June 27, 2013
By Kenneth Miller
Assistant Managing Editor
The landmark legislation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been dealt a severe blow by the nation’s highest court forty-eight years after it was enacted, sparking outrage from the president, Black elected officials on Capitol Hill to Blacks leading the nation’s oldest civil rights organizations.
“I am deeply troubled by the Supreme Court decision striking critical protections within the Voting Rights Act. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court struck Section 4, a provision which outlines the formula federal officials have used to determine which states must clear new voting laws with the Department of Justice. This decision ignores the persistence of discrimination in voting and weakens a vital tool that has protected the right to vote for all Americans for nearly 50 years,” voiced Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-43).
President Obama, whose historical victory in 2008 was cited in the ruling, was equally disappointed.
“I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today. For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act - enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress - has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans. Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent,” he said in a recently released statement.
“As a nation, we’ve made a great deal of progress towards guaranteeing every American the right to vote. But, as the Supreme Court recognized, voting discrimination still exists. And while this decision is a setback, it doesn’t represent the end of our efforts to end voting discrimination. I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls. My administration will continue to do everything in its power to ensure a fair and equal voting process.”
Said Congresswoman Karen Bass, one of the president’s most avid supporters throughout his term, “The Supreme Court’s decision is an outrage that will only give legal cover to those who have been vigorously committed to undermining the rights of people of color to vote. It is simply incomprehensible and a slap in the face to people of color to think that the court would open the door to even more discriminatory behavior by gutting a key provision of the Civil Rights Act which has traditionally served as a critical check on these types of antics.
“It’s hard to find the legal rationale for such a decision so we are left to conclude that the court isn’t interested in justice for all Americans and would rather force a conservative ideological agenda at the expense of protecting the voting rights of people of color. Congress must now act and pass legislation to ensure the right to vote is protected for every American and it is up to the people of this country to rise up and make sure that Washington does its job and protects their rights as American citizens...”
“I strongly disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling to limit the Voting Rights Act,” said Senator Diane Feinstein.
“The law successfully countered a century of aggressive limitations on minority voting. I believe Congress should move quickly to introduce new legislation to preserver voting rights for all Americans.”
Senator Barbara Boxer also weighed in stating, “The Supreme Court’s decision flies in the face of the clear evidence we continue to see of efforts to suppress the vote in minority communities across the country. It is devastating that the Court’s conservative majority would strike down a central provision of the law that has protected the voting rights of all Americans for nearly a half century, and was reauthorized by Congress almost unanimously just seven years ago. I’ll be working with my Senate colleagues to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act to ensure that every American can participate fully in our democracy.”
“The Supreme Court’s decision this morning is deeply disappointing and a devastating blow to the preservation of voter rights and protections,” added Congresswoman Janice Hahn.
“The Voting Rights Act has proven to be critical time and time again in protecting the right to vote, free from discrimination. I wish that the Voting Rights Act was no longer necessary, but the fact is, this persistent discrimination is not a thing of the past. We have seen far too many cases, in just the last election, of efforts to block fellow Americans from casting a ballot.”
Speared by defiant conservative and Reagan appointee Associate Justice Antonin Gregory Scalia, the new ruling will free 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.
Los Angeles NAACP President Leon Jenkins blasted the court.
“Just because the court rules something doesn’t make it right. For the Supreme Court to say that the Act is outdated and unnecessary, it’s just not true. A good example would be... let’s take last year’s election when Barack Obama ran. An African American was poised to win the election for the mayor’s race, I believe it was in Alabama and they cancelled the election,” said Jenkins.
“Let’s take Florida. The only reason they moved Sunday voting is because that’s when black people went to the polls. These are blatant attempts to control the Black vote.”
States that are covered by Section 4 include: Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, South Carolina and Virginia. Certain counties in California, Michigan, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota are also covered.
The Voting Rights Act was created to protect disenfranchised Blacks, mostly in the South who endured unfair voter tests given to them by the state.
