March 14, 2013
By Darlene Superville
Michelle Obama challenged America’s top CEOs on Wednesday to “think outside the box” and hire more veterans.
The first lady said that, while declines in overall unemployment are encouraging, joblessness among the 9/11 generation of veterans — those who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — is nearly two points higher than the national average, at 9.4 percent. She said that figure means that about 200,000 veterans don’t have jobs, not including their spouses and those who will return home after the U.S. ends its combat mission in Afghanistan.
Unemployment nationwide fell two-tenths of a point last month to 7.7 percent, its lowest level in more than four years.
Addressing a meeting of the Business Roundtable, which represents chief executive officers of the 200 largest U.S. corporations, Mrs. Obama said the “Joining Forces” campaign she launched two years ago with Jill Biden, the vice president's wife, to rally the country around its military members, has led businesses to hire or train more than 125,000 veterans and military spouses. The private sector also has pledged to hire or train 250,000 more veterans by the end of 2014.
But, the first lady said, “we’ve still got a lot more work to do.”
“Whether you’re in finance or technology or the food industry, every single one of you can ask yourselves that same question: ‘What more can we do?’” she said. “So today, I want to challenge all the members of the Business Roundtable to answer that question for your business.”
“Think outside the box, take real risks and work together to make big, bold commitments to hire our veterans and military spouses and help them reach their full potential within your companies. Show them that your business is there for them for the long haul,” the first lady said.
In challenging the CEOs, Mrs. Obama highlighted Wal-Mart’s pledge this year to hire more than 100,000 veterans in the next five years as part of its plan to help jumpstart the economy. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is the world’s largest retailer and biggest private employer in the U.S. with 1.4 million workers.
Wal-Mart also has made an open-ended commitment to hire any honorably discharged veteran who is still looking for a job a year after they leave the military and wants to work for the retailer.
Separately, UPS said Wednesday that it will hire more than 25,000 veterans over the next five years and commit more than 25,000 employee volunteer hours to helping veterans and the organizations that serve them.
In her remarks, Mrs. Obama disclosed that vice presidents and human resource professionals from Business Roundtable companies met with White House officials last week to talk about how to find people with the particular skills needed at their businesses.
March 14, 2013
By PETE YOST | Associated Press
The Justice Department's watchdog has concluded that deep ideological polarization in the department's voting rights section in both the Bush and Obama administrations fueled disputes that in some instances harmed the office's proper functioning. The department's inspector general said that on some occasions the disputes involved harassment of employees and managers.
Despite the polarization, the IG said its review did not substantiate claims of political or racial bias in decision-making.
The voting section reviews cases where the redrawing of district lines can change the composition of congressional delegations. It also reviews voter ID laws that can make it easier or more difficult to cast ballots in elections.
"We found that people on different sides of internal disputes about particular cases in the voting section have been quick to suspect those on the other side of partisan motivations, heightening the sense of polarization," said the IG's report. "The cycles of actions and reactions that we found resulted from this mistrust, were, in many instances, incompatible with the proper functioning of a component of the department."
The IG's report released Tuesday stemmed from the handling of a 2008 case in which the Justice Department sued two members of the New Black Panther Party, the NBPB's national chairman and the group itself. After the change in administrations, the Justice Department asked the court to dismiss the suit against three of the four defendants.
"The decision to dismiss three of the four defendants and to seek more narrowly tailored injunctive relief against the fourth was based on a good faith assessment of the law and facts of the case and had a reasonable basis," concluded the report by Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
March 14, 2013
By Jon Gambrell
Nigeria has pardoned the former political benefactor of the nation's president, a presidential adviser said Wednesday, a politician convicted of stealing millions of dollars while serving as a state governor.
The decision from a closed-door meeting Tuesday of the Council of State to pardon former Bayelsa state Gov. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha drew immediate outrage across Nigeria, an oil-rich nation long considered by analysts and activists to have one of the world's most corrupt governments.
While the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan repeatedly says it is fighting the entrenched system of graft that strangles Nigeria, the leader has shared stages before with convicted politicians. Meanwhile, the country's largely opaque budgets and loose regulatory controls continue to allow for hundreds of millions of dollars more to be stolen annually.
"It is the final nail that tells the story of fighting corruption in Nigeria today," said Nuhu Ribadu, a former police officer and corruption fighter who led the Alamieyeseigha case. "I'm really sad. I'm sad for my country."
Alamieyeseigha served as governor of Bayelsa state, in the heart of Nigeria's oil-producing southern delta, from the nation becoming a democracy in 1999 through 2005. He was arrested in London after more than $1 million in cash was found in his home there.
