Category: Your Voice Written by Jesse Jackson
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the Voting Rights Act in the case of Shelby v. Holder. On the same day, across the street in the congressional rotunda, a statue honoring Rosa Parks will be unveiled. And one week later, the nation will celebrate the 48th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the march from Selma to Montgomery that helped spur President Johnson to champion the act.
The Voting Rights Act has helped fulfill the nation’s commitment to inclusion — to a big tent democracy that guarantees to all citizens the right to vote. Yet many fear that the right-wing “Gang of Five” on the Supreme Court will once more display their scorn for judicial restraint and strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires pre-clearance of any voting rules that might impinge on minority participation in states and counties with histories of racial discrimination.
President Obama and his Justice Department have defended the act unequivocally. In 2006, a Republican Congress reauthorized the act for 25 more years, after holding 21 hearings and amassing more than 15,000 pages of evidence on continuing voting discrimination in the covered districts. The margin was 98-0 in the Senate (including the senators from Alabama, Shelby County’s home state) and 390-33 in the House. The Justice Department reported that between 1982 and 2006, it had used Section 5 a total of 2,400 times to block discriminatory changes in voting rules. Republican President George W. Bush signed reauthorization into law. In the current case, Republican-appointed justices at the District Court and the Circuit Court levels voted to uphold the law. If the Gang of Five acts to overturn it, it will be an act of disgraceful judicial usurpation in a matter of extreme importance to our politics and our democracy.
The Voting Rights Act has been central to the transformation that is making America’s diversity a strength, rather than a liability.
Ironically, it is this very progress that is used to attack the act. Shelby County claims that the areas covered by Section 5 should not be under special scrutiny because things have changed. The election of Barack Obama is used as evidence.
The sad reality, of course, is that since Obama’s election, our politics have become more, not less, racially polarized. Obama’s “rising American electorate” is grounded on the rising participation of minorities (along with single women and the young). After 2008, a more-conservative, more-Southern and more-white Republican Party set out to constrict voting in ways that would discriminate against minorities.
For example, of the nine states covered in their entirety by Section 5, lawmakers in six have passed restrictive new voting laws since 2010. Texas had its harsh voter identification law overturned under Section 5. Florida’s effort to reduce voting hours in a way that would discriminate against minorities was blocked. South Carolina had to make changes in its new restrictive laws. Anyone paying attention knows that the Voting Rights Act is more, not less, vital as political parties and leaders struggle to adjust to the inclusion of growing Hispanic and Asian-American populations and the rising participation of African Americans.
When passed less than a half century ago, the Voting Rights Act marked the beginning of real democracy in the South. It has helped make America better, but its work is not done. That was the finding of the Republican Congress and the Republican president, the elected branches of government in 2006. It was the finding of the district and appellate courts in this case. If the rule of law means anything in this country, that will be the decision of the Supreme Court.
Keep up with Rev. Jackson and the work of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition at www.rainbowpush.org.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 08:15
Category: Your Voice Written by Phil Power
That’s my reaction to last week’s news that the state team charged with reviewing Detroit’s financial condition has unanimously concluded that a financial emergency exists in the city.
To quote them exactly: “…a financial emergency exists because no satisfactory plan exists within the City of Detroit to resolve a severe financial problem.”
That’s putting it mildly. The city’s cash shortfall is likely to hit $100 million by June. The deficit accumulated since 2005 mounts up to nearly a billion dollars. Detroit’s unfunded long term debt (mostly pension and other retirement benefits) is about $14 billion.
That comes to around $20,000 per city resident.
When General Motors went into bankruptcy in 2009, it had a staggering debt-to-asset ratio of 20 to 1. That meant for every dollar of assets GM had, the automaker owed $20 in debt.
Detroit’s debt-to-asset radio? It’s now 33 to 1.
Virtually everybody thinks the stage is now set for Governor Snyder to appoint an emergency financial manager. He technically has as long as 30 days after the declaration of financial emergency to make up his mind, but as State Treasurer Andy Dillon noted, the city is bleeding cash and doesn’t have much time.
The situation looked much the same back on April 4, 2012, when the Detroit City Council voted 5-4 to adopt a consent decree with the state that provided the Lansing with “the lightest possible touch” to get the city to sort out its financial problems.
The goal was to avoid a (then) dreaded emergency manager.
At that time, I wrote, “under the consent agreement as written, there is an awful lot of diffusion of power. … The long record of bad blood between Mayor Dave Bing and the City Council doesn’t encourage optimism that reaching agreement on anything will be easy.
“When you add the racial politics that have pervaded the relationships between Detroit, the suburbs and the state for decades, you have to worry the whole thing could come apart at the seams.”