“Look at the redistricting in Texas,” Jenkins continued.
“They got five new seats. Those new seats were a result of the rise in population of Hispanics and African Americans. When they redid those seats, they ended up giving African Americans and Hispanics just two out of five of those seats and they kept the others for themselves (white conservatives). They went through surgical maneuvering in order to put minorities in one or two districts.”
In 2006, the Voting Rights Act was renewed with amendments and after similar concerns arose in 2009, but Congress did nothing.
The Voting Rights Act was instrumental in the federal court blocking voter ID laws in both Texas and South Carolina because of the effect it would have on minority voters. South Carolina’s voter ID laws were later approved after an agreement was made to lessen its effect on minority voters. The court also blocked early-voting laws in Florida that tried to limit early-voting days to almost half as many days. Because of the statistic that African Americans were more likely to vote early than Whites, the limitation was struck down.
According to statistics provided by the NAACP, 362 restrictive bills that were introduced in 2011 and 180 restrictive bills in 2012 would restrict the number of people that were able to vote nationwide. These statistics were important to show the need of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act and to paint a picture of how it will be without that formula.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act does still exist, but according to Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote for the majority, “In practice, the other section of the law - Section 5 - is dormant.” Chief Justice also wrote that striking down Section 4 “in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in [Section] 2. We issue no holding on [Section] 5 itself, only on the coverage formula. Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions.”
Twenty-four year old Sentinel intern Shonassee Shaver remembers that historical election of 2008 and how it impacted her life.
“It was the first time I participated in the voting process, Barack Obama versus John McCain. The lines were long and people where in a frenzy about the opportunity to elect the first Black president,” Shaver said.
“I know now that I participated in history, but my immediate concern is for those who may not have the same opportunity after the Supreme Court ruling.”
“According to a recent Census Bureau report in 2012, African-Americans voted at a higher rate (66.2 percent) than non-Hispanic Whites (64.1 percent) for the first time since the Census Bureau started publishing voting rates by eligible citizenship population in 1996. These gains can be attributed to the many activists and public officials who mobilized their communities to push back against stringent voter suppression laws that were being adopted in Republican-led state legislatures across the country. These policies and measures included voting restrictions effecting college voters, the elderly, and ex-felons,” added Rep. Waters.
Rep. Waters pointed to 2006, “I was proud to join an overwhelming majority of both Democrats and Republicans who recognized that protecting the fundamental right to vote remains an urgent priority. Counting the votes in both the House of Representatives and the United States Senate, Congress voted by a margin of 488-33 to reauthorize the provisions of the Voting Rights Act that the court struck down. The conservative majority of the Supreme Court decided that its five votes outweighed the voice and the will of the American people.
“This decision requires that Congress act swiftly and with urgency to protect voters and address the persistent threat of voter discrimination. Despite partisan gridlock in Congress, we proved in 2006 that protecting the right to vote is a bipartisan goal. I am committed to working with my colleagues to ensure that the right to vote remains a reality for everyone.”
Nicole Williams contributed to this report.
June 20, 2013
By JASON STRAZIUSO
In tweets, songs, telephone calls, cards and more, messages of love have come from across South Africa and the world for 94-year-old Nelson Mandela, giving the family comfort and hope as he remains hospitalized in serious condition with a lung infection, his wife said Monday June 17.
One of Mandela's daughters, Zenani Dlamini, gave what appeared to be the most positive update yet on his situation as she looked at well-wishers’ cards hanging outside the hospital.
“He’s doing very well,” she told reporters without giving any more details.
As the anti-apartheid hero spent a 10th day in the hospital, Graca Machel expressed the family’s gratitude for the support “from South Africans, Africans across the continent, and thousands more from across the world ... to lighten the burden of anxiety; bringing us love, comfort and hope.”
Machel already has experienced the loss of a husband. Mozambican President Samora Machel, her first husband, died in a plane crash in 1986. Machel and Mandela married in 1998, marking Mandela's third marriage and her second.
