bit shortchanged.”
He explained it this way: “I feel like we put President Obama in the White House, and when I look back I just wanted more done for my people. Because, that’s the name of the game, this is politics.”
Here are a few gauges in evaluating how African-Americans fared under the Obama presidency.
Sense of well-being
First, are African-Americans really disappointed in the performance of the first Black president? Gallup and Healthways asked Americans to rate their current and future lives throughout his presidency. Researchers found that Americans of all races who say they are thriving have increased. African-Americans’ life evaluations improved nearly 13 points from 2008 to 2010. However, it declined during Obama’s second term, now registering below other races.
“These results dovetail with Blacks’ collective sentiment that Obama has not done enough to improve Black Americans’ standard of living,” the researchers concluded.

•Income/Wealth
Wages remained stagnant for nearly all Americans during the economic recovery. CNN Money reported that income dropped to $33,926 in the period of 2009 to 2011, but then rebounded to $35,398 by 2014. African-Americans were hit particularly hard during the Great Recession, with many falling into poverty. By 2011, the poverty rate within the Black community reached 27.6 percent, which was almost 2 percent higher than when Obama took office. In recent years, it has fallen to 26.2 percent.
Meanwhile, the wealth gap grew between Black and White Americans during the Obama presidency. The Pew Research Center, based on an analysis of Federal Reserve data, found that family wealth was eight times higher for Whites than Blacks in 2010 and ballooned to 13 times greater in 2013.

Education
The academic achievement gap between Black and White students remains stubbornly high. In fact, for many decades Black students have lagged significantly behind their White counterparts on just about all academic measures. However, in October the White House announced that the high school graduation rate reached a record level for all students in the 2014-2015 school year. African-American students made strides toward on-time graduation, increasing by 8 percent since the 2010-2011 school year.

Unemployment
The high unemployment rate among Black youths was shuffled around like a political tennis ball, some would say exploited, during the 2016 campaign season. However, CNN Money reported that the unemployment rate in two categories—teens and those 16 to 24—declined more than half during the Obama administration.
For Black teens, the unemployment rate reached a high of 48.9 percent in Sept. 2010. For job seekers 16 to 24, the unemployment rate spiked to 32.5 percent in Jan. 2010. While still high, the jobless rates dropped this year to 23.3 percent and 14.5 percent, respectively.

Healthcare
Access to health care improved significantly for African-Americans, thanks of course to President Obama’s signature policy, the Affordable Care Act. According to White House.gov, since open enrollment in 2013, more than 3 million uninsured African-Americans obtained coverage, reducing the percentage of Blacks who lack health care by more than half during the Obama presidency.