Well, it did, indeed, but it sure took a long time and a ton of political posturing to do it. What’s fascinating to me is that the Detroit situation today is exhibiting the same strange slow-motion stumble that General Motors displayed just before it went bust in 2009.
I’m sure that’s because nobody – back then or now – really wants to face a bankruptcy. But, think. In the case of GM, it turned out a bankruptcy was exactly what the doctor ordered. My guess is that’s the same song they’ll be singing for Detroit’s financial future, but it’s going to require a second and a third verse:
The second verse will showcase an emergency financial manager to sort out the operating deficit and cash flow problems. That means the emergency manager will have to deal in a very tough way with the city’s various powerful unions and woefully inadequate tax collection system. Financial experts tell me that the issues here are more those of rigid and antiquated work rules, jurisdictional tangles and bad management than of wages
However, resolving the city’s operating deficit and cash flow problems isn’t going to deal with the enormous accumulated debt or the structural rigidity in the city charter that practically guarantees the expensive structure of city bureaucracy.
Frankly, I doubt even an empowered emergency financial manager is going to have the clout to get the city’s bond holders to take a “haircut” and force a rewrite of the city charter.
That will take a third verse of the Drama of Detroit song: The largest municipal bankruptcy in American history.
That sounds terrible. But if you look at the precedents set by GM and Chrysler, a structured bankruptcy is conceptually possible, financially sensible and politically acceptable. What exactly will be required to make manageable the city’s billions in unfunded long term liabilities will only gradually become clear.
Bottom line: An Emergency Financial Manager is a necessary temporary solution to Detroit’s problems, but it isn’t sufficient.
If we’re really going to make a thriving Detroit an essential part of a thriving state – something everybody wants – we’d better make sure we take a full dose of the bitter medicine and get the entire job done completely and not stop part way through.
That’s why this song, like most good ones, will wind up with three verses: 1) Consent Agreement 2) Emergency Financial Manager 3)Structured Bankruptcy.
After that, we have to hope for an upbeat finish -- and an ending happier than the first verse gave us any right to expect.
Last Updated on Monday, 25 February 2013 14:09
Category: Your Voice Written by Eddie Connor
A setback is only disguised as a setup for your comeback. You didn’t make it this far to
stay where you are, move forward. Every lesson is a blessing, preparing you for life’s
testing. You have the power to persevere. You may struggle, but there is strength within
to overcome. You can think positive in a negative situation.
We must especially inject the spirit of “I CAN” into the lives of young people. Many of
our youth are raised in fatherless homes and that much more are void of mentors. We
must teach our youth not to define themselves by what they have, but define
themselves by who they are. However, if we don’t teach them about true values and
purpose, their lives will be immersed in materialism rather than optimism.
If you don’t have Air Jordan’s, if you lose your friends, if you don’t have a million dollars,
do you still know who you are? So many people lose things and lose themselves too,
because they make the mistake of defining themselves by what they lack or gain.
Your situation does not define you, it’s how you handle the situation and overcome the
obstacle. Define yourself by how you handle what you go through. You’re alive not just
to survive, but to thrive. Transform your pain into power, your test into a testimony, and
your mess into a message.
The resilient spirit of a survivor will lead to success. Don’t be BITTER, things are going
to get BETTER. You are not a victim, you are victorious. You may be going through hell,
but keep going because victory is on the other side. In spite of the struggles you face,
God has given you the strength to overcome. Walk by faith and be determined to not
just go through, but GROW through every situation.
Last Updated on Monday, 25 February 2013 08:20
Category: Your Voice Written by Bill Johnson
There’s nothing in the state financial review report given to Gov. Rick Snyder last week to account for his gushing optimism that Detroit can be turned around now or in the foreseeable future.
In fact, pretending that Detroit doesn’t have irreparable structural problems is exactly the kind thinking that contributed to the city’s slide into an urban wasteland. The governor should acknowledge that the bubble has burst.
It’s important to understand the reasons behind this dire assessment. Detroit, after all, provides the best example that heavily taxed cities are abandonment prone.
The numbers don’t lie.
In 2011, city of Detroit coffers were almost $175 million short in property tax collections, which widened the gap between what the city spent and what it collected. On the other end of the chasm was an accumulated deficit of $327 million and a projected cash-flow shortfall of more than $100 million by June 30.
The rate of tax collections to taxes levied has been on a precipitous decline for decades. It’s estimated that less than 50 percent of the property tax bill is currently collected. That compares to a 1971 collection rate of 98.2 percent.
These delinquencies contribute to $14.9 billion in total debt, including unfunded pension and retirement liabilities. If the city cashed out today, its liabilities would exceed its assets. But a more immediate prospect is that the rating of city bonds will drop from their marginal investment grade to near-default status.