People have carried “get well soon” placards outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria where Mandela is being treated. They have prayed for him in churches across this nation of roughly 50 million. Schoolchildren have come to his home in Johannesburg to sing. Even though he was not there to hear them, the voices gave solace to his family, she said.
“The messages have come by letter, by SMS, by phone, by Twitter, by Facebook, by email, cards, flowers and the human voice, in particular the voices of children in schools or singing outside our home,” Machel said in a statement. “We have felt the closeness of the world and the deepest meaning of strength and peace.”
President Jacob Zuma said on Sunday June 16 that Mandela remains in serious condition but that his doctors are seeing sustained improvements. Zuma also said that Mandela is engaging with family during visits.
The leader of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, Mandela spent 27 years in prison during white racist rule. He is vulnerable to respiratory problems since contracting tuberculosis during his long imprisonment. The bulk of that period was spent on Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town where Mandela and other prisoners toiled in a dusty stone quarry.
He was freed in 1990 and became South Africa’s first black president in 1994. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate divorced his second wife, Winnie, in 1996. However in recent years she has joined him and Machel at family events. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has been a frequent visitor to Mandela during his latest hospitalization. This marks Mandela’s fourth hospital stay since December.
Mandela “once said: ‘What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made in the lives of others,’” Machel said. “I have thought of his words on each occasion the world stood with him, making a difference to him, in his healing.”
June 20, 2013
By TRENTON DANIEL
The hardship of hunger abounds amid the stone homes and teepee-like huts in the mountains along Haiti's southern coast.
The hair on broomstick-thin children has turned patchy and orangish, their stomachs have ballooned to the size of their heads and many look half their age — the telltale signs of malnutrition.
Mabriole town official Geneus Lissage fears that death is imminent for these children if Haitian authorities and humanitarian workers don't do more to stem the hunger problems.
"They will be counting bodies," Lissage said, "because malnutrition is ravaging children, youngsters and babies."
Three years after an earthquake killed hundreds of thousands and international donors promised to help Haiti "build back better," hunger is worse than ever. Despite billions of dollars from around the world pledged toward rebuilding efforts, the country's food problems underscore just how vulnerable its 10 million people remain.
In 1997 some 1.2 million Haitians didn't have enough food to eat. A decade later the number had more than doubled. Today, that figure is 6.7 million, or a staggering 67 percent of the population that goes without food some days, can't afford a balanced diet or has limited access to food, according to surveys by the government's National Coordination of Food Security. As many as 1.5 million of those face malnutrition and other hunger-related problems.
"This is scandalous. This should not be," said Claude Beauboeuf, a Haitian economist and sometime consultant to relief groups. "But I'm not surprised, because some of the people in the slums eat once every two days."
Much of the crisis stems from too little rain, and then too much. A drought last year destroyed key crops, followed by flooding caused by the outer bands of Tropical Storm Isaac and Hurricane Sandy.
Haiti has had similarly destructive storms over the past decade, and scientists say they expect to see more as global climate change provokes severe weather systems.
Klaus Eberwein, general director of the government's Economic and Social Assistance Fund, said: "We are really trying our best. It's not like we're sitting here and not working on it. We have limited resources."
He attributed Haiti's current hunger woes to "decades of bad political decisions" and, more recently, to last year's storms and drought. "Hunger is not new in Haiti," Eberwein said. "You can't address the hunger situation in one year, two years."
In the village of Mabriole, Marie Jean, a 33-year-old mother of six, looked helpless as her naked son Dieufort sat cross-legged in the dirt, a metal spoon in hand that was more toy than tool. The 5-year-old boy barely looked 3, his gaze unfocused and glassy eyes lifeless. His stomach was distended.
Jean said she lost 10 goats and several chickens to Isaac. The goats could have sold for about $17 apiece, the poultry for about $2.80. She could have used the animals for food or the money to hold her over until the new harvest season.
"You depend on this, because it's all you have," Jean said.
