Shackled no more: Justice for Juana

From the Restore Fairness blog-

We’re pleased to announce that the Nashville, TN Sheriff’s office has been found guilty of violating the Constitutional rights of Juana Villegas, a pregnant immigrant woman who was inhumanely shackled during labor and denied proper treatment after a traffic stop, of which she was later cleared.

Back in 2008, through documentary and our interactive experience, Homeland Guantanamos, we put a face to Juana Villegas’s story. Because of an agreement between local police and federal immigration authorities, called 287g, she was picked up, detained and shackled during labor. She was not allowed to use a breast pump to nurse her newborn child. Villegas said, “The nurse brought me a breast pump… she asked permission for me to take it to jail… again the sheriff said, no.”

Our friends at Colorlines wrote about this historic verdict and about the nationwide effort against shackling incarcerated women while they’re in labor. From Colorlines-

In 2009, former New York Governor David Paterson signed a bill to outlaw the practice. Former California Governor Arnold Swarzenegger vetoed a similar measure. According to the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, so far only ten states have legislation regulating the use of restraints on pregnant women. Because of the criticism that has stemmed from her case, the sheriff’s office has changed its policy such that “pregnant women are shackled only during transport if there is a credible threat that they may try to escape.

Watch our first interview with Juana here.

While she has won the case, Juana Villegas faces the threat of deportation once again as the U.S. 6th District Court of Appeals has denied a request that would allow her to stay. Villegas’s case sheds light on the grave injustices in our broken immigration system.  As we continue to tell these stories, in the hope of similar successes, we ask that you play our new Facebook game, America 2049, which weaves human rights issues into each week of game play. Next week, the game explores the struggles of Latino immigrants.

This ruling against the Nashville Sheriff’s office is a historic step. We will continue to tell stories, invite conversation, and inspire action that will help America move even further in the right direction.

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

 

 

 

Tax day, Passover week: labor, migration & justice, now...and in 2049

From our Restore Fairness blog-

On this year’s Tax Day that has just passed, several organizations including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), MoveOn, Daily Kos and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) joined forces for ‘Tax Day: Make Them Pay.’ The groups organized peaceful protests around the country outside the offices of big corporations and millionaires that have evaded paying taxes for last year, mostly due to government-mandated tax breaks. According to the site, “In 2009, after helping crash the American economy, Bank of America paid $0 in taxes. GE had a tax bill of $0 in 2010. Republicans want to give a $50 billion tax bailout to big oil companies…” These protests came at the heels of news that corporations such as General Electric paid no federal taxes in 2010, something that has infuriated the millions of workers around the country who work hard and are expected to dutifully pay their taxes on time.

The tax break issue is the latest in a series of developments that have recently charged the country’s politics around the issues of immigration and labor rights, with them coming together in the case of migrant workers. Last month, the country witnessed a major standoff in the Wisconsin state government between Governor Scott Walker (and his Republican-led state assembly) and thousands of labor groups and workers in the state as the Governor pledged to enact a bill to severely curtail collective bargaining. After three weeks of fierce debates, Gov. Walker managed to push the bill through. The Ohio state assembly soon followed suit, with other states such as Tennessee and Iowa heading in a similar direction. This steady erosion of worker rights presents an increasing risk not just to the economy of this country but also to its social fabric. It also echoes a past where worker rights were often ignored, especially in the case of immigrant workers.

Last month, several labor groups and organizations marked the centennial anniversary of an incident that highlights the lack of protection of workers – the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of March 28, 1911, in which 146 mostly immigrant workers died. To mark the centenary of the tragedy, many labor rights groups amplified their push for pro-labor rights legislation to challenge the spate of anti-union labor bills that were passed recently. The 1911 tragedy brings to light the plight of immigrant workers and the exploitation that still continues today. At a rally commemorating the tragedy, one union member, Walfre Merida, described the similarities between the condition of migrant workers today and those that perished in the fire a hundred years ago. Merida stated-

I see that a hundred years since this terrible accident that killed so many people, things have really not changed at all…Safety conditions, none. Grab your tool and go to work, no more. And do not stop. When we worked in high places, on roofs, we never used harnesses, one became accustomed to the dangers and thanked God we weren’t afraid of heights. One would risk his life out of necessity.

