By Benjamin Todd Jealous
Although it has been over a year since it made national news, the Trayvon Martin case pushed the country’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws into the spotlight, and galvanized the nation’s activist to take a stand against them, particularly among young African Americans.
Now, a group of Florida community members, youth and college students who gained notoriety in the weeks after the George Zimmerman trial verdict, are teaming up with the National Association For The Advancement of Colored People to continue their fight against the state’s controversial legislation.
The Dream Defenders, the group of young people who protested and held the longest occupation of the Florida Capitol in recent history, have joined forces with the NAACP and Florida Legal Services to take their grievances with the state’s “Stand Your Ground” laws to the United Nations.
The organizations have put together a shadow report in response to questions the United Nations Human Rights Committee posed about whether or not “Stand Your Ground” laws violate the United States’ obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty signed by 167 countries to ensure freedoms of religion, speech and assembly, and protect individuals from discrimination, torture and illegal detention. The committee oversees the periodic review of each of the treaty’s signatories.
“’Stand Your Ground’ laws are overly broad and prone to amplifying existing racial biases in the U.S. justice system,” said Dream Defender Legal and Policy Director Ahmad Abuznaid. “They interfere with the most basic and fundamental right – the right to life. When we signed onto the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights over twenty years ago, we were making a commitment to ensure that everyone living within our boundaries has equal access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Until that dream is fully realized, we must continue to hold our government accountable. Civil rights violations like ‘Stand Your Ground’ hold no place in a just and equal society.”
In the report, the organizations outline how the laws specifically affect communities of color, citing evidence of racial bias in application of the laws and the increase in homicides in states with “Stand Your Ground” laws. According a recent report, justifiable homicides rose sharply in states with the self-defense laws, rising 200 percent in the state of Florida.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee will review the United States’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in October.
The biggest part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul is just days away from its debut, and the American public remains confused. For many consumers, the most important question is personal: What do I have to do?
On Oct. 1, new health insurance websites will debut in each state. Some will be run by the state, and others will be run by the federal government. These sites, called health insurance exchanges or marketplaces, are designed to serve those without insurance and those who buy insurance on their own.
Seven million people will purchase private health insurance on the exchanges for 2014, the Congressional Budget Office projects. An additional 9 million will use the exchanges to enroll in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, two joint federal-state health programs for low-income people. The number of uninsured will drop by 14 million next year, the budget agency projects.
For nearly everyone else — the 170.9 million people covered by employers and the 101.5 million enrolled in government health programs — the ballyhooed launch of the Obamacare exchanges will mean little, according to health care, consumer and business experts.
“If you have employer coverage now, do not worry,” said Lynn Quincy, a senior policy analyst at Consumers Union in Washington who specializes in health care issues. “If you’re on Medicare now, please don’t worry,” she said.
Still, a lot of people are worried over the introduction of a new way to buy health insurance and the health care law’s “individual mandate” that nearly every legal U.S. resident obtain health coverage or face a tax penalty.
People who don’t get health insurance will have to pay $95 dollars or 1 percent of their annual income — whichever is higher. That amount will rise each year until it hits $695 or 2.5 percent by 2016. The mandate has numerous exemptions, including for financial hardship. Most company health plans already meet the health care reform law’s standards for benefits and affordability, as do government health programs like Medicare, Medicaid and military benefits.
“For the vast majority of the population, the individual mandate will be a non-event,” said Larry Levitt, the co-executive director of the Program for the Study of Health Reform and Private Insurance at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation in Menlo Park, Calif.
The open enrollment period for 2014 health plans bought on the exchanges begins Oct. 1 and runs through the end of March. People will use the exchanges in their home states to compare the price and benefits of various insurance plans. The exchanges also are the only way to get the financial assistance available to those who earn less than four times the federal poverty level, which amounts to $45,960 for a single person this year.
Those shopping on the marketplaces will see changes. People who currently buy their own insurance will find that some cheap, skimpy plans sold to individuals today won’t be available, and some younger, healthier people may see higher sticker prices — especially if they don’t qualify for tax credit subsidies. Others will gain access to coverage they didn’t have and get help paying for it.
Survey after survey shows the public to be confused, anxious and misinformed about what health care reform does and how it will affect them.
Fewer than half of Americans think they know enough about the law to understand how it affects them, according to poll findings the Kaiser Family Foundation published last month. More than a third believe they’ll be worse off, 23 percent think they’ll be better off and 37 percent say it won’t make much difference.
When Congress wrote the law known as the Affordable Care Act, their idea was to maintain Americans’ current health coverage as much as possible, to boost consumer protections in the health insurance market for individuals, and to cover the uninsured.