Many people have been forced to buy on credit, or look for the cheapest food available while eating smaller and fewer portions. Some families have asked relatives to take care of their children, or handed them over to orphanages so they have one less mouth to feed, humanitarian workers say.
Political decisions already had hurt the ability of Haitian farmers to feed the country. One example: Prodded by the U.S. government, Haiti cut tariffs on imported U.S. rice, driving many locals out of the market.
Eighty percent of Haiti's rice — and half of all its food — is imported now. Three decades ago, Haiti imported only 19 percent of its food and produced enough rice to export. Factories built in the capital at the same time did little to help: They led farmers to abandon their fields in the countryside in hope of higher wages.
At the same time, Haiti has lost almost all of its forest cover as desperately poor Haitians chop down trees to make charcoal. The widespread deforestation does little to contain heavy rainfall or yield crop-producing soil.
With so much depending on imports, meals are becoming less affordable as the value of Haiti's currency depreciates against the U.S. dollar. Haiti's minimum wage is 200 gourdes a day. Late last year, that salary was equivalent to about $4.75; today it's about $4.54 — a small difference that makes a big strain on the Haitian budget.
One hard-hit area is Ganthier, an arid stretch between the dense capital of Port-au-Prince and the Dominican border a few miles (kilometers) to the east. It's among 44 areas identified by the government as "food insecure," meaning too many tables are bare.
Here, villagers tell of an elusive rainfall that stymied crop production and then the hurricane that followed.
"That is when the misery began," said pastor Estephen Sainvileun, 63, as he sat with friends in the shade of a rare tree.
Hurricane Sandy ravaged the bean crops, leaving a three-month gap until the harvest resumed in December. With no beans to sell, farmers couldn't buy rice, corn or vegetable oil.
"Some people eat by miracle," said Falide Cerve, 51, a part-time merchant and single mother of five.
That has hurt education, too. The Ganthier schoolhouse, with its tin walls and dirt floor, can hold 100 students, but only 43 enrolled. The children are too hungry to learn.
"They're too distracted, and I have to send them home," said Sainvileun, the pastor who runs the tiny schoolhouse.
Especially hurt are children in Haiti's hard-to-reach villages. Directly south of Ganthier is one of the most remote zones in Haiti. The area is one of craggy mountains, the highest in the country at 8,772 feet (2,674 meters). Only the sturdiest off-road vehicles can climb the steep, twisting and rocky roads.
Some villages, such as Anse-a-Boeuf on the southeastern coast, are solely accessible by foot or donkey.
On a recent oven-hot afternoon, a team of Associated Press journalists hiked down a hill, past a thicket of mangroves and into the beachside hamlet. They found several dozen children waddling among the wood huts with the usual signs of malnutrition.
"This child is not malnourished," insisted 45-year-old grandmother Elude Jeudy as she held in her arms 2-year-old Jerydson, naked and crying, too frail to stand a few minutes earlier. "I feed him."
The mother had left the little boy so she could find work in Belle Anse, a nearby village on the ocean.
Neighbor Wilner Fleurimond added: "People shouldn't be living like this."
Villagers say they vote for people they hope will improve their lives but in the end find disappointment.
"We vote for the deputy we know and nothing works," Fleurimond fumed. "We vote for the deputy we don't know and nothing works."
Shortly after taking office, President Michel Martelly launched a nationwide program led by his wife, Sophia, called Aba Grangou, Creole for "end hunger." Financed with $30 million from Venezuela's PetroCaribe fund, the program aims to halve the number of people who are hungry in Haiti by 2016 and eradicate hunger and malnutrition altogether by 2025. Some 2.2 million children are supposed to take part in a school food program financed by the fund.
Eberwein, whose government agency oversees Aba Grangou, said 60,000 mothers have received cash transfers for keeping their children in school. A half million food kits were distributed after Hurricane Sandy, along with 45,000 seed kits to replenish damaged crops, he said. Mid- to long-term solutions require creating jobs.