As stories of worker rights violations continue to proliferate, we must take heed from our past mistakes in order to avoid a degradation of these conditions in the future. This week – just as Jews around the world gather at the Passover table to recount their liberation from migrant slave labor in Egypt – Breakthrough’s Facebook game, America 2049, immerses players into discussions around labor rights, especially with regards to the rights of immigrant workers. The game utilizes several events and artifacts from the past to highlight the continued struggles of migrant workers in the United States. In the game’s world in which everyone has an embedded chip to mark their identity, players are given the mission to investigate a counterfeiting ring that helps indentured workers – primarily immigrants, though also citizens who have succumbed to crushing credit debt – to escape their unjust contracts and inhumane living conditions, and begin new lives. The game references the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire as a lesson from the past about the respect and rightful treatment of workers. It also suggests a future that is even bleaker because we as a country have failed to recognize the importance of immigrant workers and worker rights to the success of the country as a whole.

Watch a testimonial by a character in the game, Ziyad Youssef, a Syrian man who was lured into a job with promises of good pay and easy hours, but found himself in slavery-like conditions, unable to look after his sick daughter or provide basic amenities to his family:

The United States is currently grappling with an issue that will inevitably affect our national economy and social conditions in the years to come. The denial of legitimacy and basic rights to immigrant workers will only hamper the nation’s growth on the world stage. In a special report on global migration published in 2008, The Economist argued for the widespread acceptance of migrant workers by the richer countries that so desperately need them. Speaking about the United States, the report stated-

Around a third of the Americans who won Nobel prizes in physics in the past seven years were born abroad. About 40% of science and engineering PhDs working in America are immigrants. Around a third of Silicon Valley companies were started by Indians and Chinese. The low-skilled are needed too, especially in farming, services and care for children and the elderly. It is no coincidence that countries that welcome immigrants—such as Sweden, Ireland, America and Britain—have better economic records than those that shun them…Americans object to the presence of around 12m illegal migrant workers in a country with high rates of legal migration. But given the American economy’s reliance on them, it is not just futile but also foolish to build taller fences to keep them out.

Players in America 2049 will discover valuable artifacts from our country’s past that highlight an ongoing struggle for worker rights and have the agency to join the discussion and save the country’s future from the dystopic scenario the game depicts. One of the artifacts in the game is a poem titled ‘A Song for Many Movements,’ written in 1982 by Audre Lord, a black feminist lesbian poet. The poem articulates the connection between suffering and speaking out against injustices, which is what the workers rights protests around the country have been doing and which we must keep advocating until real change is made-

Broken down gods survive
in the crevasses and mudpots
of every beleaguered city
where it is obvious
there are too many bodies
to cart to the ovens
or gallows
and our uses have become
more important than our silence
after the fall
too many empty cases
of blood to bury or burn
there will be no body left
to listen
and our labor
has become more important
than our silence.

Our labor has become
more important
than our silence.

 

 

The Rise and Fall of the South Carolina Democratic Party

In my research on South Carolina’s 2010 gubernatorial election, I came upon a fascinating chart. The chart describes the number of Democrats and Republican in South Carolina’s State House of Representatives from the Civil War to the present day. The data offers a fascinating story of the Democratic Party in South Carolina, and the Deep South in general.

Here is the story:

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Most individuals familiar with politics know the history of the Deep South: it seceded from the Union after President Abraham Lincoln was elected. In the resulting Civil War, it fought the hardest and suffered the most against Union forces.

Victorious Union forces were identified with the hated Republican Party, founded with the explicit goal of destroying the southern way of life by ending slavery.

Under military Union rule, the Republican Party flourished in South Carolina:

 

 

Link to Graph of South Carolina State House of Representatives, Reconstruction

 

The Republican Party was the dominant political force during the Reconstruction era, as the graph above shows. During its reign in power, it enjoyed large majorities in the State House of Representatives. Its political base was the black vote, and it attempted to systemically ensure racial equality for blacks and whites. A number of blacks were elected to state and federal office; it’s probable that many of the Republicans in the State House of Representatives were black.

This enraged whites in South Carolina. When President Rutherford Hayes ended Reconstruction and withdrew federal troops, they quickly gained control of South Carolina politics. The black vote was systemically crushed, and along with it the Republican Party.

This is reflected in the graph above. In 1874 there were 91 Republicans in the State House of Representatives. By 1878 there were only three left.