Alamieyeseigha escaped British authorities — Nigerian officials say he disguised himself as a woman — and fled to Nigeria, where he had immunity from prosecution while in office. He was then impeached and charged in Nigeria with illegally operating foreign accounts in London, Cyprus, Denmark and the United States. Investigators said he acquired property in Britain and Nigeria worth more than $10 million.
The disgraced governor later pleaded guilty. Alamieyeseigha's impeachment brought Jonathan, a little-known marine biologist who served as his deputy, into power. Jonathan as recently as a few weeks ago referred to Alamieyeseigha as "my boss" during an event in Lagos.
On Tuesday, the Council of State, comprised of current and former leaders, as well as retired chief justices, approved Alamieyeseigha's pardon, Doyin Okupe, an adviser to Jonathan, confirmed on Wednesday.
Okupe described the pardon as a group decision, though ultimately under Nigeria's constitution, only Jonathan has the power to grant it as president. The decision allows Alamieyeseigha to again serve in public office.
"It is like a parent, it is not every decision a parent takes that is palatable or acceptable to the children. But in due course, we always find out the parents were right," Okupe told private broadcaster Channels Television. "The man has been displaced from his office as governor, he was hounded and tried and jailed. ... What is eminently wrong, you know, in giving a remorseful sinner pardon?"
Okupe did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday from The Associated Press. Others pardoned Tuesday included Maj. Gen. Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, a former deputy in a military government detained by late dictator Sani Abacha and who later died in prison under mysterious circumstances.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, likely lost more than $380 billion to graft between 1960 and 1999, Ribadu once estimated while head of the country's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Meanwhile, just more than 60 percent of Nigerians earn the equivalent of less than $1 a day, according to a study published by the country's National Bureau of Statistics.
Ribadu, who served as the anti-corruption chief under the ruling People's Democratic Party and later ran as an opposition presidential candidate, said the pardon will make the nation's police question whether pursuing such cases in the future is even worthwhile
"There's not anything people can do anything to bring the people who are corrupt to justice," Ribadu told the AP. "It's a terrible development. I can't understand how leaders will sit down and come up with an unbelievable action like this."
March 14, 2013
By Thandisizwe Chimurenga
LAWT Contributing Writer
The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., was designated as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior on Mar. 11, 2013, acknowledging its symbolism which “… contributed to the introduction and passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, considered to be the single most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever passed by the US Congress.” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis made the announcement as the U.S. Supreme Court continues its deliberations in the case of Shelby [County, Alabama] v. [Eric] Holder, where a county in Alabama wants the court to rule that Section 5 of the Act is unnecessary and therefore, obsolete.
Section 5 of the Act requires that, prior to any elections, certain states, counties, parishes, etc., must submit proposed changes to their voting procedures to the U.S. Department of Justice or the Federal District Court in Washington, DC. Changing the locations of polling places or the hours that the polls will be open are two examples of the kinds of proposed changes that the counties and other jurisdictions would have to submit to the Justice Department or the Court. Known as “preclearance,” the procedure is to insure that the proposed changes will not violate the constitutional rights of any group of people to participate in free and fair elections.
At the time the Act was signed into law, preclearance focused on the states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia, and 40 counties in North Carolina. Later, in 1975, the states of Texas, Arizona, and Alaska were added to protect persons who were considered members of “minority language groups.”
The historic landmark designation of the Pettus Bridge also occurred just days after the culmination of activities marking the 48th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” the incident that occurred at the bridge that led President Lyndon Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law in August of that year.
During the height of organizing around African American access to the ballot in Alabama, Alabama State Troopers attacked a peaceful civil rights demonstration on the evening of Feb. 18, 1965, that was being held in Marion in the southwestern portion of the state. The troopers began beating and chasing the attendees when one young man named Jimmie Lee Jackson attempted to shield his mother and grandfather from the swings of a state trooper’s baton. Jackson was shot at point blank range by another trooper and died eight days later. Activists, including workers in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, were galvanized to confront the state over Jackson’s murder and the numerous legal and extra legal attempts to keep Black people from voting. A decision was made to march from Selma, a few miles South of Marion, to the state capitol in Montgomery. In order to get to Montgomery, marchers would have to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was initially in favor of the march but at the last moment, declined to endorse it, opting to wait for signs from Johnson that the federal government would do something to acknowledge and safeguard the voting rights of African Americans. The march was held anyway, on Mar. 7, 1965, with dozens of activists walking across the bridge that would take them over the Alabama River on their way to Montgomery.