That doesn’t mean all workers will keep what they have. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that 7 million fewer people will get their health insurance through work by 2023, although jobs will remain the most common source of health coverage for Americans. People who work part-time, have low-wage jobs or are employed by smaller companies are most likely to lose their job-based benefits and to use the exchanges instead.
While this phenomenon is real and disruptive to those workers, the outliers shouldn’t be cause for concern for most people who have job-based health benefits, said Helen Darling, the president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health, a Washington-based association of large employers.
“Nothing has to change for you if you have employer-sponsored coverage,” Darling said.
A survey of U.S. employers found that 93.5 percent of companies definitely or very likely will continue to offer health benefits to workers, compared to 1 percent that definitely won’t or are very likely not to, according to a report the International Federation of Health Benefit Plans, a London-based trade group, issued in May.
Employers provide health benefits both as a means of attracting and retaining employees and because they aren’t taxed like wages (so they’re cheaper than raises). “No one is going to say, ‘Whoops, we just decided that we’re not going to give you health benefits because we don’t think they’re that important.’ It just isn’t going to happen,” Darling said. And experts don’t expect large employers to make more changes or raise premiums much more than if the health law hadn’t been enacted, she said.
But anecdotes about individual companies are causing some worry among workers — worry fomented by Obamacare opponents and the media, Darling said.
“It’s more the press that is drumming up attention in a negative way, much of it being driven by people who want to make it a negative experience,” Darling said.
Likewise, the debate over whether Obamacare will cause health insurance premiums to soar on the exchanges — so-called rate shock — needlessly confuses people who have coverage from work, Levitt said.
“They see these headlines that premiums may skyrocket and they think that’s them,” he said. It’s not; it’s about insurance people buy directly.
In fact, a survey of employers the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust published last month showed job-based health insurance prices rose an average of just 5 percent for single people this year. “There’s no reason to think that’s going to change dramatically,” Levitt said.
On the individual market for health insurance, some people, especially those who are younger and healthier, may see higher premiums, not counting the available tax credits. Others will pay less than today. That’s largely due to new rules, such asrequiring better benefits than commonly available on the individual market today,guaranteeing coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and limiting how much more older people can be charged than younger consumers.
Medicare beneficiaries have even less cause for concern, Quincy said, even though a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that older Americans disapprove of the Affordable Care Act at higher rates than younger people.
Express Scripts, which manages prescription drug benefits for health insurance plans, surveyed Medicare enrollees and discovered many misperceptions — including 17 percent who think they have to buy coverage on the exchanges. In reality, it’s illegalfor a health insurer to sell a plan through the exchange to someone on Medicare.
People on Medicare don’t need to do anything different this year than they have in the past, Quincy said. “The main message is: Nothing has changed for you. You’re good to go.”
by Steve Liesman
A solid majority of Americans opposes defunding the new health care law if it means shutting down the government and defaulting on debt.
The CNBC All-America Economic Survey of 800 people across the country conducted by Hart-McInturff, finds that, in general, Americans oppose defunding Obamacare by a plurality of 44 percent to 38 percent.
Opposition to defunding increases sharply when the issue of shutting down the government and defaulting is included. In that case, Americans oppose defunding 59 percent to 19 percent, with 18 percent of respondents unsure. The final 4 percent is a group of people who want to defund Obamacare, but become unsure when asked if they still hold that view if it means shutting down the government.
The Republican-party-led House voted 230-189 on Friday to adopt a short-term government spending bill that would eliminate all funding for the new health care law. The measure could lead to a government shutdown in less than two weeks. The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percent, was conducted Monday through Thursday of last week. Full results will be released this Thursday.
In general, men are roughly split on the issue, with 43 percent supporting defunding, 42 percent opposing and 15 percent unsure. But when the issue of a government shutdown and default is included their support declines: 56 percent oppose defunding and only 14 percent solidly favor the measure.
Women are more firmly opposed to defunding the new health care law under any circumstances, with 47 percent opposed, 33 percent in favor and 20 percent unsure.
A 51 percent majority of Republicans generally support defunding with 36 percent opposed and 13 percent unsure. However, when including the issue of a government shutdown and default, the picture changes: 48 percent of Republicans oppose defunding Obamacare, while 36 percent support it.
However, a 54 percent majority of Republicans who also identify themselves as Tea Party supporters want the new health care law defunded even if it means a government shutdown – the only demographic measured in the poll with such a majority.