This led to the next stage of South Carolina politics, the Solid South:

 

 

Link to Graph of South Carolina State House of Representatives, Solid South Era

 

Unfortunately, Wikipedia does not have data after 1880 and before 1902. After 1902, however, Democrats enjoyed literally absolute control of the State House of Representatives. For more than half-a-century, not a single Republican in South Carolina was elected to the State House of Representatives. Democrats regularly won over 95% of the popular vote in presidential elections.

That’s a record on par with that of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union.

There are several reasons why this occurred. Democrats in South Carolina were strongest of all the Deep South states, because blacks were the majority of the population. Only Mississippi at the time also had a black-majority population.

This meant that in free and fair elections, blacks would actually have control of South Carolina politics. If a free and fair election took place in another Southern states, the Democratic Party would still probably have maintained power – since whites were a majority of the population. In fact, this is what happens in the South today, except that the roles of the two parties are switched.

This was not the case with South Carolina, and party elites were profoundly aware and afraid of this. Therefore the grip of the Democratic Party was tightest in South Carolina, of all the Solid South (South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union for the same reason). Other Solid South states had more than zero Republicans in the state legislature. Republican presidential candidates might gain 20-40% of the vote, rather than less than 5%.

In black-majority South Carolina, the Republican Party was a far greater potential threat – and so the Democratic Party was extraordinarily judicious in repressing it.

Racism was a useful tool for South Carolina Democrats, and they were very proud racists. Controversial South Carolina Governor and Senator Benjamin Tillman, for instance, once stated that:

I have three daughters, but, so help me God, I had rather find either one of them killed by a tiger or a bear and gather up her bones and bury them, conscious that she had died in the purity of her maidenhood by a black fiend. The wild beast would only obey the instinct of nature, and we would hunt him down and kill him just as soon as possible.

Another time he commented:

Great God, that this proud government, the richest, most powerful on the globe, should have been brought to so low a pass that a London Jew should have been appointed its receiver to have charge of the treasury.

This was the Democratic Party of South Carolina during the Solid South.

At the end of the graph, notice that there is a little dip, just after the year 1962. This was in 1964, when the first Republican in more than half-a-century was elected to the South Carolina State House of Representatives.

He was not the last:

 

Link to Graph of South Carolina State House of Representatives, Modern Era

 

 

The year 1964 marked the day that Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed through the 1964 Civil Rights Act, against enormous Southern Democratic opposition.

It also marked the beginning of the end of the South Carolina Democratic Party. The Democratic Party underwent a monumental shift, from a party of white elites to a party representing black interests. In the process South Carolina whites steadily began abandoning it.

At first the decline was gradual, as the graph shows. In 1980 there were 110 Democrats in the State House of Representatives and 14 Republicans. Throughout the 80s the Democratic majority steadily declined, but in 1992 there were still 84 Democrats to 40 Republicans.

Then came 1994 and the Gingrich Revolution. The seemingly large Democratic majority collapsed like the house-of-cards it was, as South Carolina whites finally started voting for Republican statewide candidates, decades after they started doing so for Republican presidential candidates. Republicans have retained control of the state chamber ever since.

Since then the Democratic Party has declined further in the State House of Representatives. As of 2010 the number of Democratic representatives is at a 134-year low. And the floor may not have been reached. There are still probably some conservative whites who vote Democratic statewide, when their political philosophy has far more in common with the Republican Party.

Nevertheless, the modern era in South Carolina politics is still shorter than the Solid South era. Here is the entire history of the State House of Representatives:

 

Link to Graph of South Carolina State House of Representatives, Total Time Period

 

It’s a fascinating graph, and it tells a lot about South Carolina and Deep South politics.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

Voter Registration Access Under Attack in Texas

Over the last several years, Texas has received extensive attention for its partisan-driven efforts to limit access to the democratic process. This year is no different in the Red state that features a Legislature that is fiercely pushing a controversial photo voter ID law and a voter ID-supportive governor who is also a rumored presidential hopeful. But Texas’ assault on democracy doesn’t just begin with voter ID, it starts with voter registration and the groups that facilitate voter registration between the citizen and the government.

Across the nation, an estimated 28 million citizens rely on community-based voter registration drives to register to vote for the first time or update their registration whenever they move.