But the villagers in the Belle Anse area say they've seen scant evidence of the program, as if officials have forgotten the deaths in 2008 of at least 26 severely malnourished children in this very region. That same year, the government collapsed after soaring food prices triggered riots.
USAID has allocated nearly $20 million to international aid groups to focus on food problems since Hurricane Sandy, but villagers in southern Haiti said they have seen little evidence of that.
Despite the discrepancy, one public health expert said there's sufficient proof that at least some of the aid is reaching the population. Were it not, Richard Garfield said, Haiti would see mass migration and unrest.
"Overall aid has gotten to people pretty well. If aid hadn't gotten to people that place would be so much more of a mess," said Garfield, a professor emeritus at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and now a specialist in emergency response at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "You'd see starvation and riots ... The absence of terrible things is about the best positive thing that we can say."
Government officials concede that not all of the 44 areas have received food kits and other goods as part of the Aba Grangou program.
"It hasn't arrived here yet. It's nothing but rhetoric," said Jean-Marc Tata, a math and French teacher and father of two who lives in Mabriole.
His 18-month-old son's hair began to turn orange after Tropical Storm Isaac knocked down trees, chewed up crops and killed livestock, leaving the family with little to eat.
"We had beans that were ready to pick but everything was lost. This has been a major cause of malnutrition," Tata said in a courtyard ringed with stone homes.
Tata said he had given his son a cup of coffee with a bit of bread, his only meal so far that day as dusk began to fall. The day before: a single bowl of oatmeal.
Haiti in general and the mountain villages in particular have long suffered from chronic hunger. Child malnutrition rates have been high for years. The United Nations' World Food Program reports that nearly a quarter of Haiti's children suffer from malnutrition, though the figure is higher in places such as Guatemala and the Sahel region in Africa.
Isolation doesn't help. A doctor in Belle Anse said his hospital has treated five children who were diagnosed with malnutrition this year. He said more parents would come if they could afford transportation and hospital fees, or take away time from work to make the journey on foot.
"The future is really threatened here," Tata said. "Our life is really threatened here."
Associated Press videographer Pierre-Richard Luxama contributed to this report.
June 20, 2013
By ANGELA DELLI SANTI
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — In an accelerated election for a new U.S. senator from New Jersey, the Democratic field is Cory Booker vs. everyone else.
The Newark mayor’s name recognition and deep-pocketed pals would give him an advantage in any statewide race. But the charismatic Booker — who clearly has national political ambitions and has spent significant time raising his profile on social media and giving speeches around the country — may be more familiar to talk show viewers than to New Jersey voters. His ride to Washington got bumpier when the election was moved up a year because of Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s death this month.
Booker, 44, hasn’t raised as much money as he hoped. He hasn't finished his second term in Newark, something he promised to do when he decided not to challenge Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election bid. And he didn't have time to try to discourage other Democrats from competing against him in a party primary.
Booker is still the odds-on favorite to win the Aug. 13 primary, which is akin to coronation because a Republican hasn’t held the seat for more than 40 years. One recent poll had him up by 40 points among other Democrats. It also showed him well ahead of the likely Republican challenger, former Americans for Prosperity state director Steve Lonegan, in the Oct. 16 general election, which will settle the seat for a year.
As few as 200,000 voters could decide the outcome, an anticipated turnout so low it adds to the uncertainty.
It’s almost certain that Booker, a Stanford graduate and Rhodes scholar who grew up in the New York suburb of Harington Park, N.J., will be criticized during the primary for his fast-paced ambitions. One opponent, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, offered a glimpse of what is to come by proclaiming, “I don’t bring a sense of entitlement” to the race. Oliver, who like Booker is black and from Essex County, could peel away minority and female votes that would otherwise go to Booker.
The two others in the race, Rep. Frank Pallone, a 24-year veteran of Congress with deep ties to organized labor, and Rep. Rush Holt, an astrophysicist and son of a former senator, both have voting records more liberal than Booker’s. Additionally, the powerful public teachers union could come out against him because of his push for charter schools, school vouchers and other urban education reforms the union opposes.