At the foot of the bridge leading into Montgomery, state troopers blocked the marchers, ordering them to turn around and return to Selma. Though unarmed and peaceful, the marchers refused to retreat. The order was given to disperse the crowd and troopers, some on horseback, began beating the marchers with batons and chasing them back across the bridge into Selma. Future United States Congressman John Lewis was among the many marchers attacked that day suffering a severe head wound. And thus “Bloody Sunday,” as Mar. 7 came to be known, graphically visualized the lengths that white racism would go to keep African Americans from seeking to vote in the State of Alabama.
The Selma-to-Montgomery March is commemorated every year in Alabama by activists who once again cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge and head towards the state capitol. In light of the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case of Shelby v. Holder, civil rights attorney and co-founder of the annual commemoration Rose Sanders stated that this year’s activities were more than a commemoration; they were a protest march against the efforts of Alabama to repeal the Voting Rights Act. “The act is under attack,” said Sanders.
According to Sanders hundreds of marchers from eight of the states covered in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 participated as the march retraced the route into downtown Montgomery to the state capitol. Sanders said that a protest was necessary because of the current climate in the country.
“Especially after [President] Obama was elected, there was an increase in attacks on Black voting rights … history is repeating itself. This attack on the Voting Rights Act is a carefully designed effort to take us back; it’s happened before. The right [of Blacks] to vote was restored in 1965 after white terror had been unleashed [following the ratification of the] 15th amendment back in the late 1800s. They find ways to circumvent that gain, to maintain the white status quo … the election of a Black president, to the average Southerner was intolerable; goes against everything that white supremacy has taught them. It’s in blatant conflict with that principle,” said Sanders.
Francis Fox Piven’s 2008 work Keeping Down the Black Vote: Race and the Demobilization of American Voters, states that although women, immigrants, Jews, laborers and the poor have all had efforts directed towards restricting their right to vote, “The struggle of Black Americans to win the right to vote – not merely in law, but in reality – has been the most difficult.” Sanders says that the election of a Black president was the catalyst for what she calls “the Tea Baggers and the Wrong Wing movement (“not the ‘right wing’ “) to unleash a plethora of voting suppression laws and “attacks on immigrants and labor/unions, every institution that supports progressives and progressive elections.”
The crux of the Shelby County (Alabama) argument is that, when Congress renewed the Voting Rights Act in 2006, this time for 25 more years, the nation’s legislative body “overstepped its constitutional bounds.” Forcing the counties – and in effect the states – to submit to preclearance interferes with the rights of the various states to be “sovereign,” which is a long-running conflict between most Southern states and the federal government.
Lawyers for Shelby County argued before the Supreme Court that, if there were any attempts to interfere with and infringe upon the rights of African Americans and others to participate in elections, that interference was “scattered” and “limited,” and therefore, a measure as harsh as “preclearance” was unnecessary.
While the Supreme Court’s ruling on the matter is not expected for several months, Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the Court’s conservative members, wondered whether the law was being continually renewed because it was actually needed or because it was viewed as a racial entitlement that Congress was afraid to do away with. His remarks, uttered on the same day as Pres. Obama unveiled a statue of Civil Rights organizer Rosa Parks in the United States Capitol Building, were seen as offensive to many. South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the third-highest ranking Democrat in Congress and a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, told the Huffington Post that Scalia’s remarks were “rooted in the fact that he is ‘white and proud.’ ”
Monica Simpson is not buying Shelby County’s argument. Simpson is the Executive Director of SisterSong: Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. The Southern-based, national reproductive rights organization has scheduled a webinar for Mar. 28 as part of the current dialogue about the importance of the Voting Rights Act and in particular, how Section 5’s protections affect the rights of women.
“SisterSong became invested in discussing voter disenfranchisement after we experienced what we felt was a loss in Mississippi in 2011 when the personhood bill was defeated,” said Simpson. “That bill would have declared a fertilized egg a ‘person;’ it would have outlawed most contraception and in vitro fertilization, and it would have criminalized abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. And yet the Voter ID Initiative requiring government-issued identification in order to vote passed. It was a voter exclusion measure and a direct threat to the Voting Rights Act and it passed.”
Simpson says that while the voting rate of women of color in the U.S. has been increasing, the rights of women have remained steadily under attack with various state-based legislation efforts to restrict women’s reproductive rights.
“The decisions made around Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act will not only impact Black people, but all people of color – and especially women,” Simpson notes.
“With the fight for Medicaid expansion in the South, anti-abortion legislation popping up in record numbers, and the forced closure of most of the country’s abortion clinics, we need to make sure that every woman has the right to vote and is aware of the how important it is to vote for individuals that are committed to securing women’s rights.”