According to the 2008 Current Population Survey, nine million citizens reported having registered through a “voter registration drive.” But, “This likely seriously undercounts the total impact of voter registration drives, however, as 9.4 million citizens…reported that they registered ‘at a school, hospital, or on campus’—all locations where voter registration drives are often conducted by civic organizations and student groups,” wrote Doug Hess and Jody Herman in Project Vote report, Representational Bias in the 2008 Electorate.

Another 9.7 million registered to vote through mail-in voter registration applications, many of whom presumably received these applications from voter registration drives or organizations that distributed the forms through the postal or electronic mail.

A number of these citizens are likely underrepresented young and low-income citizens who move more frequently and are required to update their registration more regularly.

However, since 2008, voter registration drives have been placed under an unprecedented amount of scrutiny and restriction that appears to be less about preventing voter registration fraud and more about simply erasing these drives—that millions of Americans rely upon—from existence.

Currently, the Texas House is considering overwrought, unsound bills that would do more harm than good. Rather than focusing on regulating the quality of registration cards submitted to the registrar, these bills focus on the community organization’s employment standards.

House bills 239, 1269, and 1270 would put onerous government regulations on voter registration drives’ ability to manage their own employees in the hiring and firing process. Poorly drafted, HB 239 attempts to prevent an employer from terminating an employee that fails to maintain a minimum standard of performance. In this case, it attempts to make it a felony to fire an employee because the employee does not collect a minimum number of applications. However, since that minimum could be one, the bill in effect requires an employer to continue to pay an employee who is so incompetent that he could not collect one application during a six-hour shift.

Unlike a reasonable rule to eliminate paying canvassers per application to prevent fraudulent activity,HB 239 stops employers from setting basic standards to ensure basic productivity. Further, the bill appears to give dishonest employees legal leverage: by making it a felony to fire an employee for not meeting standards, the government will be making it more difficult to fire any employee, even one suspected of fraud.

Adding to the counterproductive regulations on voter registration drives, HB 1269 and HB 1270 put arbitrary restrictions on who may be a deputy registrar, requiring them to be registered Texas residents, for example. These types of measures restrict the employee pool to the state of Texas only. For national groups that run these drives, this means the best workers in the country cannot be considered, debilitating the effectiveness of a drive.

None of these bills result in substantial benefits to the government that cannot be attained through cooperation with voter registration groups and the application of current laws. Applications submitted by voter registration drives are no more problematic than those from other sources: for example, rejection rates of applications submitted by Motor Vehicle Departments, Public Assistance Agencies, and other sources are often as high or higher than rejection rates from voter registration drives.

House Bills 239, 1269, and 1270 are unwise and counterproductive exercises of the legislative process. They should be soundly defeated, and then a serious dialogue about how to ensure honest and effective voter registration drives can begin.

Rand Paul’s Mr. Whipple Moment

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Whatthehellwerethosekentuckiansthinking), has a knack for the absurd. Politicians often talk sh*t, but Rand went off on a rant about toilets – and light bulbs, abortion, offshoring jobs, and the dangerous threat to society those inanimate objects represent…. at a hearing about energy efficiency standards for appliances.

I’d like to lay the whole story out, insane utterance by insane utterance, but I can’t understand it. For one thing, I’m not Charlie Sheening on angel dust nor am I Baghdad Bob. I’m just an average person who manages to get up and go to work each day and return home in relatively good physical and mental shape without having a toilet flush my right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and incandescant light bulbs as though I was a whole roll of the Mr. Whipple’s best.

I also have an IQ somewhere north of a stale donut and I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you do too.

As I read the story, I kept thinking there’s an asylum somewhere with a bed that has his name on it. I actually felt sorry for the addlebrained goob. I kept thinking, “That guy needs some help. Good thing his insurance doesn’t have a death panel requirement, because he’d be right up at the top of the euthanasia list.” I kept thinking there had to something I could do or say to bring him back to reality. And then it struck me!

Rand hates low-flow toilets because he has to flush them 10 times to get rid of that dump he took after his last hallucinogenic flight of fantasy. Eureka!

Rand, listen carefully. Go to your bathroom. Take off your shoes, put your feet in your underperforming toilet and FLUSH – 11 or 12 times if you have to and sooner or later the world’s biggest turd will just disappear down the drain.

I love it when I can help my fellow man.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

 

 

 

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