Booker’s mere entry into this race meant backpedaling on his publicly stated intent to finish his second term as mayor of New Jersey's largest city, which expires next June. Asked about the turnabout during his campaign kickoff at a downtown dot-com, Booker acknowledged that his campaign plans had been upended.
“The reality is we have put so much into the pipeline here in Newark,” he said. “The momentum is clear. There is about $1 billion worth of development projects rolling into the city. As much as you might think I am necessary to complete those projects, this momentum will continue, and I will continue to be a part of it.”
Though he swears his allegiance to his adopted city, critics say he cares more about building his national brand than fixing the city’s systemic problems of crime and joblessness.
“Our infamous name for him is ‘Mayor Hollywood,’ because he's never here,” said Newark community activist Donna Jackson. “Or we call him ‘Story Looker,’ because every time you look around, he has another story.”
Critics see the rescue of a woman from a burning house and subsequent tweets about the experience (he has 1.4 million Twitter followers) as self-promotional, and say his investment in the downtown has come at the expense of neighborhoods where blight and crime persist. Critics say his trip to California the day after announcing his Senate candidacy for a fundraiser hosted by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is more evidence that he has already put Newark, and New Jersey, in his rearview mirror.
Supporters say Booker has reinvigorated the city.
He has attracted hundreds of millions in philanthropic money — including a $100 million grant from Zuckerberg to improve city schools — cleaned up parks and revitalized a once-moribund downtown that now boasts Panasonic’s headquarters, a sparkling new hotel, loft apartments with exposed brick walls, and increased commerce, including a trendy restaurant specializing in gourmet mac and cheese.
Don Katz, founder and CEO of Audible.com, an audiobook producer and Amazon subsidiary that relocated its headquarters to Newark six years ago, sees a vibrant city that abounds with cultural, culinary and entertainment options, and says he has never regretted moving the company from suburban Wayne to urban Newark.
He said he found Booker to be “an incredibly articulate visionary” whose ideas for urban transformation through the political system resonated with Katz. Both are also like-minded on school reform; among Katz’s 600 employees in Newark are interns and graduates of Newark charter schools.
Booker is aware of his detractors but is undeterred by them, beginning with former Mayor Sharpe James, who won re-election against the up-and-coming-councilman in 2002 after a bruising battle documented in the Academy Award-nominated documentary “Street Fight.”
“I’ve heard it,” he said, “too much Twitter from the mayor, too much exposure. There’s not a criticism I haven’t heard over the years. I’ve heard it all. But there’s one thing everyone has to admit about my life as a professional, from my days working in housing high-rises here in Newark as a tenants’ rights attorney to my time as mayor, is that I do not run from challenges. I run toward them.”
June 20, 2013
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday handed down decisions in five cases and agreed to hear two important appeals in the fall. Among the court’s actions:
— Struck down, by a 7-2 vote, Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship law that asks would-be voters for additional documentation before allowing them to register using a federal form designed to make signing up easier.
— Ruled 5-3 that agreements between the makers of name-brand and generic drugs to delay the generics’ availability can be illegal, an outcome cheered by consumer groups.
— Held 5-4 that prosecutors in some instances may use a suspect’s silence at an early stage of a criminal investigation against him — before the suspect has been arrested or informed of his constitutional rights.
— Agreed to decide in its next term a new dispute involving race, whether federal housing law requires proof of intentional discrimination.
— Decided 5-4 that judges may not increase mandatory minimum prison terms when sentencing defendants unless the facts justifying the increase have been found by a jury.
— Barred lawyers, in another 5-4 ruling, from obtaining state driver license records to recruit clients, saying the practice is prohibited by a federal law aimed at shielding motor vehicle information.
— Said it would review a state court ruling upholding a $1.24 million defamation judgment against a Wisconsin airline that reported one of its pilots was potentially dangerous, despite a post-9/11 law that encourages airlines to report potential safety threats to federal officials.