Republicans who do not identify themselves as Tea Party supporters hold views closer to those of Democrats than to Republicans that do identify themselves as Tea Party supporters: They oppose defunding Obamacare 44 percent to 36 percent with 20 percent unsure.
When James Baker heard the words “Nature’s Classroom” in reference to the Massachusetts location of his 12-year-old daughter’s forthcoming four-day field trip, he thought she and her fellow students would “just be going to learn what side of the tree moss grows on.”
Instead, as he and his wife Sandra described Sunday on Melissa Harris-Perry, his daughter was terrified by the slavery re-enactment she and her classmates had participated in during the last day of the trip.
By William Spriggs
On Tuesday, the U.S. Census Bureau issued its annual report on income and poverty in the United States. It revealed what has been obvious in the five years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the onset of the Great Recession: Something is really broken in our country.
By Arthur Delaney and Michael McAuliff
WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives on Thursday approved sweeping reforms to the nation’s food stamp program that would cut some $40 billion in nutrition aid over 10 years and deny benefits to millions starting in 2014.
By 217 to 210, the House said yes to the measure, with its Republican backers arguing it would help more people find jobs.
“This bill is designed to give people a hand when they need it most. Most people don’t choose to be on food stamps. Most people want a job,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) “Most people want to go out and be productive so that they can earn a living, so that they can support a family, so that they can have hope for a more prosperous future. They want what we want.”
While most proponents of the bill similarly argued that they were just promoting work, there was also an undercurrent of accusation that many Americans are abusing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to sponge off taxpayers.
“If you’re a healthy adult and don’t have someone relying on you to care for them, you ought to earn the benefits you receive,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.). “Look for work. Start job training to improve your skills or do community service. But you can no longer sit on your couch or ride a surfboard like Jason in California and expect the federal taxpayer to feed you.”
That would be Jason Greenslate, the California food stamp recipient who likes to surf and play rock music but not look for work. Fox News profiled him last month in a segment that said America has been on an epic “food stamp binge.” The networkmade sure everyone in Congress saw the segment.
The House vote sets up a showdown with the Democratic-controlled Senate, which previously approved a much more modest reduction in food stamp spending as part of a broader bill that included agricultural subsidies. A traditional “farm bill” likewise combining the two issues failed in the House during the summer, at which point House Republicans set nutrition aside and passed a bill with just the agribusiness subsidies.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) almost seemed desperate to get the measure passed, noting that it was only part of the process of passing the normally noncontroversial farm bill.
“I admit to you, this has been an unusual process. But it remains my goal to get a five-year farm bill enacted. I’m doing everything possible to make sure that happens this year,” Lucas said, emphasizing the “everything.”
Before the earlier attempt to pass a farm bill failed, Lucas had worked hard to accommodate conservatives by allowing an amendment that made the food stamp provisions harsher. Nearly all of them voted against the bill anyway, and the amendment cost Democratic supporters.
“We have a responsibility to get this done, and quite simply, and I repeat, quite simply, it shouldn’t be this hard to pass a bill that ensures all of us in this economy has enough to eat,” Lucas said. “And that’s what a farm bill does.”
Members from each chamber will have to reconcile the differences between their separate pieces of legislation in a conference committee this fall. The White House has repeatedly said it would veto the House GOP’s food stamp demands.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the House legislation would deny benefits to 3.8 million Americans next year and save $39 billion over 10 years, or roughly 5 percent of the SNAP program’s cost in that time. Enrollment doubled to 47 million in the wake of the Great Recession as incomes plummeted and more Americans qualified for benefits, which average $133 per month. Most beneficiaries are children, elderly or disabled.
The bill is packed with changes to SNAP: It would require more beneficiaries to pass income and asset tests to prove their poverty. It would allow states to require drug tests. It would allow states to deny benefits to able-bodied adults who don’t work or enroll in training for at least 20 hours per week.
“Work is not a penalty,” Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) said, citing the Book of Genesis. “Work is a blessing.”
Regardless of what President Obama ultimately signs into law, benefits will drop for all SNAP beneficiaries in November after the expiration of a 13 percent benefits increase that had been granted by the 2009 stimulus bill.
Democrats called the House measure a useless assault on the poor.
“Today’s exercise is nothing more than a waste of our time and an insult to every American in need,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio). “The fact that we are considering this legislation makes me question whether the Republican leadership even wants a farm bill.”
She added that the bill “guts nutrition for those most in need and says to the poor, to hungry children, to the disabled, seniors and our veterans, ‘You don’t matter, you are not worthy of our help.’ They deserve better.”
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) asked Lucas if he would try to spare veterans from the cuts in the probable conference committee, saying they deserve special support “in these economic times.” Lucas argued that veterans were already protected.