None of this is new or unexpected. The city has lost more than half its population since 1950 — from 1.85 million to just over 700,000 in 2010. Primarily owing to abandonments, Detroit has also lost more housing than it has built every year since 1960. Even today, homes are being abandoned, bulldozed or burned faster than the city can tear them down.
Some absentee landlords contribute to the vacated building inventory after properties no longer produce income and become unmarketable. Vandalism and arson whittle the value of these assets. Education dysfunction spawns more population flight, shrinking the pool of employed and responsible tenants. So unoccupied dwellings quickly become eyesores that further depress property values and add to an irreversible cycle.
Further damage to the tax rolls comes from Detroit’s several versions of tax incentives and abatements, which allow “connected” property owners to legally avoid taxes. The city, although overly generous in this regard, has moved no closer to regaining its competitive edge.
An aggressive foreclosure policy and programs offering negotiated payment plans to delinquent taxpayers is no more effective than suing scofflaw landowners or hiring tax collection agencies. Amnesty programs that “forgive” penalty and interest charges on back taxes result in loyal taxpayers delaying payment.
Hauling landowners into court, aside from being a heavy-handed collection policy, cause distressed owners to walk away sooner. And although the average age of the housing stock is probably close to 60 years, the neighborhood decline is so severe that it discourages the construction of new market rate housing, particularly in a high crime environment.
Raising taxes is out of the question. Detroit already has the highest property tax rate in the state. And the city relies on inflated assessments that in some cases are more than 10 times their market price.
Detroiters, entitled to a fair return on their taxes, get an inefficient, ineffective government that can’t deliver basic services. Outmoded political strategies continue to collide with the reasons why households continue to flee.
Bankruptcy, while merciful, may not be enough to again make the city a place of opportunity, an engine of economic growth and social vitality. More likely, a declaration of insolvency will increase, not stop the decline as more businesses and residents stampede to the border.
It bears repeating: Detroit will get substantially worse before it gets marginally better — the governor’s optimism notwithstanding. The trends and the numbers make the case.
Last Updated on Monday, 25 February 2013 14:06
Category: Your Voice Written by Chuck Jackson
With the progress made in recent decades, some Americans might consider racism a minority issue, a problem that has been mostly addressed.
However, while we celebrate Black History Month, we also reflect on how racism continues to be relevant to each of us. As President Barack Obama, hailed as a symbol of a “post-racial era,” said at the 2009 NAACP Centennial Anniversary: ‘I understand there may be a temptation among some to think that discrimination is no longer a problem. But make no mistake, the pain of discrimination is still felt in America.”
There is much healing to be done, and the approach that we at Starr Commonwealth have adopted to this is known as “The Five Shifts.” These shifts involve changing the way we think or feel to better understand and experience someone else’s reality.
Before making the shift, we must adopt a fundamental principle — the “Oneness of Humankind.” There is no biological evidence that separates the human race. Humans, whatever their origins or skin color, are one family.
Racial healing begins with this understanding, but for many of us even science can be difficult to accept unless we open our heart and our mind to different perspectives — one of the five shifts is from “Certainty to Curiosity.”
Our society places a premium on being certain in our lives. We want to see certainty in our leaders, and become anxious when we sense uncertainty in them. Likewise, in our personal lives, we want those we depend on to be certain about the challenges we face.
The problem with certainty is that it can make it difficult for us to accept new information and understand different views. Curiosity, however, can lead to learning and a better appreciation of someone else. As we see others as people who, like us, have hopes, dreams, fears and regrets, we begin to connect with them.
We also shift from “Material to Spiritual,” seeing beyond a person’s appearance to their inner being, from the “Cognitive to the Affective,” meaning we let our hearts and feelings guide us more than our heads, and from “Solution to Transformation,” recognizing that our own behavior can inspire change in others as much as expecting the solution to be found by someone else. Finally, we shift from “Debate to Dialogue,” ensuring that we don’t try to argue people into change and instead help them to reflect on their position through inquiry and of course, curiosity.
Making these shifts in perspective is a very personal experience. But sharing it with others and supporting them as they change is how we can promote healing in our communities and as a society. With healthier relationships, through the “oneness of humankind,” we can begin to fix the everyday inequalities we see in education, employment and quality of life. We can build environments where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
While this month reminds us where we have come from, we should not let the issue of racism be dismissed as history. Each month, each week, every day, every one of us should be part of America’s racial healing journey.
Chuck Jackson is the executive vice president and chief clinical officer at Starr Commonwealth, one of the nation’s leading non-profit child and family service organizations. For more information on Starr, including its Glasswing racial healing program, visit www.starr.org.
Last Updated on Friday, 22 February 2013 07:00
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