However, a recent Huffington Post review of military records found military families rely on more than $100 million in food stamps a year. The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has estimated that 170,000 veterans would feel the pinch from the bill.
By JAY REEVES
Several hundred people marched Wednesday at the University of Alabama to oppose racial segregation among the school’s Greek-letter social organizations.
The marchers headed from the university library to the administration building, where the president’s office is located. The group was gathered on the steps of the administration building, standing behind a large banner that said “Last stand in the schoolhouse door.”
Faculty Senate President Steve Miller had announced the demonstration at a Faculty Senate meeting, where professors spoke out against long-standing racial segregation in fraternities and sororities.
School President Judy Bonner issued a video statement acknowledging the system is segregated by race. She is requiring that sororities belonging to a campus association composed of white sororities begin using a new recruitment process aimed at diversifying the groups.
The allegations that some groups had denied entry to black students were first detailed by the student newspaper, The Crimson White.
“While we will not tell any group who they must pledge, the University of Alabama will not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” said Bonner, who became the university’s first female president less than a year ago.
On Wednesday, the crowd included both students who were members of Greek organizations and those who were not.
Yardena Wolf of Corvallis, Ore., a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Alabama, said she is still a member of her all-white sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi. But she moved out of the sorority house after facing criticism on social media for breaking sorority policy by speaking publicly about the decision to not offer membership to black pledges.
“Rush was really, really hard to go through living in the house. We obviously didn’t pledge an African-American girl like I thought we would. It was really frustrating, and I faced some difficulties in my room and my house, so I just thought it would be better if I moved out,” Wolf said.
Khortlan Patterson of Houston, 19, is a sophomore and is not involved in a Greek organization. Patterson, who is black, said many of the students speaking out about segregation within the system also are from outside Alabama.
She said that while she and others love the university, they are surprised to find segregated social organizations when they arrive in Tuscaloosa.
“The institutional racism came as a shock,” she said.
A now-iconic image emerged from the Washington Navy Yard shooting Monday: A civilian helping a blind colleague exit the building to safety.
As bullets flew, civilian employee Omar Grant took his unidentified co-worker’s arm and led him out of the building. A photo capturing the moment was posted by Yahoo! News reporter Chris Moody on Twitter.
“As soon as we got outside the cafeteria doors into the hallway, we saw people panicked, running for the exits,” Grant told TODAY’s Carson Daly in an Orange Room phone interview Tuesday. “They were shouting. I couldn’t make out exactly what they were shouting, but I knew it was something serious. I told my colleague there that we were going to get out of the building, and I was going to help him because normally he’s got somebody with him there, and this morning he was all by himself.”
Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old civilian contractor, is suspected of killing 12 people before he was shot dead by police.
Grant, an IT technician who works in network support at the Navy Yard, described the scene as civilians and military first heard the gunfire.
“I heard the first two shots while I was in the atrium near the cafeteria where I saw my blind colleague also,” Grant said. “After we heard the first two shots, we were wondering where the noise came from because sound echoes and travels there in an atrium area. You go up from the first floor of the building all the way up to the fifth floor. I proceeded to take his arm and led him into the cafeteria, and people started wondering as they also heard gunshots.
“We heard three more shots while we were inside the cafeteria and then we saw the alarms go off to evacuate the building.”
U.S. Navy Commander Tim Jirus was warned about the danger by a stranger.
“He came up behind us and was talking to me, basically saying, ‘Hey, there’s a shooter in your building,’’’ Jirus told TODAY. “Then I heard two more shots, one of them hit him, he went down in front of me, and then I took off from there.”
Alexis was an employee of “The Experts,” a subcontractor to a Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Services contract to refresh equipment used on the Navy/Marine Corps intranet network, according to Hewlett-Packard spokesperson Michael Thacker.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic events at the Washington Navy Yard,” Hewlett-Packard said in a statement. “Our thoughts and sympathies are with all those who have been affected. Aaron Alexis was an employee of a company called ‘The Experts,’ a subcontractor to an HP Enterprise Services contract to refresh equipment used on the Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) network. HP is cooperating fully with law enforcement as requested.”
Alexis had been suffering from paranoia, sleep disorder and hearing voices in his head, U.S. law enforcement officials told the Associated Press. He had been receiving treatment for his issues by the Veterans Administration since August, officials said on condition of anonymity.
In 2004, Alexis was arrested for allegedly shooting at a vehicle in a “black-out fueled by anger,” according to court records. His father told police that Alexis had “anger management problems” and was stressed from being “an active participant in rescue attempts of September 11th, 2001,” according to the arrest report.